By: Hawk Ripjaw –
Once again, it’s Amazon Pilot season—the annual event in which Amazon puts out a few pilots of original shows produced by them, lets the public watch and provide feedback, and then orders full seasons for the most popular. TruTV’s Those Who Can’t, for example, was one of the earliest Amazon pilots and something I watched way before Felix Felicis did, but despite my vote of approval it unfortunately wasn’t continued until TruTV picked it up much later. Last year, I Love Dick, The Tick, and Jean-Claude Van Johnson were chosen to be full series—no one got left behind. With five pilots this year, they very likely won’t all get greenlit, so it’s important if you like any of these to visit Amazon and provide feedback on how intent you are on adding this to your weekly binging regimen.
The most immediately compelling of the new pilots, Oasis takes place in 2032, where Earth is dying, completely stripped of its resources, while a neighboring planet called Oasis is being prepared to accept Earth’s population. Richard Madden stars as Peter Leigh, a disillusioned priest commissioned by Oasis colony founder David Morgan to travel to Oasis. Upon arriving, Leigh is met with some degree of disdain from his colony mates due to his practical uselessness in preparing the facility for more immigrants, and drilling for water on the planet’s surface has been suspended until Morgan returns. Unfortunately, no one knows when that is, nor do they know why he left. Oasis asks some tantalizing questions, not the least of which involves the possible political turmoil in the Oasis facility, and perhaps something more sinister. For its 30 minutes, Oasis is compelling. Ten minutes later, it’s gripping. By the end, the theories flow thick. This is one that absolutely deserves a continuation.
Oasis is stylishly helmed by Last King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald and fueled by creative cinematography and a moody synth soundtrack (including a great choral cover of Rag ’N’ Bone Man’s “Human.” Matt Charman’s character-driven script does a lot of heavy lifting as it sets up a number of plot threads with some unobtrusive theological and spiritual undercurrents. Whether the show takes the path of the book on which it’s based and leans more heavily into the religious aspects remains to be seen, though if the level of quality in the worldbuilding and pacing continues, we have one hell of a drama series to look forward to.
There is a very pleasant, lo-key zaniness to Budding Prospects. It’s less concerned with elaborately goofy setups, and more focused on smaller, weird details. It works well for the overall stoner setup, as cynical slacker Felix (Adam Rose) in 1980s California is approached by oddball entrepreneur Vogelstein (Brett Gelman) to tend his brand new marijuana farm alongside friend Phil (Joel David Moore) and Gesh (Will Sasso). Rose’s irritated incredulity and Gelman’s pompous, ultra-hipster weirdness are two of the most endearing elements of the pilot. Phil is a fun, unfiltered open-minded sidekick and the drug-addicted and probably crazy Gesh (he mixes his dirty bong water with his coffee) is an angry, nihilist addition to round off the crew.
Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa) helms and executive produces the pilot, and while it doesn’t have the teeth of Bad Santa, there is some of that bitter cynicism showing through with references to Reganomics and a sequence showing Phil’s bizarre art exhibit of a dummy being literally chewed up and spit out by a machine. Not a lot actually happens in this pilot—the farm isn’t even shown, and there’s really not anything in the back half to build hype for the next part of the story. That doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable, however, and Budding Prospects is indeed the start of something potentially great.
The Legend of Master Legend
Based on the Rolling Stone article from 2008, which itself was based on a real life Florida man, The Legend of Master Legend opens with a very sweet montage of the titular vigilante, dressed in a ramshackle costume with long, unkempt hair falling around his gangly shoulders as he walks the streets of Las Vegas doing good deeds for strangers. John Hawkes infuses the character with a sense of profound kindness and shades of potential mental illness, not unlike James Gunn’s Super but with none of Frank Darbo’s sadistic streak. Master Legend is purely an agent of good, and he is generally celebrated by the Vegas nightlife. The trade-off—and this seems to be the crux of the show—is that his family life has fallen apart.
The episode takes a hard look at Master Legend’s miserable ex-wife (Dawnn Lewis) and his biracial, alienated daughter (Anjelika Washington) just beginning to discover her sexuality. They’re woven wonderfully into Legend’s character, as he frequently leaves his storage unit living space to go home and attempts to briefly integrate himself into his former father role. It’s not effective, and he has to accept that he cannot be both Master Legend and a family man. The appearance of his younger brother (Shea Whigham), a short-fused, just-released felon, will further complicate Legend’s mission to only do good to others. The family dynamics, and the way Legend handles them, are what makes this show work, but the touching sequences showing Legend doing selfless and kind things for random strangers are what make it worth watching. It’s pretty shitty out there, but it’s nice to have a reminder of what good people are capable of.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The creator of Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino, brings her brand of rapid-fire dialogue to the 50s, as content housewife Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) pursues a career of stand-up comedy after her moonlighting comedian husband leaves her. The show’s zippy, theatrical rhythm gives every scene a great sense of energy and forward momentum. The unbalanced gender roles of the 50s and the quirky portrayal of Jewish family dynamics form a clever, engaging lens through which the struggles of stand-up comedy get a new coat of paint. Even as a general non-fan of period pieces, I was struck by how compelled I was by Miriam’s character.
After a slow start, Miriam’s eventual debut on stage is a wonderfully-executed sequence, as the recently-abandoned and extremely drunk ex-housewife spills her heart to an audience of strangers. It’s that late scene that supplies the final key ingredient—an unfiltered, unstifled Rachel Brosnahan–and confirms that Miriam’s rise to fame is going to be a very funny one, especially if supporting roles can get such greats as Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein. I respect what the show is doing more than I actually enjoyed it (again, I often struggle to get engaged in period pieces from that era and that’s an entirely subjective thing that does not detract from the show’s overall quality), but this could benefit well from a full season.
The New V.I.P.’s
Amazon’s foray into adult animated comedy begins with miserable cubicle mates Bud (Matt Braunger) and Lenny (Ben Schwartz) finding that they are being paid in pesos since their company was restructured to be based in Mexico. When they go to complain to the CEO, the man pulls out his dick and tries to pee on them. Lenny starts slapping the CEO’s dick, and then the CEO dies of a heart attack. The two, along with the CEO’s receptionist Dee (Missi Pyle), convince security guard Clarence (Jonathan Adams) to get plastic surgery to resemble the CEO and take his place, including replicating the size of his dick and anus. Do you see the problems with the show yet?
The New V.I.P.’s, from the creator of The Life & Times of Tim, has a number of very funny ideas—not the least of which is Creed Bratton’s role as a sinister, balding coworker obsessed with Bud’s hair—but it’s too obsessed with being as crude as possible and cramming as many dick jokes into a half hour and still have a working script. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and the forced, unearned raunchy humor hurts already-uneven pacing. Take The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as a counterpoint, which has a shot of a pair of bare breasts and is set up very well. Here, a man whips his dick out for no reason other than to try to pee on someone else, with little context. The show has potential, but it is in need of some serious script restructuring before it’s worth a series order.
Be sure to make your voice heard if you like any of these pilots. You can provide feedback on as many of them as you’d like, and it takes less than five minutes.