Ranking Amazon’s New Original Pilots From Best To Worst
3. Red Oaks
It’s the summer of 1985 in Amazon’s pilot Red Oaks. College student David (Submarine star Craig Roberts) is back home for the season. His father Sam (Richard Kind) is pressuring him to apply himself in his studies, hoping that David will later join him in the accountancy business. But David’s passions clearly lie elsewhere. He does not want to follow in the footsteps of his clearly unhappy father who has a dysfunctional relationship with his wife Judy (Jennifer Grey). David is far more interested in the arts having taken a successful minor course learning about French New Wave cinema. This is in stark contrast to the C he received in his accountancy major. As his father hilariously puts it: “A ‘C’ is a Jewish ‘F’”.
David is set to work at his father’s business for the summer to gain experience in accountancy and assist his studies. However, when his dad has an unexpected heart-attack David is forced to get a summer job elsewhere: Red Oaks country club in New Jersey where he serves as a tennis coach alongside Nash (The Listener’s Ennis Esmer). It is the same place that his aerobics instructor girlfriend Karen (Gage Golightly) and friend Wheeler (Oliver Cooper) are employed. It is here that he meets the seductive daughter of the club’s president (Alexandra Socha) too.
The pilot sets the stage for an entertaining coming-of-age story reminiscent of Adventureland and The Way, Way Back; a funny and touching portrait of one transformative summer that provides a bridge between youth and adulthood. However, if it wants to reach the heights that either of those works achieved then Red Oaks will need to shed its clichés in the future.
Director David Gordon Green, who recently made Prince Avalanche and Joe, visualises the pilot of Red Oaks with the same MTV music video stylistics we have seen in almost every ‘80s set narrative. Meanwhile, the characters created by writer Gregory Jacobs, the regular first assistant director to Red Oaks’ producer Steven Soderbergh, feel very familiar. There is the awkward protagonist caught between two worlds (and two girls); the humorous playboy father figure with life lessons to give; even the chubby, curly-haired best friend who spouts off about Star Wars while smoking pot.
It is an enjoyable pilot — sweet, sprightly and occasionally very funny — but considering the heavyweight talent involved in making the show Red Oaks really should feel more distinctive than it does.
2. Hand Of God
Ron Perlman has proven himself to be one mighty actor. He is an intense performer with a powerful larger-than-life presence. In the pilot episode of Hand Of God, a drama created by Burn Notice‘s writer and producer Ben Watkins and World War Z and Quantum Of Solace director Marc Forster, he has rarely been better.
Ron Perlman plays judge Pernell Harris who has begun to suffer hallucinations following a suicide attempt by his son that left him in a coma. Harris believes he is being shown visions by God; a notion fuelled by the suspicious actor-turned-preacher Paul Curtis (Once Upon A Time‘s Julian Morris). He is convinced these messages are leading him towards the man who raped his daughter-in-law (another familiar Burn Notice name, Alona Tal) and later caused his son to shoot himself. However, it is equally likely that the visions are manifesting from the judge’s trauma and his desire to repair the rocky relationship he had with his son.
Regardless of their roots, the delusions lead Pernell Harris into both madness and corruption. He won’t let anything or anyone prevent his pursuit of the man he is convinced was involved. So much so that he hires born again ex-con KD (the always brilliant Garrett Dillahunt) to do his dirty work. Soon, this madness begins to have a large impact on both Pernell’s family life and career. His strong wife Crystal (Desperate Housewives actress Dana Delany) becomes disturbed by his actions while a political deal alongside Mayor Boston (The Wire‘s Andre Royo) hangs in the balance unless he can prove his mental stability.
The pilot episode of Hand Of God leaves viewers wanting much more. Ben Watkins has many more layers to explore when it comes to his characters, whether it is the dubious motivations of Pernell’s priest or the volatile dynamics already established with those surrounding our main character. He has also established an arresting mystery in this opening hour too with the shrouded identity of his daughter-in-law’s rapist. It is an enigma that becomes even more intriguing, furthermore, after an excellent twist at the episode’s climax.
However, what will be most fascinating to watch if the show is picked up as a series (and it certainly should) is the way Pernell Harris develops as the show continues. Watching the corruption of someone who once stood for law and order is thrilling to behold (there are certainly parallels between Harris and Breaking Bad‘s Walter White) and Perlman performs the role perfectly. Moments of deep emotional pain are balanced with a bullheaded appetite for revenge and an underlying sense of menace.
1. The Cosmopolitans
“What becomes of the brokenhearted?” Joan Osbourne sings over the opening shots of The Cosmopolitans. Well, it turns out the brokenhearted end up brooding between coffee shops and parties in Paris, at least according to this pilot created by Last Days Of Disco and Damsels In Distress director Whit Stilman. The episode, named The Brokenhearted after the aforementioned tune, focuses on several different American expatriates who are yearning for something more from their love lives against the romantic backdrop of Paris.
Whit Stilman casts his Damsels In Distress star Carrie MacLemore as Aubrey, a young American who followed her French boyfriend back to Paris and is beginning to realise it was a huge mistake. Nursing her misery, she ends up at a café where she meets Adam Brody’s Jimmy, who is unsuccessfully searching for love (particularly from Chloe Sevigny’s fashion journalist Vicky), and Jordan Roundtree’s Hal, who has recently broke up with his girlfriend for, as he recalls, the sixteenth or seventeenth time.
A new Whit Stilman joint is something to be cherished. Having made just four movies in 24 years, fans of his work — which has influenced everything from Girls to the films of Wes Anderson — will approach The Cosmopolitans like meeting an old friend they rarely see. They won’t be disappointed with the re-acquaintance either. There are plenty of killer, whip-smart lines of dialogue in the pilot, the three main characters are immensely charming and the lighter-than-air mood of the show is a joy to behold.
As with almost every comedy series, the pilot is not so much about getting to a destination as it is setting things up. It is about establishing the main characters and the dynamics between them. But if Whit Stilman is given the opportunity to build on the good work of this pilot, we are sure to see these expatriates and their romantic lives explored in even more quirky, amusing and utterly delightful ways. On the strength of this episode, it would be a crying shame not to see that happen.