Amazon Studios sent us a package of discs to get us primed for its upcoming season of original TV shows. If these samples are any indication, it looks as though online retailer will pose a serious challenge not only to Netflix and Hulu, but to the likes of HBO, Showtime, and the major networks as well.
There’s quality entertainment in these offerings featuring veteran actors, directors, and writers, starting with…
The half-hour, coming-of-age comedy Red Oaks—first aired this time last year—has been picked up as a series. It’s a pleasantly immersive time-passer, set in 1985 and playing a great deal like the movies Caddyshack, Meatballs, and Adventureland. Craig Roberts stars as David, who was supposed to spend the summer working for his dad (Richard Kind), but his dad’s heart-attack changed his plans and now he’s an assistant tennis pro at a snooty country club, with all the perks and annoyances that come with that kind of job.
There’s his sophisticated superior, the full-time tennis pro; an airhead aerobics instructor who’s also his girlfriend; some pot-smoking buffoons; a mysterious, aloof girl in sunglasses; and the acid-nasty owner of the entire premises, Getty (Paul Reiser—the first time Reiser and Kind have worked together since Mad About You). Produced by Steven Soderbergh (The Knick) and directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), the pilot has an appealing open-air freedom and unabashed goofiness while still remaining heartfelt. It’s a winner. The series will be available October 9.
Hand of God
The intense Hand of God has also been picked up, and if handled well, could become the kind of gripping, feverish show that inspires legions of fans. As it begins, the mountainous, square-headed judge Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman, Sons of Anarchy) has a kind of breakdown and finds himself in a public fountain, speaking in tongues, and with no memory of the last three days. Apparently he was baptized by a weirdo preacher (Garret Dillahunt, Justified), and somehow finds himself obligated to help that same preacher, even though he’s prone to disturbing fits of violence.
It looks as if the judge and the preacher are going to form some kind of vigilante team, hunting bad guys and bringing down the full force of God and the law upon them. Dana Delany (China Beach), looking amazing, co-stars as the judge’s wife. Unevenly directed by the generally uneven director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, World War Z, etc.), the series could benefit from a steadier… hand. It will be available September 4.
The Man in the High Castle
Another new series has sci-fi fans drooling, a serialized adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternate-history novel The Man in the High Castle. It’s set in the 1960s in a world where Japan and Germany defeated the allied forces in WWII and now control America and most of the rest of the world. German-language signs and Japanese culture dominate (the two empires agreed to split the USA down the middle), but a secret resistance is on the rise.
An east-coast man (Luke Kleintank, Gossip Girl) takes a dangerous job driving a truck, while a west-coast woman (Alexa Davalos, Angel) takes over for her murdered sister on an equally dangerous mission. They meet in the middle, and... well, let’s just say that trouble is brewing. The show doesn’t have the impressive visual design of other Dick adaptations (Blade Runner, Minority Report), but it does have the benefit of time and space enough to fully develop the story. The Man in the High Castle feels reminiscent of something like V , and will no doubt have fans buzzing. The series pilot originally aired in January; its first season debuts November 20.
Amazon’s hit Transparent wrapped up its first season with the powerful Why Do We Cover the Mirrors? In a mere half-hour, creator Jill Soloway managed, during a funeral and subsequent shiva, to climax all the characters and leave some breathtaking cliffhangers for next season. By comparison, Maura Pfefferman (Golden Globe winner and current Emmy nominee Jeffrey Tambor, in the role of a lifetime), is the most well-adjusted of the bunch.
Gaby Hoffmann is also an Emmy nominee for her role as daughter Ali, but that short-changes the rest of the cast: Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Judith Light, and Kathryn Hahn are all terrific. For a comedy, it has some very soapy drama, but the characters feel like a genuine family, and the dynamic has been enough to rope in many fans. It all continues December 4.
Mozart in the Jungle
Co-created by Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, Mozart in the Jungle seems like a weird premise for a TV show: the bickering and feuding of the members of a classical orchestra. But the half-hour comedy effectively builds to an amusing and even touching climax, dabbling in sex and drugs as effectively, but with more class, as a rock ‘n’ roll show.
Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) is terrific as the conductor, sporting wristbands and with his hair done up in a “rat tail,” plus Lola Kirke as the hopeful oboe player, Malcolm McDowell as a veteran conductor, and the amazing Bernadette Peters. Schwartzman plays the cheesy journalist “B. Sharpe.” It came to a satisfying, tuneful conclusion with the episode Opening Night, and continues in January of 2016.