Amazon's 6 New Comedy and Drama Pilots: Which Ones Should You Watch?

TV Insider Staff
Amazon Pilots

What's Worth Streaming

It’s that time again—Amazon Prime Video is opening the floodgates and allowing us plebeians to help make the call on the service’s new crop of pilots. (Viewers, as in past seasons, can vote on their favorites directly.) Streamers can now get a taste of six potential series from the likes of Louis C.K., Diablo Cody and Sacha Baron Cohen, featuring stars like Anna Camp, Tig Notaro, Ryan Kwanten and Christina Ricci. But which are worth your time? We reviewed the pilots and share what you can expect.

Amazon Studios

Good Girls Revolt

Some of Mad Men’s greatest triumphs came from the critically-worshipped series’ explorations of how women struggled in the 1960s workplace. Now, Dana Calvo (the mind behind the short-lived CBS drama Made in Jersey) hones in on that narrative with this new hour-long drama. Revolt follows a group of young female employees (including Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp and Backstrom’s Genevieve Angelson) at News of the Week magazine in 1969. Despite having work ethics and talents, they're relegated to researchers while their male colleagues take all the bylines and credit. But, inspired by Nora Ephron (played by Meryl Streep spawn Grace Gummer), they decide—cue Twisted Sister!—they’re not gonna take it.

Also featuring Jim Belushi and Weeds’ Hunter Parrish, the pilot’s based on Lynn Povich’s book of the same name, about the first female class action lawsuit by women in media. The story is one that needs to be told, but given the pilot’s meandering focus and reliance on half-hearted humor, this might exactly not be the best place to hear it. —Gregory E. Miller

Amazon Studios

Highston

Score one for Highston: It’s definitely the funniest of Amazon’s new comedy pilots. Newcomer Lewis Pullman stars as Highston Liggetts, a 19-year-old whose many imaginary friends also happen to be celebrities. Madonna gives him advice about sex. Alex Rodriguez hangs out in his bedroom. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Shaquille O’Neill (appearing as “themselves”) join him for jam sessions. That is, until Highston’s worried parents (the hilarious Mary Lynn Rajskub and Chris Parnell) issue him an ultimatum: Get a job, go to school or check yourself into a psychiatric facility.

We dare you not to giggle when Highston’s mother inquires, “Honey, did Alex Rodriguez touch you?” If only the bouncy, colorful, occasionally sad episode—which was written by Oscar-nominee Bob Nelson (Nebraska), directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and executive produced by Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat)—didn’t look and feel so Wes Anderson-lite. —Aubry D’Arminio

Amazon Studios

Edge

Creators Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Lethal Weapon) and Fred Dekker’s (The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps) adaptation of George G. Gilman’s pulpy novels, billed as “the most violent western in print,” falls somewhere between gritty and campy as it follows gruff Union-soldier-turned-cowboy Josiah “Edge” Hedges (Max Martini) on a quest for vengeance against the men who murdered his brother.

In a rapid-fire succession of Wild West clichés (with as many facepalm-worthy puns and slapstick gags as there are severed appendages and gratuitous prostitutes), we find Edge crossing paths with a sassy lady of the evening/undercover agent (Dexter’s Yvonne Strahovski), an oppressive sheriff (William Sadler) and a group of his former army squad mates, led by Merritt Harknett (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten), his brother’s killer. Edge isn’t for the faint-hearted—according to the disclaimer that runs at the onset of this pilot—but what’s less clear is who the show is actually for. —Evan Lewis

Amazon Studios

Patriot

When you absorb the fact that one of Patriot writer-director Steven Conrad’s most notable screenwriting credits is the Nicolas Cage oddity The Weather Man, the herky-jerky yet undeniably admirable dark comic underlay of this new drama makes perfect sense. New Zealander Michael Dorman stars as John Tavner, a PTSD-afflicted intelligence man covering as a piping-firm employee, who’s roped into halting an Iranian nuclear crisis. An open-mic staple by night when not getting the sleeper hold by baddies, he’s never terribly far away from his droll Congressman brother (Orange is the New Black’s hilariously deadpan Michael Chernus) and State Department honcho father (Lost’s Terry O’Quinn). He is even known to break out into impromptu duets on the guitar with the latter, in his downtime.

With a few minor adjustments, Patriot could have easily slotted in the comedy category with its corkscrewy sense of humor (the earnest-as-hell title is quite misleading), aptly picked up on by its entertaining leads. And if the tube seems overripe with hunky Aussie/Kiwi leading-man studs of late, Dorman—in a tricky, not-what-it-seems role—proves more than just a handsome face. —Jason Clark

Amazon Studios

Z

Before Zelda Fitzgerald, the glamorous, mentally-ill wife of F. Scott, there was Zelda Sayre, the spoiled Southern belle. In Z, based on the novel by Therese Anne Fowler, viewers learn about Zelda (Christina Ricci) as a wild child teen in 1918 Montgomery, Alabama and her romance with the acclaimed Gatsby novelist. Like a true flapper-in-the-making, Zelda likes to drink, smoke, swim naked and support the soldiers by dancing with and kissing them in public.

Much of Z (billed as a comedy but feels more like a drama) explores her restless life with two friends, Livye (Sleepy Hollow’s Maya Kazan) and Ellie (Sarah Schenkkan), and her strained relationship with a scolding father (David Straitharn), who’s not afraid to call her a hussy. Ricci makes a fine free spirit (with a strong Southern accent), if overly melancholic, but Gavin Stenhouse, as the little-seen Scott, is a tad stoic compared to the real hard-partying persona. While it’s admirable to shine a spotlight on Zelda, who some believe has been misunderstood and misrepresented, it’s problematic when the pilot's minor details (like costumes and sets) seem more compelling than the actual story. —Sherry Huang

Amazon Studios

One Mississippi

One Mississippi has the perfect pedigree for a dark-comic pilot: Louis C.K. is an executive producer, Nicole Holofcenter (Enough Said) directs, Diablo Cody (Juno) co-wrote and creator/star Tig Notaro based the story on her experience returning to her small southern hometown after her mother’s sudden death. As such, the episode doesn’t mince words exploring the pain of watching someone you love die slowly after being taken off life support. Nor does it hold back when it comes to the myriad real-life inconveniences of gastro distress. (Notaro, stand-up’s current It Girl in the over-40 category, is similarly recovering from both a serious C. diff infection and a double mastectomy.) But One Mississippi’s strongest bits are between the devastated Notaro and her emotionally frozen stepfather (John Rothman), whose reaction to his wife’s death is to meticulously catalog her possessions in little plastic baggies. In short, it may be the funniest sad show you’ll ever see. —Aubry D’Arminio

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