Shortly after the new year, Amazon Prime released its new line-up of original pilots available to members, letting them decide which shows get picked up for a full season or additional episodes. While none of Amazon’s seven new pilots are as good as two-time Golden Globe winner “Transparent,” they showcase the company’s determination to catch up with Netflix by offering more original content and satisfying its members’ individual needs. Here, we’ll take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly among the shows whose fates remain undetermined.
The Good: “The New Yorker Presents”
Sometimes a TV show surprises its audience by delivering the exact thing viewers expect from it. “The New Yorker Presents” is the self-explanatory title of Amazon’s newest offer to those who prefer to read and learn using modern technology instead of holding a book or a magazine and flipping through the pages. From the perspective of a long-time magazine and newspaper fan, I think that the 31-minute pilot is the New Yorker magazine delivered to those too tired to let their imagination bring the words to life. Yet it is undeniable that there is large demand to create a similar experience through videos for the new generation of attached-to-screens technophiles. While I might have disagreed with the underlying idea of transforming words into an alternative form with the intention of delivering a similar experience, “The New Yorker Presents” struck me as a perfect addition to the world-famous magazine, as opposed to a replacement.
The pilot is divided into separate segments, each independent and unique in form, compromising a variety of worthy elements that can appeal to a wide range of people with different tastes. There are also shorter segments of cartoons being drawn, shown through time-lapses, providing smooth transitions to the next major segment.
Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”) stars in the first segment as God giving instructions to his prophet (Brett Gelman), who warns people of the upcoming doomsday through unusual and rather satirical methods. Cumming brings this comedic piece to perfection through the simple but thoughtful script similar to pieces regularly found in the magazine.
The second segment features Marina Abramovi, the world-renowned Yugoslavian artist, introduced and interviewed by Ariel Levy ’96, a staff writer at The New Yorker. While an interview with Abramovi can take an entire day, Levy manages to include Abramovi’s major acclaimed works such as her famous exhibition named “The Artist Is Present” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She raises a lot of questions about the idea of pursuing art as a provocative tool and the aesthetics of contemporary art by providing descriptive background, and leaves the viewers to look for answers and to ask even more questions.
Tyrone Hayes, a biologist who challenges the usage of agrochemical Atrazine (made by company Syngenta AG), anchors the third part, and a poetry reading performed by Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) closes the episode, with Garfield doing an exemplary job with emotional delivery.
Although the different segments might feel out of place and disparate, overall the idea behind “The New Yorker Presents” keeps faithful to its published origin, and the formula is effective at compiling a valuable collection of diverse pieces. “The New Yorker Presents” could expand into the next big thing in literary adaptation, proving to be Amazon’s next breakthrough.
The Bad: “Point of Honor”
Troops are marching, and cannons are readying to fire. With the first cannon blast, cavalry dismount and soldiers advance to the battlefield. Gunshots are fired, and blood is spilled onto the earth. It’s 1861, the beginning of the Civil War, and no one is safe.
“Point of Honor” starts with a well-made, gory battle scene, introducing another promising historical fiction TV show. John Rhodes (Nathan Parsons, “True Blood”), of a notable Virginian household, decides to free all the slaves working on his family plantation, causing major conflict between his family members, mainly his three sisters, Kate, Lorelei, and Estella Rhodes (Annabelle Stephenson, Riley Voelkel, and Hanna Mangan Lawrence), each bringing her own side-story to the table. While the “historical” events are represented absurdly for the most part, the show is not meant to be a history lesson with drama on the side.
However, the biggest failure of “Point of Honor” is also its strongest point: the characters. While the main characters stand out and develop individually and the actors do a solid job bringing them to life, there are far too many to keep track of. With such a large number of primary and secondary characters, the show starts to lose focus on the narrative and storyline. “Point of Honor” suffers from its lack of believable relationships between characters due to its uncharismatic dialogue. On the other hand, the silent moments become the most meaningful elements of the show, richly depicting the atmosphere of the Civil War and a family in conflict. Overall, the expansive hour-long drama starts its run on a promising note, but by the end of the episode it doesn’t leave much to be desired.
The Ugly: “Down Dog”
What happens when you mix yoga, sex, sexism, nudity, voice-overs, and “Slumdog Millionaire’s” soundtrack into a TV show? You’ll end up with “Down Dog,” Amazon’s tragic failure in blending comedy and drama through yoga, which will make you deeply regret wasting 32 minutes of your life. Logan (Josh Casaubon), the main character, has lived most of his life having sex with almost every woman in his proximity. After meeting Miranda, now his girlfriend, they establish a yoga institute. Logan cheats on Miranda, who is insistent on getting engaged after their long relationship, and decides to become independent and run the yoga center on his own. With the help of a couple of friends, who are as unnecessary as the usage of voice-over narration in the show, Logan must keep the business alive and running. Undoubtedly, “Down Dog” is the most unoriginal contestant among Amazon’s Original Pilots this season, and I truly hope that this pilot is the first and last episode of this show.