Ranking Amazon’s New Original Pilots From Best To Worst
Amazon found an exciting way to decide what original shows to produce when it launched its own video-on-demand service Prime Instant Video in 2011. The online retailer, which is hoping to take on Netflix for unique television content, decided to release a small number of pilots. It then allowed the customers themselves to choose which stories they would like to see developed into a full series. The decisions were made based on feedback such as ratings and reviews provided on the Amazon website.
Having been a resounding success for the past two years, Amazon launched its third pilot season last week. The episodes it released include the mid-1980s set coming-of-age story Red Oaks from filmmakers David Gordon Green and Steven Soderbergh, a dark drama starring Sons Of Anarchy‘s Ron Perlman called Hand Of God and new work from indie darling Whit Stilman titled The Cosmopolitans. There is also the thriller Hysteria from Shaun Cassidy and a comedy from Jay Chandrasekhar called Really.
The last pilot season saw Amazon greenlight shows such as Gael Garcia Bernal’s Mozart In The Jungle created by Roman Coppola and Jason Schwarzman as well as the comedy Transparent starring Arrested Development‘s Jeffrey Tambor. But which of Amazon Prime Instant Video’s pilots deserve to be given a run this time around? We have reviewed and ranked the five pilots from worst to best to find out.
Hysteria, a pilot episode created by Shaun Cassidy, opens up with the words ‘inspired by true events’. However, despite the fact that it is allegedly based on a real-life case, the execution of the episode is so far-fetched that the title card feels more like the humorously fake ‘based on real events’ claim in Fargo.
American Beauty‘s Mena Suvari stars as the young neurologist Logan who is called back to her old stomping ground of Austin, Texas – a place that holds a dark past for her — when a young girl called Cassie (Jenessa Grant) suffers a psychological trauma. The trauma happened after a night of partying with boys that Cassie, her sister and her friends met online. People who saw the incident also begin to show the same symptoms and hysteria among the community ensues. The girl’s parents (Jason Douglas and Heather Kafka) alongside many other community members fear the problem is contagious.
Cassie’s sister Audra (Ella Rae Peck) organised the meet up with mischievous intentions: hoping to record the events and send them to a married man with whom she was having an affair, police officer Ray Ratajeck (Josh Stewart). The video is subsequently leaked on social media and goes viral in the community. Soon, the events take on a mysterious form when the trauma begins to not only affect the people who witnessed the incident first hand; it begins to affect those who watch the video via their social media accounts too.
At one point in the pilot episode Logan explains that the events she has witnessed are ‘unlike anything she has ever seen’. It is hard not to disagree, but maybe not in the sense that Logan meant it. Hysteria feels so implausible that it is almost laughable. The execution does very little to make these ‘real events’ feel all that real. Shaun Cassidy’s writing is messy, struggling to distribute all the necessary information in a way that is organic or believable. Meanwhile, characters’ actions and motivations are incredibly contrived.
Jay Chandrasekhar has a hit-and-miss track record at directing comedy. His moments of glory, such as episodes of Community and Arrested Development, have been counteracted by a disastrous remake of The Dukes Of Hazzard and the woeful The Babymakers. However, Jay Chandrasekhar’s latest project — a humorous, honest and often touching examination of a group of young married adults called Really — is one that definitely hits the mark. But does it have a future?
The focus of the show is Jay Chandrasekhar (who stars in the pilot as well as writing and directing) and former Scrubs star Sarah Chalke. They play the adorable married couple Jed and Lori. We learn very few details about their relationship but from the opening scene we are aware that theirs is a partnership built on a strong, loving foundation. Little character flaws such as Jed’s snoring and Lori’s inability to make a decision at a restaurant are dealt with a laugh and smile. Chandrasekhar and Chalke have an excellent chemistry in the roles.
The action quickly moves to their friends’ dinner party where most of Really’s 25 minute running length is spent. The party is attended by several married couples with whom Jed and Lori are friends. Over the course of this night, we see that not all of these couples are as steady as Jed and Lori . Things like alcoholism, discontentment, adultery and a yearning for singlehood plague each of the couples (who are played by Selma Blair, Hayes MacArthur, Luka Jones and others).
Some might find the small scale of Jay Chandrasekhar’s show unexciting with most of the pilot playing out at their friends Fred and Joanna’s dinner table. However, this is what makes Really’s episode so appealing. There is no hijinks or melodrama needed to explore its themes of being in limbo between youth and adulthood. Similarly, Chandrasekhar doesn’t feel the need to rush things here, choosing not to overload the pilot with information and letting it breathe instead. He balances his humor with emotion excellently to achieve this, generating some big laughs but never at the expense of characters whose ordinary but moving challenges are relatable.
The natural, understated pilot is refreshing for a TV comedy but, as a result, there is not a lot of scope here. A revelation at the end of the episode leaves us with a few questions that Really could address if it is picked up, but the slice-of-life approach otherwise gives viewers little to hook on to. Whether Chandrasekhar can find enough story to keep the show compelling for a full season is therefore still uncertain.