Amazon's first attempt at "Pilot Season" last summer was somewhat of a mixed bag. It did wind up producing the pretty decent series "Betas" and "Alpha House" (and unfortunately wound up passing on the promising "Onion News Network"), but the other shows were really pretty awful, and even the best of the bunch didn't really have anything about it that would make them catch on in a meaningful way. This year, they seem to have pulled out all the stops and released a very promising batch of shows for us to view and vote on. Yesterday I sat down and watched all 5 of the pilots that are targeted towards adults (the other 5 are children's or family shows) and I have to say I was largely pretty impressed. My thoughts on each from least to most favorite below.
While not really a bad show, this is easily the weakest of the bunch. Basically the somewhat depressing story of a Los Angeles family coping with their myriad issues and secrets, it suggests that the writers have as tenuous a grip on the word "comedy" as the Hollywood Foreign Press. That being said, the cast does some pretty consistently good work and when the big reveals start coming at the end of the half hour, it's hard not to find one's interest level in the whole thing going up. Still, I think this would probably work out better as a Sundance movie and I don't know that I could really see myself wanting to sit through an entire season of it.
4. THE AFTER
From this point on I can honestly say I really liked the remainder of what Amazon had to show me, which made ranking spots 4, 3, and 2 somewhat of a challenge (picking #1 was easy, but we'll get to that later). The worst thing about this whole process is that I have to assume that most of these shows will not get ordered to series, and aside from "Transparent", I would really be kind of upset not to find out what happens next. And in all fairness, I'm more than a little curious to follow up with that show too. As for "The After", it takes place during the beginning of what appears to be the apocalypse, although the exact nature of what is transpiring is kept a mystery. I won't spoil what little bits of information the show doles out during the pilot, but I will say that it is pretty consistently exciting and it definitely has me anxious to find out more. That being said, these kinds of shows often run into problems sustaining the level of suspense and engagement that they open with and it's impossible to know if it will be worth it in the long run. Creator Chris Carter has shown how well he can manage a web of supernatural conspiracies over several seasons with his previous hit "The X-Files", but on the other hand, that show didn't really wind up finishing all that strongly, so it could go either way.
3. THE REBELS
Of the 3 "comedies" presented in the group, this is easily the funniest. The story of a woman who is forced to take control of her recently-deceased husband's struggling football team, it manages to introduce an ensemble of characters that are pretty instantly likable, a decent amount of clever NFL satire (note that there is no actual reference to the NFL by name or any of its associated properties), and some entertainingly silly slapstick. Think of it as the football "30 Rock", although closer to that show in its first season, before it really found its footing. Given that the only really funny show last time didn't get picked up ("Onion News Network") I can't say I have high hopes for this one, although it would be nice if there was more than one genuinely funny web comedy out there (the other one is Netflix's "Arrested Development" in case anyone was wondering).
There is certainly no shortage of crime dramas on TV at the moment, and they all do pretty well ratings-wise, so it should come as no surprise that the internet should want one of its own. Luckily for all of us, this first go at it is considerably more interesting than any of its ilk currently on American television. Co-written by best-selling author Michael Connelly, based on his books, this is closer in tone to some of the darker British police dramas or the original Swedish version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". Season 1 looks to be setting up to follow detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch as he investigates the possible murder of a young boy while simultaneously standing trial for shooting a serial killer, who may or may not have been unarmed. With it's dark, noirish tone and engaging plotlines, this could wind up being a big hit for Amazon.
1. MOZART IN THE JUNGLE
I don't know if this necessarily has the hit potential of "Bosch", but it is nonetheless my favorite of this year's batch of favorites. Following the members of a fictionalized New York Symphony as they deal with a litany of behind the scenes drama along with the ups and downs of life in the Big Apple, it once again stretches the definition of "comedy", although it contains at least enough witty dialogue to make a degree of sense being labelled as such. The backstage romances and power struggles are perhaps somewhat to be expected from this sort of show, but the smart script, incredible cast, and gorgeous music all elevate it to new heights. I said before that it was easy for me to pick this as my absolute favorite of the bunch and it was, if for no other reason than I felt absolutely exhilarated watching it, actually sitting up with that rare feeling one gets upon discovering a new piece of pop culture that has instantly pushed itself into your all time favorites list. If this actually makes it to series, it is the one I can most easily see myself talking up to other people, and is also the one most likely to get Amazon the Emmy attention it seems to be so eagerly hunting this time around.