Reviews for Amazon's Spring 2017 TV Pilots

  • Publish Date: March 17, 2017
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Amazon's latest batch of original series pilots is now available to stream on the Amazon website. (The pilots, unlike the full series, are free to watch even if you aren't a Prime member.) Below, we take a look at what critics are saying about Amazon's five newest shows. Note that scores are only listed in a few cases where a publication has assigned a grade to the pilot. Updated 3/20

Watch Now Budding Prospects

One of a growing number of shows set within the cannabis industry that are currently in development at various networks, Prospects sets itself apart by taking place prior to any legalization of marijuana: in 1983, when three young men from San Francisco head north to rural Mendocino County to grow pot for profit. The half-hour comedy—based on T.C. Boyle's novel—comes from Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa) and stars Adam Rose, Joel David Moore, Will Sasso, and Brett Gelman.

What they're saying ...

 

Jade Budowski
Decider

While the pilot feels cut short, the actors share a unique comic chemistry that leaves us wanting more. If the show is able to really hone in on the style of 1980s nostalgia they’re going for (rather than making us feel like we’re watching a show from the present), there could be a potentially great show here.

75

Darren Franich
Entertainment Weekly

There’s some real potential in this series, which seems to be aiming somewhere between Apatow-ish comedy and dawn-of-the-Pot-Age drug thriller. ... But Budding Prospects is one of those streaming-era pilots that feels more like an extended prologue. It’s hard to get a feel for this as a series, although a final cliffhanger leaves you genuinely wanting more.

67

Indiewire

The pilot is filled with many curious choices ... that don’t add to the show except to make it more muddled in tone and purpose.

 

Mike Hale
The New York Times

The pilot, on its own, is a slight but charming Bay Area miniature that should appeal to fans of “Crumb.”

70

David Fear and Kory Grow
Rolling Stone

Even if Gelman's shtick wears thin immediately, there's a lot of comic potential here, especially from Mad TV's Sasso.

 

David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle

There’s something here, for sure.

 

Jethro Nededog
Business Insider

Though set in the 80s, the comedy has some relevance to today's political climate and the growing popularity of marijuana use. But there's also nothing remarkable about it either.

 

Daniel Fienberg
The Hollywood Reporter

This pilot felt like the first act of a 100-minute movie to me. Why is it hoping to be a TV series? And why is it a half-hour? ... Basically, Budding Prospects does what it does well, but it isn't a template for a TV series.

 

Willa Paskin
Slate

It’s an affable tangle of commercial and artistic impulses that feels like a network comedy desperately trying to be sophisticated, or a sophisticated comedy that rewrote itself to have the mass appeal of a network comedy.

 

John Russell
TV Insider

Zwigoff helmed both Ghost World and Bad Santa, and with its preoccupation with some of the grimier, and frankly grosser, aspects of the slacker lifestyle—and San Francisco in general—Budding Prospects feels more akin to the latter.

 

Jen Chaney
Vulture

Budding Prospects feels like a tryout that, like its aimless characters, is still trying to figure out what it’s doing. Still, I’d watch a few more episodes to see if develops a greater sense of purpose.

 

Allison Keene
Collider

Budding Prospects‘ pilot is all setup and no payoff, and as such, is pretty boring. Despite an attempt at wry, dry humor, the pilot is exceptionally boilerplate, slow, and not particularly charming or clever.

 

Lara Zarum
Flavorwire

It’s hard to see how this story could stretch over a whole season; even the 30-minute pilot drags by the halfway point.

 

Aaron Pruner
Screener

The pilot is chock-full of convenient jokes and unnecessary exposition that leaves the audience to do most of the work.

Watch Now The Legend of Master Legend

John Hawkes stars in this half-hour dark comedy (which plays mainly as a drama) as the titular Master Legend, a self-proclaimed superhero who aims to protect Las Vegas from evil, much to the chagrin of his family. Penned by Transparent writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (who based the story on a real-life person described in a Rolling Stone article) and directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), the series also stars Shea Whigham and Dawnn Lewis.

What they're saying ...

 

Jethro Nededog
Business Insider

Its eclectic characters give the comedy so many directions to go, which makes this pilot a pretty good bet for a surprising full season.

 

Lea Palmieri
Decider

Master Legend could go very dark and very interesting, if that last scene is any indication. If that’s the route this show decides to go (if picked up for a full series), it could be a real hit.

75

Jeff Jensen
Entertainment Weekly

The tone isn’t quite there and the pilot is too shaggy to draw certain conclusions. But Hawkes and a fine cast imbue the whole thing with a humanity and casually worn complexity that invites hope that the show can fly above other shows in this genre. Or at least find is own compelling, distinct path.

 

Lara Zarum
Flavorwire

There’s sweetness at the heart of the pilot, and both the world of the show and its characters feel fully realized. All that and a surprisingly intense ending made me crave more of this one.

 

Daniel Fienberg
The Hollywood Reporter

Any time wiry character actor extraordinaire Hawkes can get a lead role, I'm pleased, and this is a great vehicle for him. ... Bring on more!

 

John Russell
TV Insider

“Sad-com” might not do Master Legend justice. As with Transparent, the comedy here comes from the characters’ quirks, but Master Legend is probably better described as a half-hour drama. Its depiction of disenfranchised working class folks—the casino workers and cab drivers who keep Vegas running—is particularly affecting.

 

Jen Chaney
Vulture

A perfect vehicle for Hawkes, whose wiry frame and gentle insanity is perfectly dressed in DIY body armor.

 

Allison Keene
Collider

While the premise of the series is certainly interesting, the pilot is a little slow and tonally scattered. Still, Legend is the kind of guy whose character deserves further exploration.

50

Indiewire

There needs to be more empathy or action in this black comedy for it to be worthy of Hawkes’ commitment.

 

Beth Elderkin
io9

The pilot is kind of a mixed bag. People who are fans of dark comedies, especially those in the realm of Breaking Bad or Shameless, will find things to enjoy. But, for superhero fans, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

 

David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle

An odd duck ... The show could either be a hard sell, or, depending on how much Mendocino product you might be inhaling, a dark horse hit.

 

Aaron Pruner
Screener

“The Legend of Master Legend” feels a lot like “Eastbound and Down” in tone, but the subject matter makes it difficult to picture the full arc of the story: Just how far can a down-and-out vigilante story go?

 

Willa Paskin
Slate

Despite being about superheroes, the show is not immediately tired, but it is a little fuzzy, caught between character sketch and gonzo comedy.

 

Neil Genzlinger
The New York Times

A disquieting subject that makes for an off-putting show.

30

David Fear and Kory Grow
Rolling Stone

This pilot is more than a little subpar, which makes you wonder how much promise there is in developing this quirky IRL premise into a full series.

Watch Now The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The latest dramedy from Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) takes her usual formula (female protagonist plus smart, rapid-fire dialogue) and transfers it to 1958 Manhattan, where a young Jewish housewife (Rachel Brosnahan) suddenly finds herself a single mother after her husband leaves her for another woman. To survive, she embarks on a revolutionary new career: stand-up comedy. Tony Shalhoub, Michael Zegen, and Alex Borstein also star.

What they're saying ...

91

Esther Zuckerman
A.V. Club

For the most part, this is a series that’s as confident as its heroine—and what a heroine she is. Midge is already layered, conflicted, hilarious, and charming. She’s captivating and Amazon would do well to recognize that and let her flourish.

 

Jethro Nededog
Business Insider

The pilot is immensely entertaining, with crisp dialogue and smart pacing.

 

Allison Keene
Collider

It’s an utter delight.

83

Chancellor Agard
Entertainment Weekly

You’ll find yourself hooked from the moment you meet the clever and funny Midge in the opening scene, and you’ll spend the next 40 minutes waiting for her to take the stage.

 

Lara Zarum
Flavorwire

It’s a gem of a pilot and I can’t wait to see more.

 

Daniel Fienberg
The Hollywood Reporter

This is the Amazon pilot that I most hope goes to series. ... I didn't think I had any need for another show about somebody trying to make it in comedy, but Sherman-Palladino, Brosnahan and supporting players like Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Bailey De Young and particularly Alex Borstein convinced me in a hurry.

75

Indiewire

The characters don’t gel because it’s largely unclear who’s sticking around, other than the star, and the pilot doesn’t pick up until the metaphorical gun goes off. But when it does, wow, what a bang. With the exposition out of the way, “Mrs. Maisel” finally shows off what it wants to become, and it’s largely worth the wait.

 

Kevin O'Keeffe
Mic

This show is easily the creator's funniest — with tons of pathos and drama to boot. Bunheads and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life both had their charms and much that is worthy of recommendation, but The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a more self-assured show.

 

Margaret Lyons
The New York Times

The show operates at maximum archness, and while the period setting never feels truly real, the moments of emotional authenticity that do break through shine beautifully and brightly.

80

David Fear and Kory Grow
Rolling Stone

By the end of the hour, you feel like you've just watched an actor morph into a small-screen star.

 

David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle

The best of the bunch ... The period details are convincing, the performances ... are solid and, of course, Sherman-Palladino’s writing is spot on.

 

Aaron Pruner
Screener

Combine the cast’s talent with Palladino’s signature storytelling track record and Amazon probably has a hit on its hands with “Mrs. Maisel.”

 

Willa Paskin
Slate

I hope Amazon has already decided to pick this one up.

 

Emily Aslanian
TV Insider

Though a bit slow at first, by the end of the episode the story is clearly established, and the dialogue is as witty and fast-paced as you'd expect from Palladino.

 

Jen Chaney
Vulture

This first episode, though problematic in spots, shows a lot of promise. Of Amazon’s five spring pilots, this is the one that most obviously cries out for additional episodes.

 

Ken Tucker
Yahoo

The plot matters less than the dialogue and the atmosphere, which writer-director Sherman-Palladino delivers with vivid precision.

 

Joe Reid
Decider

As with all Amy Sherman-Palladino ventures, you’re either going to find the snappy dialogue, breakneck pace, and hyper-verbosity of the show charming, or you’re going to get steamrolled by it. Midge is a whole lot of character; she’s Lorelai Gilmore if all her neuroses got boiled away and you were left with pure concentrated brassy dame. It’s almost stressful watching the episode and wondering whether Brosnahan can handle the character, but she pretty much slays the performance.

 

Sadie Gennis
TV Guide

All in all, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's pilot is a mixed bag. Brosnahan's performance alone is good enough to warrant watching the pilot, and Gilmore Girls fans will be happy to see Sherman-Palladino's sharp writing is still in full effect. But for those looking for another sunny, eccentric comedy-drama in the veins of Gilmore Girls -- or even Bunheads -- they will be sorely disappointed. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel lacks the intricate world-building and comfort quality that has defined much of Sherman-Palladino's previous work, but there is enough of a unique spark to the project to warrant a watch.

Watch Now The New V.I.P.’s

Amazon's first animated comedy series for adults comes from The Life & Times of Tim creator Steve Dildarian and centers on a group of low-level employees who gain control of their corporation after accidentally killing their boss. The voice cast includes Ben Schwartz, Matt Braunger, and Missi Pyle.

What they're saying ...

 

Lara Zarum
Flavorwire

The New V.I.P.’s highlights the absurdity of corporate culture.

 

Daniel Fienberg
The Hollywood Reporter

Steve Dildarian's sardonic absurdism isn't going to be for everybody, but as a big fan of The Life & Times of Tim, I found it very easy to slide right into the impersonal corporate nightmare at the heart of The New V.I.P.'s.

91

Indiewire

It’s the workplace comedy we need now to deal with our real-life frustrations with office politics and straightforward politics politics. Come for the dick jokes, but stay for the escapism.

 

Neil Genzlinger
The New York Times

It’s funny stuff if you have a high tolerance for crudeness.

40

David Fear and Kory Grow
Rolling Stone

It's silly, juvenile stuff – dick jokes are a stronger currency than the U.S. dollar here – that seems fast-paced but goes nowhere really slowly.

 

Jethro Nededog
Business Insider

Wall-to-wall toilet humor does not an excellent adult cartoon make.

 

Allison Keene
Collider

What starts out (with some promise) as a kind of cartoon Office Space devolves into a collection of curse words and filthy references that aren’t funny or even particularly shocking.

 

Kayla Cobb
Decider

Unless you’re a diehard adult animation fan, skip it. There’s some potential in this comedy about soul-sucking corporate culture and office antics, but it’s too early for it to be something worth watching.

33

Jeff Jensen
Entertainment Weekly

This is a very idiotic program, and not even a silly fun one.

 

Aaron Pruner
Screener

Frankly the immature humor outweighs the subject matter in the pilot, landing with a frustrating thud.

 

John Russell
TV Insider

The New V.I.P.’s suffers from the same pitfalls as many other grown-up cartoons—mistaking crass misanthropy for smart satire.

 

Jen Chaney
Vulture

As a single episode, this pilot proves there’s a fine line between tasteless fun and just plain tasteless.

Watch Now Oasis

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Matt Charman (Bridge of Spies) adapts Michel Faber's acclaimed sci-fi novel The Book of Strange New Things about a missionary who is recruited to spread Christianity to a distant planet called Oasis. Richard Madden, Anil Kapoor, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Shaw, and Mark Addy star, and Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) directs the pilot.

What they're saying ...

 

Allison Keene
Collider

Perhaps the most promising of this new batch of pilots ... Oasis is mysterious and provocative, feeling like the closest thing to Battlestar Galactica since Battlestar Galactica.

67

Jeff Jensen
Entertainment Weekly

While there’s enough emotion to move you ... the characters are too thin to capture your imagination for a series, and the metaphysical mysteries and science-versus-faith conflicts are too familiar to be alluring or engrossing. There’s too much intelligence and just enough artfulness on display that I can’t dismiss it, and I can easily see how just one or two more episodes of character development could give me exactly what I need to hook me.

67

Indiewire

If “Oasis” does go on to series, it’s poised to dig into how a story of faith in a sci-fi context might work. But given the way focus is pulled away from that in this first hour, we’re not optimistic.

 

Beth Elderkin
io9

The Oasis pilot has its flaws, as most pilots do, but it shows a lot of potential.

 

David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle

Presents a convincing if intentionally uninviting view of the future.

 

Aaron Pruner
Screener

Along the lines of “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Expanse,” the world-building in “Oasis” is as grandiose as it is intriguing. Add that to the character dynamic and “Sunshine”-esque unsolved mystery of the planet they’re inhabiting, and we’re left with the immediate need to know more.

 

Willa Paskin
Slate

It is a polished, well-made, not particularly revelatory genre show along the lines of Amazon’s other polished but not particularly revelatory genre dramas, Man in the High Castle and Goliath. You’ve seen something like it before, but it won’t hurt to watch it again.

 

Jethro Nededog
Business Insider

There's some very good acting on "Oasis," but the dialogue and plot can feel very predictable.

 

Daniel Fienberg
The Hollywood Reporter

You've seen everything on Oasis before, done both much better and probably much worse.

 

James Poniewozik
The New York Times

The moody, haunting first hour — more “Solaris” than “Star Wars” — only hints at the direction of the series, and its ending suggests a risky change in the novel’s premise. The idea of a space saga about faith is compelling. But seeing whether the atmosphere of “Oasis” can sustain a story will require a hyperspace leap of faith.

60

David Fear and Kory Grow
Rolling Stone

Fans of writer Michel Faber's source-material novel The Book of Strange New Things, people who watch nothing but SyFy programming and GoT disciples who really miss Robb Stark are the target audience here; everyone else may feel like this slow-burn space-madness headscratcher simply isn't their cup of Tang.

 

Jen Chaney
Vulture

The problem is that it’s a little too serious and slow to get going, and its setting may feel overly familiar, especially to anyone who saw Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. Bottom line: I need to see more episodes to issue a final verdict.

 

Lara Zarum
Flavorwire

Would you like to watch a grim dystopia set 15 years in the future that looks that rips off the set design of Alien yet again and has some vague things to say about religious belief? Yeah, neither would I.

 

Emily Aslanian
TV Insider

This one feels like a Syfy show stuck in the far-too-serious world of streaming.

What do you think?

Have you watched any of Amazon's new pilots? If so, let us know what you think.

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