Amazon pilot season is here again, which means it’s time for you to help the streaming service decide which shows to order to full season by rating and reviewing their pilots. As always, this year’s batch of series premieres are rather eclectic and includes a period piece from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, an intriguing sci-fi show from the Bridge of Spies creator, Amazon‘s first adult animated comedy, a superhero series, and a pot comedy — yes, a pot comedy. We’ve decided to make your lives easier by watching and reviewing all five pilots to help you decide which ones are worth your time:
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The exceedingly charming pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an Amy Sherman-Palladino joint through and through, featuring rapid-fire dialogue peppered with pop culture references and eccentric, endearing characters. Set in the 1950s, the potential series stars House of Cards‘ Rachel Brosnahan as the titular Miriam “Midge” Maisel, the perfect housewife with two children, an Upper West Side apartment, and a husband she loves with all of her being. Naturally, all of that perfect comes crashing down, and in the wake of her life falling apart, she surprises herself by diving into stand-up comedy.
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With stories like these, we expect the protagonist to be an agent of change, determined to pave the way in a male-dominated field; however, the pilot surprises by diverging from this arc. Midge loved her life and wasn’t looking to change anything. It’s not until she receives a push from bar manager Suzie (Alex Borstein) that she seriously considers giving stand-up a go. There are times when it feels like the pilot suffers from streaming service bloat, but Brosnahan’s brilliant and energetic performance keeps it from sagging and insures that the show doesn’t coast on its very resonant premise of a woman coming back from heartbreak.
You’ll find yourself hooked from the moment you meet the clever and funny Midge in the opening scene, and you’ll spend the next 40 minutes waiting for her to take the stage. The moment she finally does is glorious and well worth the wait — Brosnahan finds both the humor and pathos in the genuinely funny stand-up set. The rest of the cast (including Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, who play Midge’s oddball parents) and the period design are aces, too. Fingers crossed Amazon orders it to series because I’m very interested in watching Midge’s marvelous journey. Grade: B+
The Legend of Master Legend
Amazon’s new “Pilot Season” is heavy on stuff TV doesn’t need. Superheroes. Dystopian sci-fi. Crude adult animation. At least the superhero thing tries to be different. The Legend of Master Legend is a half-hour dramedy inspired by Joshuah Bearman’s 2008 Rolling Stone article about the real-life Master Legend, a costumed vigilante in Orlando. Writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, both of Amazon’s Transparent, set their story in Las Vegas and introduce a variety of characters and relationships that have true promise. Say this much: their endearingly offbeat work-in-process shows more inspiration in 30 minutes than six hours of the lazy flop that is Marvel’s Iron Fist.
The fantastic John Hawkes, transforming himself into a sinewy, long-haired bird-man, is perfectly cast as the strange and sweet Frank, a Dio-loving tree trimmer by day, a dude who dresses in a silver and black rubber suit, mask and helmet at night to patrol the Vegas strip. He looks likes a crazed Oakland Raiders fan, but a really nice one. He mediates disputes between revelers and taxi cab drivers, hands out goody-bags to the homeless, takes pics with the tourists, and just generally tries to generate goodwill. He’s developed an elaborate personal philosophy for himself, a kind of customized martial arts mysticism that informs a strict moral code that prevents from abusing his celebrity and power to, say, sleep with lonely housewives who dig his wild, taut vibe. “That doesn’t keep me on the path of doing good,” he explains. He chases after the “sight beyond sight” that offers personal enlightenment; he’s working a on “healing touch” that can instantly rehab drug addicts. Or so he’d like to think. There’s nothing too terribly wrong with this guy. Or is there?
The script by Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster suggests a show that’ll have fun with Frank while trying to get behind the mask and explore what makes this do-gooding mad man tick. They’ve given him a number of complex relationships with compelling characters unto themselves, including Frank’s teen daughter, Cody (Anjelika Washington), who is half-black and sweet on a white girl; his worried, struggling ex-wife, Tana (Dawnn Lewis), who’s warily beginning a new romance; and his brother Peanut Head (Shea Whigham), a violent felon just released from the joint.
Reminiscent of writer/director James Gunn’s 2010 indie “realistic” superhero flick Super starring Rainn Wilson but considerably lighter, Master Legend’s pilot suggests a show that is after something deeper than just a gritty take on a goofy premise; It’s a high concept family show about a fragmented clan, interested in modern loneliness, isolation, and the peculiar strategies we develop for connection and significance. The tone isn’t quite there and the pilot is too shaggy to draw certain conclusions. But Hawkes and a fine cast imbue the whole thing with a humanity and casually worn complexity that invites hope that the show can fly above other shows in this genre. Or at least find is own compelling, distinct path. If The Legend of Master Legend can master itself, it could be something super. Grade: B