Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ranking the Amazon comedy pilots

Amazon is the latest online venture to try its hand at original programming, and it's involving you in the process. Eight comedy pilots are up at for you to watch and rate. Amazon will decide which ones to develop into full series based on the number of views, star rating, comments and a host of other factors. Right now they're free to watch, but once the series are picked up, they will only be available to Amazon Prime subscribers.

The pilots feature some big names (John Goodman, Bebe Neuwirth, Jeffrey Tambour) and two known entities ("Onion News Empire" and "Zombieland"). There are two animated comedies ("Supanatural" and "Dark Minions") and one musical ("Browsers"). And lots of raunchy humor, which -- unless I'm becoming a prude, which is entirely possible -- seems like an easy way to go after laughs these days. But there you have it.

Below are my thoughts on the pilots, ranked in order from what I most want to see picked up to least.
Betas: 4 stars
Premise: Four guys in Silicon Valley are looking for an investor for their app that helps people connect in person.
My take: Of all the pilots, this had the most fully realized characters and the most potential for growth. The guys all seem like they would be friends in real life. A particular standout for me is Karan Soni ("Safety Not Guaranteed") as the insecure, perfectionist app designer. Bonus: The always enjoyable Ed Begley Jr., who plays the coveted investor, jams on the flute with Moby by his side.

Supanatural: 4 stars
Premise: Two divas battle supernatural baddies and such, when they're not working at the mall.
My take: This animated comedy made me laugh the most. It's like sitting back and watching your two sassiest friends go back and forth. Very Adult Swim.

Onion News Empire: 3 stars
Premise: The Onion's trademark media satire extended into a behind-the-scenes spoof.
My take: Its funniest elements are those The Onion already does well, like fake headlines. But the spoof aspect is relentless -- not every line has to be a joke, writers. Strong cast in Jeffrey Tambour and Cheyenne Jackson ("30 Rock"), especially.

Those Who Can't: 3 stars
Premise: Three high school teachers plot revenge against a jock who terrorizes them.
My take: Not a lot of laughs, but the acting is solid. A highlight is Benjamin Roy as a wannabe bad-ass history teacher.

Browsers: 3 stars
Premise: Four 20-somethings get jobs as interns at a Huffington Post-like aggregate site.
My take: It's a musical, so not my cup of tea, but I give it credit for trying something out of the ordinary. The characters are thinly drawn so far. Bebe Neuwirth as the boss is a real treat.

Dark Minions: 3 stars
Premise: Two out-of-work guys take jobs as minions for an evil galactic overlord.
My take: Again, points for being different. It's going to be stop motion animation, but the pilot for now is mostly cartoon stills, kind of like a storyboard. I feel like a lot of visual gags got lost and would be curious to see it come to fruition.

Zombieland: 2 stars
Premise: A cross-country road trip in a zombie-filled world. Based on the 2009 movie of the same name, with the same characters but different actors.
My take: I haven't seen the movie so I can't compare, but the biggest problem I had with the show was the uncertainty of tone -- I can't tell if it wants to be cute or dark. The brutal zombie attacks overshadow the actors, and it goes for a sentimentality at the end that it doesn't deserve. You should at least watch the cold open, though, which is hilarious.

Alpha House: 1 star
Premise: Three Republican Senators who share a house when they're in DC are on the prowl for a fourth after their roommate gets arrested.
My take: Aside from a brief bout of activity at the beginning, featuring a cameo by a Peninsula favorite as the soon-to-be-arrested roommate, the show is lethargic and unimaginative. Creator Garry Trudeau, he of "Doonesbury" fame, made a fatal mistake in making all of the main characters Republicans; a show mixing the parties brings natural conflict and thus inherently becomes more interesting. John Goodman stars.

Head on over to and report back. Do you agree or disagree with my ranking? What would you like to see become a series? What do you think of the crowd-sourcing approach to series development?

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