Amazon Jumps into the Original Programming Game: 8 New Shows

Actually Amazon has jumped into the deep end and are hoping one of their 14 pilots is able to learn how to swim, quickly. Amazon released the six children’s pilots and eight comedy pilots to all Prime customers. I’ve said it before, it’s hard not to be excited knowing that we are able to watch this potential shift in how the country and world consumes scripted media. Through venues not even conceived of in our parent’s time, we are able to connect with a content producer and they with the viewer in ways unimaginable to a generation removed. For a TV geek, this is an awesome time.

Due to my excitement, I set out to watch all the Amazon pilots. That plan quickly faltered as I started with a child’s cartoon that was not one that adult’s would find much enjoyment in at all, so the children’s pilots are out. On to the comedies! I went in without reading anything on these shows (outside of Zombieland) beforehand. I didn’t look up actors, or writers, and some of them I didn’t even know the title until I went to watch it. Enough talk, let’s see how everyone did.


I can not tell you how much I wanted this to be like the Channel 4’s The IT Crowd. I had no real reason for thinking it would be outside of Betas being about computer folk and of course the 8-bit title sequence, but still, I was holding out hope. It isn’t. Betas is more like a smaller scale, somewhat cruder version of The Social Network. Instead of Mark Zuckerberg trying to get Facebook off the ground, you’ve got two guys, Trey (Troy Dinicol) and Nash (Karan Soni who was in one of Grizzly Bomb’s Top Movies of 2012, Safety Not Guaranteed) who are out to find funding for their new social networking app. They are surrounded by an office full of the socially awkward and the “should probably be in jail for some sex crime”.

They head out for a “meeting” with a potential investor and lo and behold…

Ed Begley Jr.! I will watch almost anything with Begley in it so this made the pilot immediately gain points in my mind. While it started a bit slow for me, by the end I was invested and was wanting to see more so I hope they are able to get this one to series.


I’ll admit that I totally wrote this one off before I watched it. Just the premise of two mall workers who in their spare time are “humanity’s last line of defense against the supernatural” wasn’t doing it for me. Then I watched it and almost immediately changed my mind.

It might have had something to do with the free corndogs.

I think Supanatural might be the best example of how Amazon’s method of farming pilots might be really beneficial to the writing world. There was a lot of uproar when the fledgling studio announced their feature script, crowd-sourcing plan and it (rightfully so) had many screenwriters leery of the prospect. However with the comedy pilots, it seems as if it’s opened a door to writers and actors who don’t have a long resume to get a chance to get on a project with promise. While Kristen Shaal voices two of the characters and has quite a bit of experience going into Supanatural, Jameeliah Garrett who voices Lucretia? This is her first credit.  Lily Sparks who is a writer on the show and voices Hezbah? First writing credit and only fourth actor credit. While this is certainly not the first time relative “unknowns” have lead roles, it happens infrequently enough that it makes you notice. As for Supanatural, definitely check it out, especially if you are a fan of shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force.


Browsers is about a group of four interns as they start their new career at a Huffington Post style site called Gush. They are content farmers, hence the name.

Words can not express how badly I wanted this to be good. Words can also not express how not good it was. I’d love for it to continue because I am a musical theater nerd and after the crap-fest Glee has become and the crash and burn that Smash was, it’d be nice to have a musical show to watch that didn’t suck. Sadly, unless the quality of the songs (granted it would be difficult for anyone to write a song about Twitter) grows by leaps and bounds, not even Bebe Neuwirth can save this and that is saying a lot because that woman is a goddess.


One of the top two of the eight, for sure. Alpha House is a political show with a different slant. See these three Congressmen all live in a house together and are looking for a fourth roommate. Of course they work together as well, all being Republicans trying to figure out what actions to take to best get re-elected, serve their constituents, further their careers… you know, Congress stuff. It was very good which isn’t surprising given the caliber of actors involved and being written by Gary Trudeau who writes the comic strip, Doonesbury, it’s certain to have smart and snappy dialogue.


Alpha House was one that had a lot of buzz going for it before they aired, mainly due to Bill Murray’s involvement. Let me just say, his appearance is brief but hysterical. It might have been my favorite moment of the pilot. That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t good, because they are, it was just that you don’t expect to see Bill Murray crying while brushing his teeth and shaving.

Going into Dark Minions, I thought it would be pretty decent. I’m a fan of stop-motion animation and even though the entire pilot wasn’t fully done in the stop-motion, I can understand that. It takes time and money to get it done and when you are working on a pilot that you don’t know will become a series, it’s probably not a good idea to spend a ton up front.
I think that was a wise decision because it just wasn’t that good. It wasn’t as bad as Browsers, but it wasn’t anything that I’d watch again. Just very middle of the road and not very innovative. I could say something like “that’s no big surprise given that it’s from writer’s of Big Bang Theory” but that would be mean.


Dear hopeful TV writers everywhere, take this as a lesson: If you want to create a series from a movie that is a cult classic, it needs to be as good, if not better than the movie.

Zombieland: The Series did not follow this advice. When the best part of the pilot is the two minutes leading up to the title screen and the best characters have nothing to do with the rest of the story? This is not a good thing. By the time we reached the halfway point I was already over it. There’s only so many times you can repeat the same gag and have it be funny or entertaining. Perhaps the best person to capture my feelings on this one was this Amazon reviewer.

[quote]Once you get Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, everyone else is just a cheap knock-off.

This guy is more like Talledega. –Mickey Mills, Amazon reviewer[/quote]

Thank you Mickey.


Onion News Empire is not creator Will Graham’s first go round with a TV series based on the popular faux news site. This time however, instead of a news broadcast, he’s fashioned a show that is sort of an homage to Aaron Sorkin, even going so far as having one character ask another if he can “walk and talk”.


The cast in Onion News Empire is quite good with Jeffrey Tambor playing the egotistical anchor, Chris Masterson the wide-eyed cub reporter, William Sadler is the grizzled news chief, and 30 Rock‘s Cheyenne Jackson is the up and coming anchor looking to dethrone Tambor. When you look at that group, it’s hard to believe they’d pull off anything less than great yet somehow they did. Much like Zombieland, I have a hard time seeing the “hook” of Onion News Empire lasting very long as there is a finite period of time that the audience is going to continue to say “oh yea, this is a satirical spin off a news story” and find it entertaining. Yes The Onion as a site is hugely successful and wildly popular, I don’t think the same can be said for Onion News Network.


By far the best of all eight pilots is from the Denver based comedy trio of Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy. They play three high school teachers who really have no business being teachers. With a comedy style much like that found on shows like Workaholics and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the trio makes being a really awful teacher extremely entertaining.


As great as the three guys are, I have to say Rory Scovel as the hippie principal is easily my favorite character. Something about the hair and the cardigans along with the green tea, I’m a fan.

If you happen to watch Those Who Can’t and need more of these guys in your life, then head to YouTube and check out their webseries, The Grawlix.

So there you have it – a look at all eight Amazon comedy pilots. The really cool thing that Amazon is doing, is much like everything else on their site, you can review the pilots and they are actually encouraging people to do so. They are saying that they will take these ratings into account but I’m a cynic and have a hard time believing that, but good on them if they do follow through with that.

All that’s left for you to do is head on over to Amazon, sign into your Prime account (if you don’t have one, you should, especially if you order anything with any regularity from them) and check out the shows. Then you can come back and tell me how right I am in my assessment or where I can stick it. Enjoy!

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