Hot on the heels of Transparent winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, Amazon is rolling out the pilots for six more scripted comedies and dramas, and letting viewers vote on which will be picked up as series. We previewed the series’ first episodes to let you know which ones to watch.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE Adapted by X-Files vet Frank Spotnitz from Phillip K. Dick’s novel, this slow-moving drama imagines an alternate history: What if the Axis powers won World War II, and the Japanese and Germans partitioned the United States? The story picks up in 1962, as a San Francisco martial-arts student (Alexa Davalos) crosses paths with a New York City truck driver (Luke Kleintank) in a demilitarized neutral zone. The title character — a newsreel filmmaker accused of treason — is only mentioned in passing, and supporting actors Rufus Sewell (as a Nazi officer) and DJ Qualls (as a factory worker) are given little to do initially. The whole thing’s kind of a snooze: To put it in terms Phillip K. Dick fans will appreciate, it’s more The Adjustment Bureau than Blade Runner.
POINT OF HONOR No Civil War cliché is left unturned in this overblown drama from Lost’s Carlton Cuse and Braveheart’s Randall Wallace. Families torn apart? Check, as West Point classmates/brothers-in-law John Rhodes (Nathan Parsons) and Robert Sumner (Christopher O'Shea) pick different sides in the War Between the States. Painfully obvious musical cues? Yep, as a band breaks into “Dixie” after the news breaks of the rebels firing on Fort Sumter, and slaves start singing “Amazing Grace” after being freed. Even more painfully awful dialogue? And how: “Yankees are just like hemorrhoids — if they come down and go back up, they’re not a problem, if they come down and stay, they’re a pain in the ass.” Sorry, Carlton: This show’s truly a Lost cause.
COCKED Like Transparent, Amazon’s most promising new pilot takes a hot-button issue — in this case, gun control — and filters it through a finely observed dysfunctional-family dramedy. A long way from True Blood’s Bon Temps, Sam Trammell shows impressive versatility as a kale-eating, Labradoodle-walking big-city liberal who returns to his rural Colorado hometown when his family’s firearms business is targeted for elimination by competitors. Jason Lee has his best role since My Name is Earl as his coke-snorting brother, and Brian Dennehy is suitably intimidating as their father. The stellar ensemble also includes Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad) as Trammell’s appalled wife and Dreama Walker (Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23) as his ambitious half-sister. Cocked takes aim at both the NRA and the ACLU and hits both targets.
MAD DOGS Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Last Resort) specializes in stories of men under extreme pressure, so he’s perfectly suited to exec-produce this dark comedy about four former frat brothers (Ben Chaplin, Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn and Romany Malco) who reunite for a vacation in Belize that quickly turns into a bloody nightmare. Based on a British series of the same name, Mad Dogs sinks its teeth into you from the start and doesn’t let go.
Not to be confused with Mad Dogs, this half-hour sitcom follows a California yoga teacher (the bland Josh Casaubon) who tries to take over the studio owned by his wealthy girlfriend (Paget Brewster, much better suited to comedy than she ever was to Criminal Minds) after she catches him doing it down-doggy style with a fellow instructor (Nikita’s Lyndsy Fonseca). You won’t exactly howl with laughter, but it’s worth watching if only for Kris Kristofferson’s wily turn as Casaubon’s pot-dealer dad.
Plucked from the pile of scripts submitted to Amazon’s open screenplay competition, this show is an argument for closing down the contest. Created by model/actress Lindsay Stoddardt, it stars Leslie Bibb as the title character, 1998’s supermodel of the year, who emerges from rehab after a 10-year stay and tries to claw her way back to the top. Sadly, most of the jokes would’ve been stale, not to mention offensive, in 1998. Running into her former assistant (Rachel Dratch, who deserves better), Salem cracks, “You’re like the AIDS of people — there’s just no stopping you.” She also claims to have gotten HPV from Patrick Swayze. Salem Rogers is like the STD of sitcoms.
Currently Senior Articles Editor for Closer Weekly, Bruce Fretts wrote TV Guide Magazine‘s wildly popular “Cheers & Jeers” column for 10 years. His work has also been published in the New York Times, Vulture.com, Fast Company, New York Daily News, Digital Spy, DuJour Magazine, the Sundance Channel’s website and RogerEbert.com. You can follow him on Twitter @brucefretts.