Original Amazon Shows Arrive on the Scene


Amazon Studios has been gearing up to produce original programming to compete with rivals Netflix and Hulu, and even smaller film distributors like Focus Features, for some time. Now, they are ready to launch their official streaming selections that should begin appearing as part of Amazon Prime by the end of this year.

The online shopping conglomerate made the pilots they were considering as part of their original Amazon shows available for subscribers to rate and approve. Half of these were children’s shows, but the others were all “intended for mature audiences.” The final five were selected entirely based on viewer ratings and comments.

Close, But No Cigars

Those that didn’t make the cut include “Onion News Empire,” a behind-the-scenes look at the Onion News Network, starring Jeffrey Tambor and shot in the style of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom.” Though this pilot fared better than others with test audiences, its marks weren’t high enough for it to make the final five. The problem with this one, if not with audiences, but with some critics, is that Onion News Network (on IFC) is already a news satire with real life references to anchor the humor. “Onion News Empire,” in an effort to expand the realm of satirical news, has extended the parodied setting to beyond the studio and out into the real world. These are two concept elements that just don’t work unless “the real world” is in on the joke.

Another that didn’t make the finals was “Those Who Can’t,” reportedly a highly derivative imitator of its more successful brethren, “Workaholics.” “Those Who Can’t” takes its title from the old adage “Those who can’t, teach,” and revolves around slacker teachers in a public high school. The concept of doing just enough work to stay employed doesn’t really work in a setting where audiences know that such antics or poor practices would never be tolerated, making the main characters immediately unsympathetic.

“Browsers” was a musical, for no apparent reason, other than Broadway regular Bebe Neuwirth (also of “Frasier”) is the headliner. It takes place in a sort of Slate.com type online publication, with Neuwirth the tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners boss.

A couple of animated series were also deemed unworthy. “Dark Minions,” a digital stop-motion style sci-fi series about low-level stormtrooper types who work for a nefarious overlord seeking to dominate the universe, was really just another variation on the “trials and tribulations of internship” theme. “Supanatural” — no, that’s not misspelled — was about two outspoken and overly confident paranormal bounty hunters who are hired by the Pope to rid the world of evil. It’s similar in tone and humor to “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” so there is likely an audience for “Supanatural” out there, just not among Amazon subscribers.

The pilot that performed the worst was an intended adaptation of the feature film “Zombieland.” Purists who loved the film simply annihilated the web series version with criticism and vitriol, shocking the show’s creator, Rhett Reese. According to Reuters, Reese tweeted, “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard “Zombieland” fans. You guys successfully hated it out of existence.”

Five Original Amazon Shows For Your Approval

Of the five original Amazon shows that were selected by audiences for production, three are children’s shows and two adult comedies. The first show for children, called “Tumbleaf,” is a digital stop motion series similar in tone and content to both “Blues Clues” and “Dora the Explorer.” Fig, a fox, is a curious little critter with lots of woodland friends (with woodland names) and a best pal called Stick, a caterpillar. The writing and concepts are simple enough for children, yet not condescending or “baby-ish.” The voice acting is pleasant and engaging, without the screetching, high-pitched quality so many kids’ shows are prone to. This would definitely be a good one for long car trips or stays away from home.

Tumbleaf, Original Amazon Shows Arrive on the Scene

“Annebots” is another, live-action, kids’ show about a girl named Anne who is the child equivalent of “Futurama’s” Professor Farnsworth. She has single-handedly built several highly sophisticated robot friends, and a rocket pack for her carrier pigeon. Newcomer Nick stumbles upon Anne and her secret circle of friends one day when his mother sends him off exploring their new neighborhood in lieu of his zoning out on Internet Explorer. It’s always tricky when adults are writing for children, and I personally felt that these young characters were a bit too anachronistic, both story-wise and from a production standpoint. From the preview, it almost feels like a story lifted from a never-produced early ’90s script, with just enough modern references sprinkled in to keep it relevant.

Annebots, Original Amazon Shows Arrive on the Scene

The final children’s show is another animation called “Creative Galaxy.” The concept of teaching toddlers about art (painting, sculpture, etc) is beautiful, but I think it could do without the auto-tune musical interludes.

For adults, there is “Alpha House,” a political satire starring John Goodman, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy (top picture). All are GOP senators sharing a house in DC while congress is in session, at the same time trying to keep their respective re-election campaigns from turning sour. Mark Consuelos is the “Don Draper” of the group, who rents out the vacant room left by Bill Murray’s senatorial cameo as a prison-bound housemate. The show has plenty of talent in the mix (Garry Trudeau is the writer), but the pacing is very slow — especially next to something like the rapid-fire, always in motion “Veep,” that covers similar ground.

The other offering is “Betas” about a startup where a group of young developers have come up with the perfect new cash-cow app. There is the requisite high-strung, anti-social South Asian character, Nash, who does most of the grunt work. There is the requisite smooth-talking, relatively attractive pitch man and Nash’s best friend, Trey. Then there are Mitchell and Hobbes, the grungy second team who are more worried about their love lives, and who it’s hard to tell from the pilot what their roles in the business actually are. Ed Begley Jr is the big name in this one.

These are some promising original Amazon shows, and hopefully, they’ll see a good amount of success. More competition for network and cable TV should mean better products for the consumers.