Amazon Studios' Newsest Additions

Amazon Studios prepares another batch of shows for the start of 2016

Every six months, Amazon Studios, the production arm of the mammoth retail site Amazon, posts several pilot episodes of shows in early development. These pilots are open for viewing and allow the Amazon audience to vote on which are greenlit for a full season. Amazon’s sixth pilot season was opened for viewing and voting on Nov. 5.

Scripts for the half hour or hour long episodes — some drama, some comedy, some children’s programming — are submitted through Amazon’s development website. Anyone can submit a script and have a shot at being chosen to receive $10,000 to film the pilot. The chosen pilots are then voted on by audiences, and the best are ordered to full series. This is the system that has brought us Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch and Hand of God. One of my favorite pilots from last winter’s slate, Man in the High Castle, was just released with a full 10-episode season on Nov. 20.

The best way to go into a pilot viewing is to not read anything about them in advance. However, if you’d like some way to prioritize the four and a half hours you’ll spend watching shows that may or may not go any further, here are the six pilots aimed at adults, ranked from worst to best.


Time commitment: 1 hour

Based on the book series by George G. Gilman, Edge stars Max Martini (Saving Private Ryan) as Josiah Hedges, “Edge” for short, a scruffy drifter who wanders into a blustery western town seeking revenge for the murder of his younger brother. In the first 15 minutes, he manages to kill the sheriff and take on the job himself. Over the course of the hour, there are two fingers sliced off of two different people; full rear naked beefcake in a bathtub, holding nothing but a shotgun; a naked girl wearing nothing but a good old-fashioned chastity belt (nothing on top); and plenty of gun smoke. It’s hard to say what’s worse: the bumbling, walking stereotype of a one-armed black man, or the cringeworthy zingers. “Lady I’m no fiddle, so why you playin’ me?” “Your throat or that door, don’t matter to me which opens first.”

Worth your time? No. It’s not funny enough to be a campy western, and it’s not good enough to be a compelling drama. Only watch if you have nothing else to do and nothing better to watch.

One Mississippi

Time commitment: ½ hour

One Mississippi dramatizes the struggle of recovering from cancer, losing a parent, and dealing with chronic illness — a trifecta of bad luck that plagued comedian Tig Notaro over the course of less than a year, beginning in 2012. The pilot covers much of the same ground as her Netflix documentary Tig, and is produced by the same cadre of comedians who encouraged her to share her story, including Louis C.K., Diablo Cody, M. Blair Breard and Dave Becky. The episode is marked by the same dark humor that characterized her famous comedy set at Largo, where she approached her tragedies with an attentive positivity. It hearkens to Louis C.K.’s dark comedy Louie, and further exemplifies that art is often an important tool in processing the world. Louie, Aziz Ansari and others are proof that reality is often more interesting than anything anyone could make up.

Worth it? Yes, especially if you haven’t seen the documentary.


Time commitment: ½ hour

Highston Liggetts (newcomer Lewis Pullman) has imaginary friends. But they’re nothing like Bing Bong from Inside Out. They’re celebrities. In the pilot episode, Liggetts is joined in his quest to get a job and avoid commitment to a mental institution by none other than Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and basketball great Shaquille O’Neal. From writer Bob Newton (Nebraska), and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, Liggetts is highly stylized, with muted colors and a cinematography that recalls the directing duo’s greatest hit, Little Miss Sunshine.

Worth your time? Yes. It’s funny, sweet, and has the potential to include lots of celebrities whose acting chops may or may not be well known. Definitely worth committing a half hour, and hoping for more.


Time commitment: ½ hour

The titular Z in this pilot is Zelda Sayre, later to become Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Played by Christina Ricci, Zelda is a feisty young woman who revels in insubordination and longs to leave her hometown of Montgomery, Ala., for something more. Her stuffy contemporaries call her loose and deride her free spirit. But one evening, at a late night City Hall dance among hordes of horny soldiers, she meets Scott. The turn-of-the-century South is a beautiful backdrop for Ricci, a woefully underrated actress for whom this role fits like a glove. She pops against her surroundings like a red rose in a hay field.

Worth it? Yes. Who doesn’t love a good feminist period piece? It’s a literary nerd’s Downton Abbey.


Time commitment: 1 hour

John Tavner has a knack for screwing things up. The son of a U.S. State Department employee and brother of U.S. Senator, Tavner (Michael Dorman) was sent undercover to Iran in 2011 to assassinate a high level government employee, and accidentally killed the wrong guy. He is recovering in Amsterdam when his father Tom (Terry O’Quinn, Lost) sends his brother Edward (Michael Chernus, Orange Is The New Black) to bring him home for another job. He is to bring a big bag of money to Luxembourg to influence the Iranian election. Dorman, O’Quinn and Chernus are excellent in their roles. There is a comic irony to the telling of Tavner’s back story in the style of a folk music video, and also a poignancy. Director Steve Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) plays with perspective in a way that feels fresh.

Worth it? Yes, especially if you love international politics and folk music. It’s a well-done, dialogue-driven political drama with a stellar soundtrack.

Good Girls Revolt

Time commitment: 1 hour

Fast forward a few decades from Z, and find a much more conspicuous coup: Good Girls Revolt. Based on the novel by Lynn Povich, the pilot examines the personal and professional lives of journalists and newsroom employees at a weekly news magazine in the early 1970s. The magazine, called News of the Week (Newsweek is the subject of Povich’s book), employs numerous women, but they are relegated to the role of “researcher,” toiling to craft stories and secure sources and facts in support of male “reporters” who do little of the work but always get the byline. Central to the pilot story is new researcher Nora Ephron, played by Grace Gummer (a spitting image of her mother, Meryl Streep). The real Ephron was, indeed, an accomplished journalist before she rose to the top of the rom-com canon as the writer of When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless in Seattle. In Good Girls Revolt, the talented Ephron ruffles feathers and inspires a rebellion among the put-upon women of News of the Week. “Why can’t a woman have a byline?” they wonder. “Can we change this?” The all-star cast includes Genevieve Angelson, Anna Camp, Hunter Parrish, Jim Belushi, Lena Hall and Chris Diamantopoulos.

Worth it? Absolutely. If you only have time for one, watch this one. If you miss Mad Men, this will scratch that itch. But here, the focus is less on attractive men doused in smoke and bourbon, and more on an ambitious group of creative women struggling for editorial equality at the dawn of second wave feminism.

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