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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Previewing Amazon’s new online pilots

The race to pump out compelling, original video content online is in full swing. The time-sucking behemoths known as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu are grappling to see who can first destroy productivity on earth as we know it. With “Arrested Development” looming on Netflix, Amazon has taken the novel approach of presenting eight different comedy pilots for its users to review.

The entire concept of trying to judge a comedy based on its pilot is utterly ridiculous, and not the kind that makes people guffaw. More than any other television genre, comedies develop slowly and oftentimes drastically change from their early episodes. Look at “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Seinfeld” in their first seasons. These initial creations seem like strange experiments in chemistry building and character development with very little resemblance to their late-season iterations.

Amazon has tasked its users with the all-important task of choosing which show should be picked up based on a pilot that is rarely indicative of what the final product will look like. Fear not readers, I’m here to sort out the ROFLs from the riff-raff so people can be productive! Here’s my break down of the comedy pilots using my patented one to ten lolz scale:

“Alpha House”: Four senator buddies bunk up in a house while hilarity ensues. It’s a classic frat tale that transcends time, becoming an innovative and comedic look at the lives of senators. Oh wait, that’s just the description for the show—it’s actually pretty dumb. Simply turning senators into college bros doesn’t make the homophobic, crappy intern jokes any more creative. Even John Goodman and Bill Murray’s profanity-laced rant can’t save this show. “Alpha House” gets a lowly three filibustered lolz.

“Betas”: “Betas” takes place in Silicon Valley, where a start-up company is seeking to market its “brb” social media program. The setting is refreshingly modern as Google Earth helps transitions between locations. It sounds hokey, but it actually helps maintain the technological aesthetic. “Betas” is strangely mature for a simple pilot, with a well-defined A/B plot that brings both real emotion and humorous beats. Ed Begley Jr. as a technology mogul is a particular treat. “Betas” shows real potential scoring eight octopus-fucked lolz.

“Browsers”: Continuing the theme of young’uns trying to find their way in the world, “Browsers” takes place at a Huffington Post style news aggregator as four new interns hope to impress their new boss. “Browsers” uses musical numbers to help set it apart from standard comedies, but it doesn’t add anything to the show. They introduce character development in an off-putting, overt, showy manner quasi-predicated on internet memes and culture. Despite the creator’s prestigious histories at “The Daily Show” and “30 Rock,” “Browsers” fails to capture the grounded reality that “Betas” mixes so well with comedic moments. “Browsers” sings out four operatic lolz.

“Dark Minions”: I’m a sucker for stop-motion animation. I love “Wallace & Gromit” and “Chicken Run,” so “Dark Minions’” visual aesthetic certainly appealed to my inner clay-loving self. It’s too bad only four minutes or so are animated this way, with the rest done as storyboard drawings. There’s a Spaceballsian element to “Dark Minions” that I like, but most of the jokes revolve around sexual alien imagery and pot-smoking. “Dark Minions” might evolve into a serviceable animated show if given the time, but like its pilot, I don’t think the show will be given a chance to actually be completed. “Dark Minions” tokes up six reefer-infused lolz.

“Onion News Empire”: I’m torn over this pilot. I love The Onion’s sardonic take on news so every ridiculous story elicited a hearty chuckle. However, I question whether this can evolve beyond a silly headline producer and into a comedy with chemistry and character development. Jeffery Tambor steals the show, as he is wont to do, as David Bryant, the vindictive old anchor who will do anything to discredit the up and comers at the Empire. “Onion News Empire” certainly has the lolz factor, and a likable young duo in Christpoher Masterson and Aja Naomi King, but I’m simply not sure about its long-term sustainability. “Onion News Empire” broadcasts seven illiterate lolz.

“Supanatural”:Oh dear “Supanatural”, how absolutely revolting your premise is. Two divas that work at a mall double as supernatural hunters trying to protect their fellow mall workers from a crystal skull trying to cause Armageddon. Maybe it’s because I work in a mall, but this crass, rude, stereotypical humor is incredibly unappealing. Wait, is that a bunch of Indian sexual innuendo? Sigh. What’s the opposite of ROFLing? ROFCrying? Maybe just ROFBored out of my mind because this show sucks? “Supanatural” gets two sarcastic lolz.

“Those Who Can’t”: “Those Who Can’t” is predicated on distilling the lives of three high school teachers down to the levels of immaturity typically seen in their students. The dynamic between the three is undeniable and I enjoyed the quick “30 Rock”-esque cuts between scenes. It reminds me of a more mature “Ned’s Declassified,” but the hilarity has sort of worn off at this point. Sure, it’s kind of funny to see a teacher dress up in chains and grab heroin, but it’s also petulant and doesn’t provide the laughs it might have for my eighth grade self. “Those Who Can’t” grades out at five Yahtzee lolz.

“Zombieland”: Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, the original scribes of the “Zombieland” film, this pilot hits on many of the same beats the movie did. Starring the same characters played by different actors, “Zombieland” already has a strong dynamic between the four travelers. Stepping into Woody Harrelson’s shoes is no easy feat, but Kirk Ward performs amicably as Tallahassee. I question the economic feasibility of a show predicated on special effects and widespread movement, but it was a fun, promising pilot. “Zombieland” splatters six gore-laden lolz on the board.

That’s a wrap for my coverage of Amazon’s freshly stocked comedy pilots. While I can’t speak for everyone, I really hope “Betas” gets the series order. It has a smart, diverse cast with an already well-defined story arc providing realistic character emotions. I fear “Zombieland” may win by virtue of its name recognition, but hopefully I’m proven wrong. Either way, as long as it’s not “Supanatural,” I’ll be supa-happy.

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