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This Season's Amazon Prime Original Pilots Are Too Good to Keep Ignoring

By Vivian Kane | TV | August 31, 2016 | Comments ()

By Vivian Kane | TV | August 31, 2016 |


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A couple of weeks ago, Amazon released its latest round of original pilots, under the same format that they’ve been using for a few years now. They release a number of pilots; we, the viewers give feedback, we forget about those pilots, and then some of them get made into full seasons.

Some of these seasons get a ton of publicity, while others go by barely noticed at all. The second season, for example, back in early 2014 was by far the most heralded. It gave us Bosch (which I keep remembering is a show), Mozart In the Jungle (whose pilot I loved, but never watched again), and Transparent, Amazon’s first and biggest breakthrough into the world previously dominated by Netflix.

I watched all of the following season, though, and literally forgot every single one of the shows existed until I just reread my own reviews. And that includes Hand of God and Red Oaks, both of which I think are still on.

This last season, released August 19th, isn’t getting talked about much, so you might think it would fall into the Forgettable Season category. Especially since there are only three shows this year, far fewer than usual. Oh boy, would we be wrong in that assumption.

Here are this season’s pilots, all available now on Amazon Prime:

Jean-Claude Van Johnson

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Despite having a job that is supposed to make me the (or at least a) person who knows about these things, I had somehow managed to never hear of this show. Which was a near tragedy, if I had missed it, but as is, just made it one of the greatest surprises of my year.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, but a probably fictional version of himself who also operates under the fantastic pseudonym of— you guessed it— Jean-Claude Van Johnson. As we imagine it, Van Damme’s entire career has been based on using his film shoots as a cover for Johnson’s work as a private contractor/secret agent. The story, as described, is entirely generic, with an old, spurned love (Kat Foster) drawing him out of retirement. But the show, directed by Keanu’s Peter Atencio, leans so hard into the tropes and the genre, taking an exorbitant amount of pleasure in the stylized cliches.

This show is having so much fun with itself, and executing that fun so skillfully, that it’s pretty near impossible not to love it.

The Tick

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We haven’t talked about the new live action reboot of The Tick on this site since it was first announced, and that’s a damn shame. I mean, in reality, it’s definitely for the best. Because we know us, and we would have been disappointed that Patrick Warburton didn’t end up being involved, or we would have hemmed and hawed over literally every choice announced. And we would have been wrong. Because the new cast, headed by spectacular voice and everything else work from Peter Serafinowicz (Spy, Shaun of the Dead, so many British things) as the titular Tick, is as perfect as either of the two incarnations before them.

If you’re familiar with The Tick, either the comic, the Saturday morning cartoon, or the live action ’90s version, there’s not much new here. Although, to be totally honest, all three only exist in childhood/adolescent memories, so it’s very likely that I’m merging all versions of the property into one.

In the new version, we’re not reinventing the characters, but we are focusing the story through the origin story of Arthur. This unstable not-yet-moth-man, suffering from PTSD and possible paranoia, is the perfect focal point for our current era of humanized, gritty superheroes.

I Love Dick

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If I were ranking these shows, which I’ve done with multiple season before, the ranking would go as ordered here. However, this season, even more than those before it, seems entirely subject to personal taste. The quality of all three is probably close to equal; it then comes down to what you’re looking for. Which is why I don’t want to speak ill against I Love Dick. It’s just— skipping all innuendoes— not what I’m looking for.

This show is disappointing, because it’s exactly what I think I’m looking for. I should be its prime demographic. I love Jill Soloway (the creator of Transparent) and Kathryn Hahn, and it even has freaking Kevin Bacon as the titular Dick. It’s based on a feminist novel, which would be off-putting to many, I’m sure, but is pretty much exactly my jam. And still, this is not a show that I have any interest in even seeing if it grows in any way at all.

I haven’t read the book, but the reviews of those who have indicate what I imagined was missing from the adaptation. This story, about a couple— or rather, a woman, as they make so clear to differentiate repeatedly— who travels from New York to Marfa, Texas, so the husband can partake in an intellectually masturbatory residency at a middle-of-nowhere arts institute, is a chance to explore the depths of the woman’s desires. Unfortunately, crushed, hidden psyches are really hard to translate to a TV pilot.

This show is the reason why I resist a formal ranking. Because this is definitely for someone. But it wasn’t me, and odds are good that it’s not you. Give it a shot, though, just to spend half an hour with a complicated, aimless, kind of shitty female protagonist exploring herself in a way that is so close to being worth your time. The other two shows do basically thing with their male leads, and it’s pretty rare that the difference in our investment isn’t due to the gender of the protagonist, but rather the strength of the hand that guides them.

Because none of theses three leads really has a story worth following for even half an hour. Both of those first two synopses are ones we’ve seen countless times before. An aged-out action star looking for love and a reluctant super hero? We know those stories. But they have shaped that struggle into a heightened experience worth exploring. The last, if other reviews are to be believed, is a book worth reading, but probably just not meant to be adapted in this way.


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