House of Cards returns, and 6 other streaming originals hope to topple it

House of Cards Season 2

Everyone’s favorite streaming TV show is back, just in time for a long weekend of planting yourself on the couch, ignoring the awful weather outside, and catching up with Frank Underwood’s twisted rise to power. It's the most successful straight-to-Internet show ever, and for a good reason.

Even if you manage to whip through the whole season of House of Cards, you can still gorge yourself on more fresh streaming shows. Amazon has five new, TV-MA, F-bomb-loaded original pilots (and five more shows just for kids), and you can vote for your favorite to be picked up a whole season. If you've still got room in your queue, check out a charming Hulu Plus original series about sports mascots, and a new season of Jerry Seinfeld's Emmy-nominated show interviewing the country's greatest comics in tiny, ridiculous old cars.

House of Cards

House of Cards Season 2

If you didn’t watch Season 1, you should catch up before starting Season 2, or you won’t have any idea what’s going on, and even worse, it’ll spoil how the first season ends. And we wouldn’t want any spoilers, would we?

Netflix dropped all 13 new episodes at once, at midnight on Friday, and I strongly recommend you watch at least the first one ASAP if you’re worried about being spoiled—this season starts off with a bang. The drama is as tense as ever, but the writing seems a little clunkier than before, with lots of overwrought speeches and cheesy lines like: “He’s got power, he’s got a lot to lose, and right now he is winning.” Luckily, Kevin Spacey’s amazing accent can make anything sound good—or in his case, pure eeeeevil.

Season 2 just added to Netflix. Watch it if you like: The West Wing, The Good Wife, Scandal, Homeland

The After

The After

One of Amazon’s new crop of pilots, The After is an hourlong mystery/drama written and directed by Chris Carter, of The X-Files. The plot revolves around eight strangers thrown together under mysterious circumstances, and eight main characters is a lot for a pilot to set up. So this one just…doesn’t, instead dropping you in on a typical morning in Los Angeles, then all hell breaks loose and no one knows why.

On and on it goes, with these eight barely sympathetic people thrown together, fleeing in confused terror from lord knows what. Just when I was starting to get bored of the constant running-from-bad-guys and the total lack of information, a creepy twist at the very end made me want to find out what happens next. Or what’s happening, period.

Pilot free for everyone on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it if you like: Under the Dome, LOST, The X-Files

Mozart in the Jungle

Mozart in the Jungle

Another TV-MA pilot from Amazon, this half-hour dramatic comedy has a ton of talent behind it—it was written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers, based on a memoir by Blair Tindall. Paul Weitz directed the pilot, and the cast includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Bernadette Peters, and Malcolm McDowell.

The basic premise is “sex, drugs, and classical music”—it’s a behind-the-scenes look at players in the fictional New York Symphony. You get to see the demeaning things the hard-living musicians do to make ends meet, like giving lessons to insufferable tweens or playing in the pit orchestra of a musical called Styx: Oedipus Rocks! After-hours they use metronomes as roach clips, play classical music drinking games, and of course, hook up with each other.

Pilot free for everyone on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it if you like: Sex and the City, Girls, Burlesque

The Rebels

The Rebels

The plot for this Amazon half-hour comedy pilot is a blatant ripoff of the movie Major League, only the widowed owner inherits a football team instead of a baseball team, and she’s nice instead of mean. I would be offended at the lack of originality, but I happen to completely love Major League.

It’s got shades of Any Given Sunday too, especially the ridiculous antics of the players, which I won’t spoil because they represent all of the funny moments in this black comedy that could use a little more comedy. I still wouldn’t mind it becoming a full show, just in the hopes they bring Billy Dee Williams back for more episodes, and because there hasn’t been such great acting by a monkey on a sitcom since Friends.

Pilot free for everyone on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it if you like: Major League, Any Given Sunday, Weeds, 30 Rock

Bosch

Bosch

Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling Harry Bosch books, Bosch is a one-hour detective drama—the kind of show that's catnip for some and kryptonite for others. This one at least lets the story unravel slowly, with no tidy wrap-up of either the grisly murder that our LAPD homicide detective hero is investigating, or the wrongful death lawsuit he’s facing simultaneously, for fatally shooting a suspected rapist and killer. Titus Welliver is great at Bosch, but none of the rest of the characters have much impact, at least not yet. Still, if the plot quickens and they can cool it with the flashbacks, this has potential.

Pilot free for everyone on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it if you like: The Shield, Person of Interest, NCIS: Los Angeles

Transparent

Transparent

Of all of Amazon’s five pilots aimed at adult viewers, this is the most adult—and the one I’d vote for. Written and directed by Jill Soloway, Transparent stars the equally amazing Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light as the divorced parents of three grown-up children in Los Angeles. The siblings each have their own baggage and love getting a rise out of each other, and their dad has a big secret to tell them, but can’t quite make himself do it.

Sometimes pilots are all exposition, but this one reveals tantalizing glimpses of each character’s mysteries and insecurities while keeping the action moving, peppered with silly conversations about Jim Croce’s nose and how the word “pupusa” sounds dirty if you say it slowly. There’s a lot of skin in this one, too—it really feels like an HBO or Showtime show. I hope we get more episodes, because it could be Amazon’s answer to House of Cards.

Pilot free for everyone on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it if you like: Six Feet Under, Parenthood, The United States of Tara

Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

Mascots are awesome, and Hulu Plus’s original documentary series is too. Behind the Mask follows a geeky high school mascot (Lebanon High’s Rooty the Cedar), college (UNLV’s Hey Reb), minor league hockey (Tux, of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins), and pro basketball (Bango of the Milwaukee Bucks). Getting behind the scene with these dedicated performers is fascinating and touching all at once.

In one episode, Tux goes to an away game, against the Penguins’ archrival, in such a hostile venue that he’s assigned a bodyguard. (“Someone called me a flightless bird, which…OK. I can fly. I’ve flown in an airplane before.”) Bango dresses up in a giant air-filled suit to scare people for a video to show on the scoreboard. (“The bigger the reaction, the better. It’s a win if you get a kid who cries. Sounds terrible, but…”) First-generation college student Hey Rev goes all out to entertain 7,000 elementary school students, until he pukes backstage. (“I should have gone to sleep last night.”) And Rooty has to get creative when he is called upon to support the school’s bowling team. (“I’m there to make them feel just as important as the football team.”) Even if you're not a sports fan, you can't help but love this cast.

Season 1 on Hulu Plus. Watch it if you like: ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, An Idiot Abroad, Beyond the Glory, True Life

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld’s project is just what it sounds like: He takes a classic car to pick up a comedian pal, and they go for coffee (and food) and talk. Season 2 was nominated for an Emmy in 2013, and the recently added third season is just as great, with guests like Tina Fey, Jay Leno, Jason Alexander, and Howard Stern. The Louis C.K. episode is especially great, because when Louis tells Jerry a particularly funny true story, it's actually animated, which had me in stitches, wishing there really was a Louis C.K. cartoon. I always wind up binge-watching at least three episodes at a time—as with cups of coffee, it’s really hard to stop yourself at one.

Season 3 recently added to Crackle. Watch it if you like: Dinner for Five, Iconoclasts, Chelsea Lately, Seinfeld

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