On Friday, Amazon dumped five new pilots on its video streaming service, which viewers are invited to watch and rate in the hopes that your favorite will make it to series. The last pilot “season,” in August, gave us the strange and very promising I Love Dick, Transparent creator Jill Soloway’s adaptation of Chris Kraus’s 1997 book of the same name, starring a fiercely neurotic Kathryn Hahn. (The full series premieres May 12.) This season brings us five new potential series, two half-hour comedies, one hour-long drama, and one hour-long comedy/drama hybrid that is by far the most promising of the bunch. Here’s what we thought of the new offerings; they’re currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so check them out for yourself.
The Legend of Master Legend
This comedy about the saddest superhero you can imagine comes comes from Transparent writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, whom you might recognize from Tig Notaro’s Amazon series One Mississippi. John Hawkes stars as Frank, a.k.a. Master Legend, a would-be vigilante whose glory days are behind him: He sleeps in a storage locker in Las Vegas, where his ex-wife, Tana (Dawnn Lewis) and daughter, Cody (Anjelika Washington) live in a modest bungalow. Tana works days at a casino buffet and nights at a parking lot booth; Cody has a crush on a girl at school who has a much older boyfriend. The Legend of Master Legend is funny, but also melancholy; the Transparent connection isn’t too hard to find. But there’s sweetness at the heart of the pilot, and both the world of the show and its characters feel fully realized. All that and a surprisingly intense ending made me crave more of this one.
The New V.I.P.’s
Amazon’s first adult animated series, The New V.I.P.’s is a raunchy workplace comedy created by Steve Dildarian, the creator of an HBO animated comedy called The Life & Times of Tim that aired from 2008-2012. I’d never heard of the show or Dildarian, but man is he a funny writer; set amongst the employees of a monolithic company housed in a giant black skyscraper in Manhattan, The New V.I.P.’s highlights the absurdity of corporate culture. When a manager threatens to take away vacation days unless someone admits to drawing obscene cartoons of her in the bathroom, one guy points out that they don’t even get those days off to begin with — including Jewish holidays: “You left matzos in the kitchen and said, ‘Keep working, Jews.’ People were pretty offended.” In the pilot, a motley group of workers must band together when they accidentally murder their boss. Good stuff.
Would you like to watch a grim dystopia set 15 years in the future that rips off the set design of Alien yet again and has some vague things to say about religious belief? Yeah, neither would I. Oasis stars Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden (RIP Robb Stark) as Peter, a chaplain who runs a sort of open-air soup kitchen in a hellish London in 2032 in which resources are scarce. He’s invited to join a group of citizens in Oasis, a space colony on a distant planet that he disparages as a “life raft for the one percent.” But he figures he might as well go, since he has nothing much back on Earth; his wife died of cancer. We see her in a series of extremely clichéd flashbacks in which she smiles and tosses back her hair and whispers, “I love you.” Up in space, the clichés keep coming, most obvious of all the look and feel of the colony, which is yet another Alien knockoff, right down to the wandering cat. Pass.
Based on the T.C. Boyle novel of the same name and directed by Bad Santa/Ghost World’s Terry Zwigoff, Budding Prospects begins in 1983 San Francisco, where a group of lazy stoners seizes upon the opportunity to make some cash by farming marijuana up in Mendocino. The pilot has a loping, ambling kind of charm. No one really works — they just kind of walk around and smoke pot and put up fliers for their shows. I haven’t read the book, but it’s hard to see how this story could stretch over a whole season; even the 30-minute pilot drags by the halfway point. Brett Gelman, who is apparently in every TV show, is enjoyable as usual, and Will Sasso is reliably funny; I wish he were cast in more shows and movies. Budding Prospects might have been charming as a Linklater-esque hangout movie, but I personally do not need one more stoner comedy starring three white guys in my life.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
You guys. This show. It needs to exist. It must exist. It will exist, I am certain, because the pilot is damn delightful, no duh, considering it sprang from the brilliant mind of Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls and the ill-fated Bunheads. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stars an adorable Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, an Upper West Side housewife circa 1958 who turns a potential tragedy into an opportunity to pursue her passion — standup comedy. The show captures the energy (well, I presume) of the late-’50s Greenwich Village; Sherman-Palladinon regular Alex Borstein plays the butch bartender of the famed coffeehouse the Gaslight, also immortalized in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.
The pilot features Sherman-Palladino’s signature rapid-fire, whip-smart dialogue, and excellent performances from Brosnahan, Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, who play Midge’s parents, and Rectify’s Luke Kirby, as Lenny Bruce. Midge is what Lorelai Gilmore might have been like had she been raised a Jewish New Yorker in the 1940s, which is to say, absolutely divine. The show captures details about Jewish life, particularly in New York in the 1950s, with humor and precision, and will no doubt delight comedy nerds with its old-school showbiz references. It’s a gem of a pilot and I can’t wait to see more. Goddess bless Amy Sherman-Palladino.