Ranking Amazon’s New Comedy Pilots: 2017


Amazon’s Pilot Season has arrived again, and in previous years has yielded favorites like Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking dramedy Transparent and Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s sharp and inimitable Catastrophe. This year, for the first time, the full slate consists of comedies. Based on the first half-hour taste of each prospective program, I have a ranking for what series I hope they’ll be debuting next year. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you have your own opportunity to weigh in through the platform- so make sure to make your voice heard in the weeks ahead!

Top Pick: Love You More

Of the trio of offerings this Pilot Season, Love You More was the one I was the most excited about. Starring and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, it also comes with the pedigree of Michael Patrick King (of Sex and the City fame). This vision of New York is a wholly different one than King shepherded Carrie and Co. through, as the bulk of our action takes place at Jane Berger House. The Berger House is a group home for young people with Down’s syndrome, and Everett stars as their primary caregiver.

As Karen, the protagonist with a big personality and equally big heart, we get to see both sides of Bridget Everett: the ebullient cabaret singer (yes, including a song near the end of the pilot), and the nuanced dramedic actress. She is as effortlessly open going after a guy at a bar, as she later is patient and caring while dealing with the challenges of her young charges. The conceit isn’t as hokey as it might seem; the actors that populate Berger House are talented, dynamic, and – in a rare occurrence for actors with disability on television – distinct from each other. Should Love You More get picked up, I look forward to getting to know their backstories and personalities.

I speak about the prospect of pickup with hope, because Love You More feels like the best executed pilot of the three. It provides ample introduction to the characters so you feel invested in future goings-on of their lives, provides a taste of what future conflicts could arise, and poses questions for what a later version will look like. It’s not perfect – it will take some work to get Everett’s existing song catalog to fit seamlessly into the feel of her character a la Flight of the Conchords – but it has promise. And its ability to bring Loni Anderson back to TV doesn’t hurt one bit.

Standout Line: “Why you got an old roommate?” “Craigslist.”

 

Promising but Needs Improvement: The Climb

If we’re speaking in terms of rate of funny, The Climb has more jokes per capita than its other two counterparts. Written and created by Diarra Kilpatrick (of American Koko, produced by Viola Davis), I found myself smiling and laughing at individual lines during this half hour more than the others. Kilpatrick stars as Nia, a Detroit office worker seeking a more fulfilling life- as an Internet celebrity like the show’s fictional idol, stripper turned public personality Copper Lewinsky.

The pilot is directed by Chris Robinson, whose other coup of 2017 was directing Tiffany Haddish’s She Ready for Showtime. His premium cable pedigree shows, as the episode is artfully shot. But while there are more jokes than in other pilots, the momentum lags for the first half of the episode. By the end, I found myself excited to see where the characters and story would go, but it took me some time to feel that way.

The Climb features a Black woman’s coming-of-age desire for fulfillment that up until fairly recently, thanks to shows like HBO’s Insecure and FX’s Atlanta, hadn’t previously been depicted with Black leads. The Climb shows shades of each program, but has the potential to set itself apart from Rae and Glover’s creations. I’m looking forward to seeing where The Climb will go, and it has high potential to be a fun watch consistently, with more attention to the pacing of the plot development.

Standout Line: “Isn’t that why Martin Luther King died, so that I could one day have white girl problems?” “What? No! Dr. King didn’t die so you could one day bitch and moan like Taylor Swift at a sleepover.”

Not for Me: Sea Oak

Glenn Close is a zombie. I’m telling you up top, because the pilot takes a while to get you there. An Amazon reviewer called the show “the fastest 32 minutes” he’d spent recently, but I’ll dissent and say that was not my experience. I’m open to a show with a slow burn, but this was a slow burn that felt (a) unearned, given what it spent its time on, and (b) too long, given the show’s source material is a short story by the acclaimed author George Saunders. In fact, there was a brief snippet of a “show within a show” called The Worst That Could Happen, and that short taste caught my attention better than this whole pilot.

Close is Bernie, a pious and rigid store cashier who passes after a home invasion in her nieces’ unsafe neighborhood. After a funeral fraught with family tension, she returns to the scene of the crime, snarling at her nieces and nephew about getting jobs, getting her a blanket…and getting her suitors, which she never had during her time on Earth.

If the purpose of a pilot is to introduce you to what the show ahead will provide, I didn’t find Sea Oak to be particularly helpful in that regard. Despite a director pedigree in Atlanta’s Hiro Murai, a personal appreciation for Close’s work as a whole, and a near-immediate desire to watch Jane Levy in anything she does (and to find out if this James van der Beek cameo will pay off in spades or not), this first taste didn’t grab me as I’d hoped.

Standout Line: “What is Zambia?” “That is juice.” “That is not juice.”

 

Want to see if you agree with my ranking? Amazon Pilot Season is running now for Prime Members, so be sure to head over, watch, and share your thoughts with Amazon to help them decide what makes it to series.

 

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.

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