Amazon's new comedy pilots full of flops -- with the exception of Bill Murray and Grawlix

Categories: Comedy

Amazon's political satire, Alpha House, debuted over the weekend, along with several stinkers, a few gems and the pilot of the Denver-based Grawlix sitcom, Those Who Can't
Employing the tactic now known as the House of Cards method (after the Netflix-produced Kevin Spacey drama), Amazon has bankrolled fourteen pilots for its new Prime Instant Video service, taking a seemingly democratic twist on the TV-industry convention of letting the public decide which series ascend into multi-episode Heaven, and which are cast into the junkyard of what-were-they-thinking Hell.

I just spent half of my snow day watching the eight comedy pilots on which Amazon has gambled its reputation, and I can assure you that thereʼs nothing democratic going on here. With a couple of excellent exceptions, the Internet behemoth has mostly xeroxed a handful of established and successful TV shows, while peppering in some cursing and drug use that will allow the word "edgy" to be liberally used in press releases. Still, a few gems -- Onion News Empire, Alpha House (staring John Goodman) and the Denver-centric Grawlix comedy Those Who Canʼt -- are more than worthy of repeat business.

See also:
- Andrew Orvedahl on Those Who Can't, the Grawlix pilot for Amazon
- Louis C.K. debuts new HBO special, continues frightening us all with his vivid logic
- Fred Savage: Horrible romantic advice from Wonder Years to Ladies Night

While there was probably a generous amount of creative license given to each of the seriesʼ creators, a blind-folded Honey Boo Boo on heroin could still spot the demographic targeting in Amazonʼs selections. Viewed all at once, the eight pilots feel so calculated, it's embarrassing. Four of them revolve around ambitious youngsters facing the odds, three exist in dangerous other-worlds of space or zombies, marijuana is smoked in four different episodes (itʼs as if there were some kind of recent legislation passed shifting public attitudes toward grass), two are hipster-nerd stories, and three tales of grown men with arrested development.

Don't confuse the latter with the actual Arrested Development -- the other anticipated series on Netflixʼs roster -- even though Amazon would probably like you to. It appears to be trying to hook fans of a show like Glee with its cringe-worthy Browsers (bright-eyed young bloggers try to make it at a Gawker-style media empire while randomly bursting into show tunes -- and, yes, it's even worse than it sounds), or turn The Big Bang Theory watchers onto Beta (techsters create a social media app while falling in love and hanging with Moby).

Those Who Canʼt is tailor-made for Workaholics and Itʼs Always Sunny In Philadelphia devotees. While Onion News Empire attempts the social wit of Portlandia, Alpha House wants The Daily Show demo (one of the character appears on The Colbert Report), and Zombieland is after fans of Zombieland.

Iʼm not saying that nothing good can come of this. The creators of these pilots probably
knew what kind of machinery they were climbing into, and some have used it to
their advantage. Washington mock-fest Alpha House does an excellent job of satirizing the juvenile arrogance that comes with fame in politics -- and if Bill Murrayʼs appearance in the first five minutes is anything more than a cameo, the show has a promising future as a smart-humor sendup of the GOP.

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