Which of Amazon’s Pilots are worth watching?

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Which of Amazon’s Pilots are worth watching?

photo via Amazon

photo via Amazon

photo via Amazon

photo via Amazon

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Amazon seems to be going full throttle into the TV production business with its newest batch of pilots released last week. Just like the ones released last August, the six pilots geared toward adults (the other six are geared towards kids) will be watched, reviewed, and voted for by Amazon Prime subscribers before returning to executives for season pickup decisions. Here are the best and worst of the new pilots, as well as the one with the most potential going forward.

 

Worst

While some of the pilots suffer from overdone premises or clichéd plot lines, “Point Of Honor” displays an alarming disregard for the realities of a terrible time in our nation’s history.

The show is centered on the Rhodes family, a white Virginian family during the onset of the Civil War, whose eldest son, John (Nathan Parsons), decides to free his family’s slaves while also fighting in the war on the Confederate side. Overlooking any minor historical inaccuracies (like the conspicuously low-cut dresses and the use of the word “boyfriend,” which didn’t appear until 1909) the show’s premise asks us to assume the idea of slavery and the Confederacy can somehow be separated, and John can fight for the South without also fighting for slavery. Which is, well, an utterly ridiculous premise to ask the audience to believe.

And perhaps even more ridiculous, the show focuses on a wealthy slave-owning family (not all of the members are happy about John’s decision) during this time and asks the audience to, to some extent, to empathize with them, a premise that is immediately off-putting. This is paired with the fact that there are no important or prominent black characters, and the ones that do appear have a few lines at best, the rest mostly serving to stand in the background as if to “set the scene” for that time period. The show features several cringe-worthy scenes of “white savior” moments as well as a disgustingly casual mention of lynching. Because the plot seems to be heading in the direction of painting these former slave owners as heroes, I hope Amazon recognizes “Point of Honor” has no place on its roster.

 

Most Potential

This category is always difficult because of the limitedness one episode of TV brings. There were a few pilots that tiptoed the edge for me: “Salem Rogers” has a potentially exciting female friendship story, but falls flat on the jokes; “Down Dog” has a likeable lead but a watered down, overdone premise; “Cocked” has the potential for an compelling family-dynamic story but is extremely untimely with its plot centered around a gun company. Ultimately, the pilot where I saw the most potential was “Mad Dogs”.

Created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield), the story begins seemingly innocuously, with four men (Steve Zahn, Romany Malco, Michael Imperioli, and Ben Chaplin) reconnecting on a vacation to Belize to stay with their friend, Milo (Billy Zane) in his gigantic beach-side villa. The first half of the pilot has a lot of semi-cliché, “straight-dudes-being-dudes” scenes, complete with beach football, clubbing, complaining about wives/girlfriends, and one guy giving a thumbs up to the rest of the group as he follows a girl (one that is not his wife) into the bedroom. But after Milo steals a boat, the action picks up, turning this relatively safe “guys weekend” into a dark thriller with a weird and mysterious hit man and a surprising murder.

This show could eventually turn into a fascinating mix of dark comedy and thriller elements, something that Amazon hasn’t really dived into yet. There is always the risk though, that tossing a bunch of guys ill-equipped to deal with these situations into a conspiracy-laden mystery/thriller could turn into a show that’s about a bunch of bumbling dudes who are just perpetually lucky to not get shot in the head. If the show can avoid that, it has a shot to be a compelling addition to Amazon’s lineup.

 

Best

“The Man in the High Castle,” adapted from a Philip K. Dick book of the same name and executive produced by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), is Amazon’s most adventurous and conceptually ambitious pilot so far. But even with all that pressure, the show stands out dramatically among this list of pilots.

The show begins by proposing an alternate universe where the Axis Powers defeated the Allies and won World War ll. The U.S. is split into three sections, the Japanese Pacific States on the West, the Greater Nazi Reich on the East and the Neutral States in between. Hitler is still in power, but his failing health is creating a power vacuum that is building tension between the Japanese and the Germans, tension that can only result in war. The pilot introduces us to Juliana Craine (Alexa Davalos), who, living on the west coast, comes to be in the possession of an underground video, purportedly made by the eponymous Man in the High Castle, showing newsreel footage of the U.S. actually winning the war. She eventually discovers she must bring it to Colorado, which is where her story intersects with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), a supposed revolutionary, who also comes to be in possession of another copy of the video when hired to drive it from New York to Colorado.

While the show has a little bit of real-life history to work with, it does an excellent job of world-building just in the first episode. The lighting is dark and gloomy and the sets are gritty and unclean. This, in conjunction with scenes depicting the arbitrary violence and disregard for human life on both the east and west coast give the audience a good look at the atmosphere of constant fear and anxiety these characters are living in.

There is something compelling about stories on rebellion. The U.S., as one of the great powers in the world, seems to be obsessed with reimagining ourselves as underdogs, fighting our way back to the top. And it usually makes for a good story, as is the case here. The show changed a couple plot points from the original novel, but the idea of revolution and rebellion seem to be the show’s focus. I do hope the show makes its central cast more diverse, as (other than the Japanese characters) there are no people of color in significant roles at the moment. Even so, I’m very interested to see how “The Man in the High Castle” progresses and I think it is the clear standout among these pilots.

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