Ranking the 2014 Amazon Pilots from Best to Worst

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Last week Amazon Studios released five new comedy and drama pilots — along with five kids’ pilots — for viewers to watch and review. The reviews will help Amazon decide which shows to pick up for a full series (last year, they settled on the two comedies Alpha House and Betas). The best of the bunch was Transparent, Jill Soloway’s beautifully written story of three children learning about their father’s transition while also struggling with changes in their own lives. Here, we take a look at the remaining four.

Much of Mozart in the Jungle seems based on the joke that band kids secretly love to party. Adapted from a book of the same name by the impressive trio of Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers, Mozart in the Jungle is about the “raunchier” side of the classical music scene. It is, hands down, the most interesting premise of the group of pilots, although it runs the risk of being alienating to those who aren’t familiar with orchestra culture. But Mozart is just the right amount of zany — one standout scene has a group of band kids playing a version of spin the bottle that involves downing multiple shots while trying to play their instruments flawlessly; another scene features an orchestral Styx cover band. The pilot is also aesthetically wonderful (it was directed by About a Boy‘s Paul Weitz), and the lovely Gael García Bernal is always a pleasure to watch. Mozart isn’t perfect, but it’s a show that I’d love to see get picked up, if only to see where it could go.

Last time around, Amazon focused only on comedy pilots, but this time the company is branching out into dramas. The first — and better — of the two is Bosch. At first glance, Bosch seems to be a prototypical gritty crime drama with hardboiled detectives, but fortunately the show offers us a slight twist. Like his television peers, the titular Bosch does investigate horrific crimes. At at the same time, though, he’s also on trial for murder. The episode, and presumably the entire series, balances the court case with his work in the police force. It’s dark (both literally and figuratively; the central investigation revolves around the death of a young boy, and the episode itself looks like it was filmed entirely in shadows). The dialogue sounds like it’s straight out of a crime novel — because it’s based on the popular series by Michael Connelly — but Titus Welliver manages to deliver pulpy lines with the right amount of gravitas.

I had the highest hopes for The After, and I’m sure many other X-Files fans did too, but Chris Carter’s sci-fi drama was a bit disappointing. It’s a strange, hybrid mix of a handful of science-fiction shows that came before it: Lost, Revolution, and The Event to name a few. The central plot revolves around eight diverse strangers stuck in a hotel together (it is not, as I originally hoped, a science-fiction version of The Real World) while the outside world goes completely to hell. It’s unclear exactly what is happening — there are power outages, random explosions, inexplicable helicopter crashes, strange creatures — and I suppose that’s the main draw of the show. The After, if it gets a full series (and I do think it will) will be the kind of program that inspires mythology and attracts diehard fans eager to solve a mystery. Still, the pilot episode was a little too messy and unevenly paced. There were some thoroughly mysterious, and slightly scary, scenes throughout, but it’s hard to stay interested in a show that also featured long bouts of boredom.

Of the five Amazon pilots, The Rebels is the most accessible — but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. It focuses on Julie (Natalie Zea, continuing her streak of playing underwritten characters), a former cheerleader and recent widow who inherits a less-than-stellar pro football team from her late husband. There are instances of broad, slapstick-y humor — including a scene involving a coked-up monkey wielding a gun — but it falls flat. The Rebels hits the necessary beats for a story like this: the challenges of being a newly single mother, the battle with the league corporation, and the ragtag group of football players who reiterate that they’re not just a team, they’re a family (even this comes off as robotic). However, the pilot feels wholly underwhelming. It’s a shame, because The Rebels has a fine cast: Josh Peck (an actor I always find myself rooting for) plays the in-over-his-head general manager, Billy Dee Williams pops up as the coach, and Hayes MacAuthor (who has yet to catch a break, and I doubt this will be it) co-stars as the quarterback who will butt heads — but probably fall in love with! — Julie. It’s easy to picture The Rebels as a bland, harmless ABC pilot, coasting by on jokes about ditzy women confusing uniforms with costumes (easily the worst joke of the pilot; a cheerleader would definitely know the difference), but it’s not risky or interesting enough for what Amazon is trying to accomplish.