Amazon's 'The Cosmopolitans,' 'Red Oaks' and 'Really': TV Review
The comedy pilots prove that Amazon Studios is a content provider to contend with as it churns out more quality fare
The third wave of Amazon's partly crowdsourced pilot development slate kicked off on Thursday with five new options for people who are also looking for vacuums and watches.
OK, sure, that's an easy joke, and customers who laughed at it also laughed at the nearly identical one I made last time. But there's no getting around the fact that Amazon Studios takes a little getting used to, even though its last round of pilots were strikingly impressive. Not counting the children's programming, Amazon greenlighted Transparent, Mozart In the Jungle, Bosch and The After, four scripted series I liked (particularly Transparent and Mozart).
Each passing day in the rapidly changing world of television makes it less odd that high-quality content is coming from places like a gigantic online retailer, so perhaps nothing should surprise. And even though it's not exactly clear what kind of audience feedback metrics go into Amazon Studio actually choosing which pilots to pick up, it's certainly encouraging that the altogether different Transparent and Mozart made the last cut, along with the more conventional Bosch and the paranormal-influenced The After.
Because of that, there's certainly hope for three of the comedies Amazon Studios put online for anyone to watch on Thursday. A reminder: It's impossible to review merely one episode of a television series with any real accuracy about its future or even the tone of what you'll see in the next episode, so caveats all around.
Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days Of Disco) has a penchant for the esoteric and the studied, and The Cosmopolitans doesn't disappoint along those lines. It's as dryly first world in its problems and scenarios as Stillman's previous efforts, focusing this time on group of young American expatriates trying to find themselves in Paris. That doesn't necessarily scream mainstream, but as I just noted, there's really no telling what Amazon will pick up. I have a predisposition to love all things Stillman, so I really liked the pilot, but will be especially interested to see what newbies to his style will think of it.
The series stars Adam Brody, Carrie MacLemore, Chloe Sevigny, Dree Hemingway, Freddy Asblom, Jordan Roundtree and Adriano Giannini and like any good Stillman effort, it's beautifully shot (he wrote, directed and produced), and the dialogue is mannered and replete with staccato observations that in turn produce similarly idiosyncratic replies. It's a shock that Stillman didn't use Vampire Weekend as a house band.
There's not much plot to tell: Strangers meet strangers and go to parties and chat, with a little forward movement that hints the gang will be together for more adventures of an ill-defined but stylized nature. The pilot is less ambiguous than ethereal, but if you're a Stillman aficionado then you're probably all in. Other Amazon voters will be the intriguing X factor.
This entry was particularly fun for its retro appeal and breezy humor about coming of age. Written by Gregory Jacobs (The Knick) and Joe Gangemi (Eliza Graves), and directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Eastbound and Down), Red Oaks takes place at the Red Oaks Country Club in suburban New Jersey circa 1985. David Myers (Craig Roberts) is a college freshman whose CPA father, Sam (Richard Kind), wants him to embrace accounting because then he can graduate and do taxes for all the rich people at the club where he works as an assistant tennis pro. But his father's has a heart attack — it's nonfatal, though the words he says when he thinks he's dying, that he's never loved David's mother (played by Jennifer Grey) and that maybe she's a lesbian, are revelations that keep poor David unsure of what path to take in life.
Life at Red Oaks turns out to be a lot of fun — enough to put off thinking about the hardships of life ahead. The pilot hints that his girlfriend, Karen (Gage Golightly), and her dreams of a modeling career and a suburban lifestyle, may not be David's dream; his eye wanders to Skye (Alexandra Socha), who loathes the country club lifestyle but is the daughter of corporate raider named Getty (Paul Reiser). Elsewhere, the club is populated with pot-smoking, fun-loving '80s kids just trying to enjoy life. Notable characters include Wheeler (Oliver Cooper) and the slightly older Nash (Ennis Esmer) as the philandering (and funny) head tennis pro.
Again, I'd need to see more, but the pilot sets up the worldview here nicely.
Here is one of those pilots that scream out for more episodes in order to determine whether or not the idea will work. Written, directed and starring Jay Chandrasekhar, Really is a Chicago-set look at four couples and the struggles of marriage, friendship and happiness. Writing solely about marriage (and a couple of stray relationships in the group) is a difficult task because it's been done to death.
But Really finds some success starting off as a comedy and edging more into darker territory. It has a strong cast, with the always likable Sarah Chalke playing Lori, wife of Chandrasekhar's Jed. They immediately have more chemistry and believability than most TV couples, with Chandrasekhar's low-key vibe and subtle humor blending well with Chalke's biting side. Selma Blair, Travis Schuldt, Hayes MacArthur, Collette Wolfe, Luka Jones, Lindsay Sloane and Rob Delaney also star. By the end of this pilot, which features a twist, some depressing but familiar problems among longtime friends and enough time to really take to Chandrasekhar and Chalke, I wanted to see more of Really even though what I saw wasn't particularly groundbreaking.