Which of Amazon’s Comedy Pilots Are Worth Watching?

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In a fascinating push to introduce democracy to digital streaming, Amazon has released six children’s show pilots and eight comedy pilots for audiences to watch and nominate for development into a full original series. The response so far has been strong: according to Amazon, the pilots made up 8 out of the 10 most watched instant streaming shows this past weekend. Although the pilots are free and easily accessible, eight 25-minute episodes is quite a lot of viewing for all but the most die-hard television fanatics. Luckily, the Flavorwire staff has watched each pilot and is here to help you decide what to watch and rally around. From cartoons to musical comedy, here’s the rundown on Amazon’s experiment with original programming.

Browsers

The premise of Browsers is close to my heart: it’s a mix of musical and workplace comedies, except the “workers” are actually unpaid interns at a barely veiled version of the Huffington Post. While I’m very happy here at Flavorwire [ed. note: we paid her to say that], Browsers is a spot-on lampoon of the horror stories I’ve heard from friends at other internships, including ruthless competition, Starbucks runs, and terrifying bosses. The main characters are all charming millennial archetypes (the stoner chick, the earnest postgrad, the Twitter celebrity, the social justice do-gooder), and best of all, their job consists chiefly of something we can all relate to: browsing the Internet for cool stuff. Soundtracked by a whopping three original numbers, Browsers looks like a promising successor to both Glee and Girls, minus many of those shows’ gaping flaws. — Alison Herman

Dark Minions

Brief disclaimer: though the pilot of Dark Minions is mostly simple animation that’s slow to the point of distraction, the actual series would be shot in stop motion. The plot is a cutesy spoof on the classic Star Wars premise of an evil intergalactic entity (in this case, a corporation) taking over the universe. Our heroes are a divorcée, Mel, and a stoner, Andy, who’ve signed on as two of the faceless drones in the Galactic Space Corporation’s Death Star-like space station. Mel and Andy encounter some rebels on a reconnaissance mission, and just like that, the two are on their way to becoming reluctant freedom fighters against an organization that’s more bureaucratic than menacing. — Alison Herman

Supanatural

By day, friends Lucretia and Hezbah work ordinary jobs at the mall, but their real calling rests in fending off evil otherworldly spirits to save humanity from doom and destruction, all with the power of their acrylic French tip nails. This is the premise for the Kristen Schaal-produced Supanatural, an animated comedy series that fuses the fantastical with the fabulous. In the pilot, the savvy duo take on a talking crystal skull seeking Armageddon, enlisting the help of their mall friends (an array of multifariously funny characters to check off the list of comedy stereotypes) to take the “hater” down. With a clever concept, bags of attitude, and some quite funny moments, it would be interesting to see where Supanatural could go. — Chloe Pantazi

Betas

Nerdy boy problems abound in Betas, a comedy series set in the Silicon Valley that follows four guys with social problems as they develop a social app. There are two main story lines in the pilot, as Trey and Nash crash the party of an affluent and seemingly uninterested investor – who has helped along the group’s rivals, the snarky creators of a successful parking app, Valet Me – to pitch their BRB app. Meanwhile, the other two chaps, Hobbs (who we meet in his boxers, engaging in a steamy web chat at the laundromat) and Mitch work on winning over the affections of a girl Mitch is interested in, though she’s being pursued by a DJing douchebag. With premature hints at love interests, friendship fallout, career prospects, and a Moby cameo (is it just me, or is Moby in everything?), Betas could be The IT Crowd for the Zuckerberg set. — Chloe Pantazi

Onion News Empire

Will Graham, one of the funny folks behind The Onion News Network and Onion SportsDome, goes behind the scenes with this uproariously funny spoof of the news business in general and The Newsroom in particular (“Can you walk and talk at the same time?” “Yes, I took a class”). It’s fast-paced, shotgun spoofery that recalls the best of the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker movies, from the broad characterizations to the stylistic skewerings to the solemn pronouncements (“Remember: the news isn’t about telling people facts, it’s about telling people what to think”) to the throwaways gags on the sides and bottoms of the frame. Funny from start to finish, and genuinely promising. — Jason Bailey

Zombieland

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s adaptation of their hit 2009 movie gets off to a promising start, with a clever intro that dramatizes the opening moments of the zombie apocalypse, positioning the action as counterpoint to a pair of bitchy office drones complaining about nothing. But once the primary characters are introduced, Zombieland is plagued by the trouble that infects most movie-to-TV adaptations: it’s impossible to shake the images and personae of the actors who created them, particularly with a cast as forgettable as this one. None of this would matter if the script was funny, but the laughs are few and far between, and the pilot shows little promise for potential storylines. It doesn’t seem a show with anywhere to go — the kind of story best told as, whaddaya know, a movie. — Jason Bailey

Alpha House

Of all the Amazon pilots, Alpha House comes with the most prestigious pedigree: Written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, it stars John Goodman as one of four Republican senators sharing a house in DC and dealing with such pesky setbacks as indictments and macho Tea Party candidates who try to paint their more moderate rivals as effeminate. Trudeau obviously has a nuanced understanding of how Washington works — but he gets so wrapped up in fast-talking details that he forgets to create an overarching plot. Outside of Goodman, the acting is also a problem. Alpha House‘s premise and writing are strong enough that it could improve, and cameos by Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert are enough to make the pilot worth watching; it just needs to sharpen the satire and make us care what happens. — Judy Berman

Those Who Can’t

Some of Amazon’s less successful pilots are good ideas plagued by a low budget and shoddy acting; Those Who Can’t isn’t even interesting on paper. Like an unfunny Workaholics transported to high school, it follows a trio of teachers who — in a totally novel concept for TV comedy — are actually immature man-children who have no business educating the youth. The types are stale (a fiery social-justice guy, an insecure gym teacher, a wiseguy who can’t help sinking to his foulmouthed students’ level) and the pilot’s plot (the teachers come together to bring down a kid who’s bullying them) is unforgivably thin. But the episode crosses over into unwatchable (not to mention borderline racist) territory when it sends the aforementioned activist teacher into a crudely drawn “bad neighborhood” to buy heroin. Don’t waste your time on this one. — Judy Berman