Amazon has announced the pilots on its Prime Instant Video streaming service that have made the cut during the company’s testing round and will be picked up to series. Each season Amazon chooses several shows to make pilots and allows Prime members to watch and comment on those pilots, giving them ratings that help determine whether the shows will be picked up to series. Prime members have spoken and this upcoming season’s pilots have been whittled down to determine which series are getting a full season on Amazon Prime.
Now that Prime can call itself a Golden Globe-winning streaming service and home to Transparent, one of the most critically-acclaimed television shows of last year, nabbing a full-season commitment from Amazon is a more prestigious achievement than it was when Prime Instant Video first launched. “These new series, including our first docu-series, are some of our most ambitious to date and I’m looking forward to their premieres in the future,” said Roy Price, the president of Amazon Studios, in the company’s press release. Here’s a look at the five new original series that Amazon has given the green light, plus one show that’s been picked up for a second season.
1. Mad Dogs
One Prime member said this dark comedy based on the British series of the same name “Definitely exceeded my expectations.” Another said it “Hooked us in within the first five minutes” and another user claimed “As a big fan of Shawn Ryan’s The Shield, I knew to trust this pilot blindly and just push play. I was rewarded.”
The show is about a group of longtime male friends struggling to negotiate their relationships as they transition into middle age. One member of the group has been very successful and invites the others to come to his villa in Belize to celebrate his early retirement. The facade of friendship quickly fades as they learn who’s holding deep grudges and maintaining elaborate lies. On the vacation, tensions bubble over and a murder takes place that forces the men to try and trust each other though it’s the last thing they want to do. The original British version’s creator Chris Cole is serving as a producer. The show stars Steve Zahn of Dallas Buyers Club (pictured above), Billy Zane of Twin Peaks, Romany Malco of Weeds, Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos, and Ben Chaplin as the main group of friends.
2. The Man in the High Castle
“During the latest pilot season, Amazon customers made The Man in the High Castle our most watched pilot ever,” Price said in the company’s announcement. “Not only is this a beautiful and well done pilot, but it’s super engaging and quite a great homage to the book,” said one Prime user. Another had this to say, “The Man in the High Castle may very well be the single best thing I’ve ever seen or heard. It sits at first place on my list of best TV shows ever, and its audio track sits at second.”
The show is based on the 1962 alternate history dystopian classic Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, in which Dick creates a world imagining what would have happened if the Allies had lost WWII. The story takes place 20 years after the war is lost and the world is split up between the Axis powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan. Those three powers are fighting their own conflicts, mostly battling them out in the western United States. There, Dick places characters in various states of posing and disguise including spies, sellers of fake products, and people with false identities. The novel won the Hugo Award, and fans of Dick will be hoping the show can do the book justice. Science fiction filmmaker Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) serves as an executive producer. The hour-long drama pilot will star Alexa Davalos (pictured above), Luke Kleintank, Rupert Evans, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joel De La Fuente, Rufus Sewell, and DJ Qualls.
3. The New Yorker Presents
This documentary series is essentially a television version of the popular and acclaimed New Yorker magazine. It features short film versions of the magazine’s most popular articles, from pieces of investigative journalism to short stories and poetry. “With all of the ridiculousness and nonsense on TV today, this show makes me feel as if I’m being linked to a real part of the world,” said one Prime user. “I don’t write many reviews on programs but I was so compelled to do so. You must see this outstanding journalistic presentation. The New Yorker Presents is wonderful,” commented another.
The pilot episode contained a short film based on a short story by Simon Rich, directed by Arrested Development’s Troy Miller and starring Alan Cumming and Bret Gelman, a film of a poem by Matthew Dickman narrated by actor Andrew Garfield, a short documentary about the biologist Tyrone Hayes directed by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) based on an article by Rachel Aviv, and an interview with performance artist Marina Abramović conducted by The New Yorker writer Ariel Levy. The show is executive produced by Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney.
4. Just Add Magic and 5. The Stinky & Dirty Show
These two series are children’s shows, as Amazon isn’t leaving itself out of the educational kids’ market. If streaming services really want to go toe-to-toe with cable companies they need their original content to replace all the programming that traditional cable offers. One viewer said of Just Add Magic, “I have two girls. One is almost five and the other is six. They LOVED this show. I loved it because it shows intelligent, kind, thoughtful young girls who are not annoying, obsessed with makeup/clothes, or mean to their ‘enemies’ or families. We need more shows like this for our young girls.” Another said of The Stinky & Dirty Show, “Great show from top to bottom. The animation is some of the best I’ve seen on television.”
Just Add Magic is targeted at kids ages 6 to 11 and follows best friends Kelly, Darbie, and Hannah, who discover Kelly’s grandmother’s cookbook in the attic. When they start making the book’s recipes, they realize the confections contain magical powers. The show is based on Cindy Callaghan’s young adult book of the same name. The Stinky & Dirty Show is aimed at audiences a bit younger, targeting preschool-age viewers. The animated series follows Stinky the garbage truck and and Dirty the backhoe loader as they accomplish various tasks and rescue missions in the town of Go City. The series is meant to show children that sometimes failing at something can lead to learning important lessons and unexpected accomplishments.
6. Mozart in the Jungle
This Amazon original starring Gael García Bernal explores the wild side of classical music and just got an order for a second season. Bernal plays Rodrigo, a fictionalized version of the New York Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and the show is based on the memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by the oboist Blair Tindall about her career in the cutthroat upper echelons of the classical music world. The second season sees the original cast returning, including Saffron Burrows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Lola Kirke (Gone Girl), and Malcolm McDowell (The Mentalist). It will be executive produced by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Paul Weitz. The show’s first season earned critical acclaim, with a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics pointing to Bernal’s performance as the show’s strongest point.
“The first season of Mozart in the Jungle was a big hit with our customers and I’m thrilled that we’re able to produce a second season,” said Price said in an announcement. “Roman, Jason, and Paul brought viewers into this rarely-seen world of the symphony. I know fans of the series will be in for treat when the second season premieres early next year.”
The pilots that have been left in the dust include the dark comedy about the gun industry Cocked starring True Blood’s Sam Trammell, the comedy about a slacker yoga teacher Down Dog, the Civil War period drama Point of Honor, and the comedy about a supermodel attempting to rejoin the real world after a stint in rehab called Salem Rogers.
Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS