On Wednesday (Feb. 6), Amazon served up its second helping of pilots, including projects from X-Files creator Chris Carter and author Michael Connelly. Feedback from viewers will help decide which of the five get a series order (i.e. become the next Alpha House).
Wondering which are worth your time? Our critics weigh in:
X-Files creator Chris Carter’s first show in over a decade tells a familiar story (the apocalypse!) from an intriguing new perspective, taking a ground-level view of a mysterious end-of-the-world event. The After centers on eight people who all have pulp-novel job descriptions: Sleazy Lawyer, Wrongly Accused Convict, Cop, Skinny-Dipping Hooker, Drunk Brit, Actress, Wealthy Widow, Clown. (The latter is played by Jamie Kennedy.) The unlikely-strangers-thrown-together angle gives the show the budget-camp vibe of an old Irwin Allen production. But Carter patiently escalates the terror and thrills over the course of the episode — which sets The After apart from the current vogue for hyper-kinetic genre thrillers. Worth watching just for the utterly terrifying final scene. B– —Darren Franich
There’s a smart trick when you want to give off the aura of being a great TV show: cast lots of people from other great TV shows. It’s a trick Bosch uses early and often in its pilot episode. Half the episode is seemingly spent playing Important American Television Whac-A-Mole — as soon as one actor from a beloved show exits the screen, another actor from another beloved show magically appears. Hey, it’s Hershel from The Walking Dead! Wait, there goes the redhead from 24! Look, a dude from The Wire! Look, another dude from The Wire! How long until Badger and Skinny Pete show up?
This bit of crafty casting goes on and on and even extends to the title character, played by Titus Welliver, he of the trifecta of great shows (Lost, The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy). Unfortunately, once you get past the thrill of seeing old friends in new places, the fun fades. This adaptation of Michael Connelly’s book series — with a script written by Connelly and Eric Overmyer (himself of a veteran of The Wire) — feels a bit like a warmed over CBS procedural as brooding detective Harry Bosch faces a civil trial over the shooting of a suspect while also attempting to solve a case involving missing child bones found in the woods.
While Welliver is engaging and does an admirable job of not going too showy in his performance, plenty of other absurd TV tropes abound — like the fact that a cop like Bosch lives in an apartment with what has to be the single best view of Los Angeles. There’s also an unfortunate courtroom scene in which one lawyer actually quotes Nietzsche in her opening statement. As if not to be topped in the cliché category, the next lawyer quotes Sun Tzu. Let’s hope that is not lesson #1 in Amazon’s manual for the art of war against traditional broadcast networks. B– —Dalton Ross
Mozart in the Jungle
Classical music finally gets its own Kitchen Confidential in this comedy based on Blair Tindall’s memoir. Lola Kirke plays the striving oboist trying to balance her ambitions with the usual New York twenty-something travails. She’s the everygal audience surrogate in a world filled with big personalities. Malcolm McDowell plays the exiting conductor of a famous Manhattan orchestra; Gael Garcia Bernal is his rockstar next-generation replacement; Bernadette Peters is the orchestra’s chairwoman; Saffron Burrows is a seen-it-all cellist. It’s sort of like Smash, except simultaneously more authentic and much funnier. And Kirke — sister of Girls star Jemima — makes an appealing heroine.
A– —Darren Franich
In the first scene of the new shaggy dog sports comedy The Rebels, a team of professional football players accidentally dump their deceased owner’s coffin into his grave. It’s not very funny, nor to be honest is the first episode. What the show does have going for it though is the sharp sex appeal of Natalie Zea (The Following), who plays Julie, the dead owner’s former cheerleader wife who decides to take over as team owner. (“Sweetheart, this is a football team, not a school play,” a ring of good old boys warn her as they try to pay her off.) And it’s got Josh Peck (Drake & Josh) as well, who shows great comedic timing as the nebbishy assistant suddenly promoted by Julie to General Manager. These two make a promising odd couple, but they need better material worthy of their appeal. B– —Karen Valby
Billed as one of Amazon’s new comedies, the show Transparent is not particularly funny. But therein lies the appeal. There are no set-ups. No punch-lines. No zingers. This is not a show that will have you busting a gut or doing spit-takes on the couch. Instead, Transparent takes an almost indie-film approach and seeks to introduce you to a unique family in a unique set of circumstances and allow the power of the characters to win you over. And it works.
The story (written and directed by Jill Soloway) centers around the three adult children of Jeffrey Tambor’s Mort. There is slacker Ali (Gaby Hoffmann, continuing her recent trend of full frontal nudity), hipster Josh (Jay Duplass), and affluent Sarah (Amy Landecker). Each of these characters could easily be cookie-cutter clichés, but they manage to engage and extend beyond any preconceived expectations the viewer may assign to them. Speaking of surprising, Mort has a secret he’s been keeping from his kids. I won’t reveal it here, but it adds yet another dimension that again could be played for cheap laughs but is not. “They are so selfish,” Mort says at one point of his own kin. “I don’t know how it is I raised three people who cannot see beyond themselves.” This is said not out of anger or malice, but rather genuine surprise. He loves his children, warts and all. And there’s a lot to love about Transparent after one episode. A– —Dalton Ross