Following the success of Jill Soloway’s funny, touching and brilliantly acted Transparent (please tell me you’ve watched), Amazon recently announced it had ordered full series of Hand of God (Ron Perlman, Garret Dillahunt, Andre Royo, and Dana Delaney), Steven Soderbergh’s Red Oaks (Craig Roberts, Jennifer Grey, Richard Kind), as well as more The Cosmopolitans (Adam Brody, Chloë Sevigny) scripts. Additionally, the online giant’s studio arm put out descriptions of seven new pilots they’ll be serving up in 2015, including dramas from Ridley Scott, Shawn Ryan and Carlton Cuse, a Jonathan Demme documentary, and comedies starring Jason Lee, Sam Trammel, Billy Zane, Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn, Leslie Bibb, and Jane Kaczmarek.
Here are the contenders in order of promise (purely subjective, of course):
1. The Man in the High Castle
Based on the Phillip K. Dick novel, starring Alexa Davalos as Juliana Crain, Luke Kleintank as Joe Blake, Rupert Evans as Frank Frink, Rufus Sewell as John Smith, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Tagomi, Joel De La Fuente as Inspector Kido, and DJ Qualls as Ed McCarthy. Dick’s alternate history accounting of what life might have been like had the Allied powers lost WWII. Executive produced by Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker; written by The X-Files’ Frank Spotnitz.
Dark comedy starring True Blood’s Sam Trammell and Raising Hope/My Name Is Earl’s Jason Lee. Trammell is liberal family man, Richard Paxon who, due to unfortunate circumstances (and against his ideals), must return home to help run his family’s gun business. Lee plays his brother Grady, a who isn’t too thrilled to have Richard back. From Sam Shaw (Manhattan, Masters of Sex) and Sam Baum (Life’s Work), directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (You’re the Worst, The Kings of Summer) and produced by Erwin Stoff (Unbroken), Cocked also stars Brian Dennehy, Laura Fraser, and Dreama Walker.
3. Mad Dogs
Another dark comedy (based on the UK series of the same name) about a group of 40-somethings — longtime friends who reunite in Belize to celebrate an early retirement. “Twisted” events (deception, lies,murder!) unfold, which only serve to highlight their differences and bring up old grudges. (So kind of like The Big Chill, with the Shallow Grave gang…SPOILER…had they all lived?) Starring Billy Zane, Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn, Ben Chaplin, Romany Malco, Mad Dogs is produced by Shawn Ryan, and written and created by Cris Cole (Mad Dogs, The Bill).
4. Salem Rogers
Comedy starring Leslie Bibb as Rogers, a pompous, hard-partying model trying to get back into the business after a long (ten years?!) rehab stint. Co-starring Rachel Dratch as a self-help author and previously, Salem’s assistant, roped back into helping her former boss reharness the limelight. Also starring Harry Hamlin, Jane Kaczmarek, Brad Morris, Scott Adsit,and Toks Olagundoye; produced by Will Graham (The Onion News Network), directed by Mark Waters (Vampire Academy, Mean Girls, and written by first-timer, Lindsey Stoddart (who submitted her script through Amazon Studio’s online screenplay submission process).
5. The New Yorker Presents
Eclectic docuseries offering up the magazine’s content, such as a Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married,The Manchurian Candidate, The Silence of the Lambs) documentary on biologist Tyrone Hayes (based on a Rachel Aviv article, a Troy Miller (Arrested Development) short starring Alan Cumming and Brett Gelman, and an interview with performance artist Marina Abromovic. Produced by Alex Gibney (Sunshine Superman, Death Row Stories, The Armstrong Lie).
6. Down Dog
Comedy about a 30-something California yoga instructor who teaches — and romances — wealthy ladies finds himself in an awkward position when his studio owner girlfriend breaks up with him. Starring Josh Casaubon (Bad Teacher, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Paget Brewster, Kris Kristofferson, Lyndsy Fonseca, Will Greenberg, Alysia Reiner, Andrea Savage, and Amir Talai; written by Robin Schiff (Are You There, Chelsea?, 10 Things I Hate About You), directed by Brad Silberling (Jane the Virgin, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), and produced by Bob Cooper (Mr. Woodcock, John Tucker Must Die, RFK) and Michael Fuchs (Death in the Modern Age)
7. Point of Honor
Civil war drama focusing on a Virginia family’s internal strife after the eldest son decides to free their slaves while defending the South. Shot on location, Point of Honor stars Nathan Parsons (The Originals, True Blood) as family leader and West Point military man, John Rhodes, Christopher O’Shea as John’s best friend and brother-in-law, Robert Sumner, Annabelle Stephenson, Riley Voelkel, and Hanna Mangan Lawrence as John’s sisters, and Brett Cullen as Ralston Rhodes. Written and produced by Carlton Cuse and Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor, Braveheart), directed by Wallace.