Reviews of Amazon Studios’ comedy pilots

Zombieland

Amazon


You could watch them all instead of doing any work today. Let’s do that. Since Netflix has been kicking ass with their original programming, other companies are getting into the act. Amazon announced Amazon Studios a few years back, and the first wave of shows has just hit the service. Fourteen pilot episodes are available for viewing, with the top-rated ones getting full series pickups, and here’s my take on eight of them (the ones that aren’t kids shows, because I’m not a weirdo).

Zombieland

We posted the trailer for this a few days ago, and I bit the bullet and watched the pilot. It’s pretty bad. The opening sequence is awesome (much like the movie) but the show is just a mess. All of the characters from the flick are played by new actors, of course, and a lot of them are pretty stinky, especially Kirk Ward as Tallahassee. The other thing that kind of kills it is that they’re supposed to be in Los Angeles but there’s virtually no zombies.

Alpha House

Created by Doonesbury‘s Garry Trudeau, this has one of the best casts of any of the Amazon Studios pilots – John Goodman is always a win and Bill Murray has a cameo role – and is actually well-scripted to boot. The main characters are four Senators who live in a Washington, D.C. house together (don’t laugh, this actually happens). It’s a lot of fun and probably the strongest of the eight pilots.

Betas

Set in the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley app development, the pilot for Betas is sort of a nerdy take on Entourage, with four bros trying to raise venture capital for their new software by any means necessary. The characters are really well-defined and it’s a little bit darker than you’d think – more Social Network than Big Bang Theory, which is a plus.

Browsers

Ugh. This was probably my least-favorite of the pilots, as it combines a ton of stuff I hate: quirky New Yorkers, workplace comedy, and musical numbers. Bebe Neuwirth plays the owner of a Huffington Post-esque site who terrorizes her employees, and everybody bursts into song inexplicably. The songs aren’t great, the jokes aren’t great, I won’t watch any more of this.

Dark Minions

Written by two of the guys from The Big Bang Theory, this animated comedy wasn’t my favorite, but it’s tolerable. Two slackers (one skinny, one fat) get jobs aboard a faux Death Star and have to deal with workplace politics and a crazy intergalactic overlord boss. The animation is kind of distracting, looking halfway between CGI and stop motion, and most of the jokes didn’t really work for me.

Onion News Empire

The Onion has established itself as the bravest, funniest source of comedy in the modern world, so I had high hopes for this pilot. They were rewarded. Instead of riffing off of the Onion formula of quick takes on current events, this is a character-driven show about the inner workings of the Onion News Network. Jeffrey Tambor from Arrested Development is great as always, and the rest of the cast is strong. A very good show.

Supanatural

The other animated show on the docket, Supanatural was produced by Kristen Schaal, so it has a little better pedigree. The series is about two divas who spend their days hanging out at the mall and their nights protecting the world from occult menaces. The animation is pretty sharp, the characters are funny and the overall experience was pretty enjoyable. I’d give this one a watch.

Those Who Can’t

The only pilot from non-established Hollywood players, this was conceptualized by a comedy troupe from Denver called The Grawlix. Those Who Can’t is about a trio of teachers at a suburban high school who hate a star lacrosse-playing student with a passion. It’s got a heavy Workaholics vibe, but it doesn’t ever rise to that show’s level of lunacy, so overall falls a little flat. Not bad, just average.