BY ALEX RUSSELL
Amazon recently announced a run of eight possible comedy pilots that they would stream to see if anyone liked them. They said they’d buy the ones people like. I previewed them here and basically hated them. I think anything’s worth 22 minutes, though, so I decided to watch them.
Are they any good? Let’s get into the first four:
Onion News Empire
First off, if you need me to tell you The Onion is hilarious then you probably also need me to help tie your shoes or spoon feed you oatmeal. Onion News Empire is a parody of anything that takes itself too seriously and in that respect they’ve captured The Onion perfectly. It shows a fake news channel willing to kidnap a child for an interesting story about kidnapped children. It makes great use of Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show) and Cheyenne Jackson (Danny Baker, the Canadian, from 30 Rock) as competing generations of newsmen. It’s part fake-drama part real-comedy.
The parody of it works a bit but it really shines when it translates straight from The Onion’s existing video style and headline format. The goddamned jokes are good. Examples:
- Someone is told to “alphabetize these and throw them away”
- Teaser before a commercial: “A controversial new law in Ohio defines rape as anything Gary does to a woman.”
- Another teaser: “Could your teen be texting with the devil?”
Verdict: A-, a quality show that gets bogged down by having to be a pilot. Too much exposition, not quite enough jokes.
Those Who Can’t
I called this “Workaholics the school” in my preview because it’s three guys who are teachers but act more like students. The premise is that simple: guys with tattoos who talk like they’re in college teach in high school. It’s not nearly enough of a premise to set it apart from Workaholics (the opening credits feature a montage of school-related things set to a very similar theme, it almost feels intentional) but it may not need to be.
They aren’t trying to make their own world on Those Who Can’t. The pilot is packed full of jokes (thank God) and they subvert the Workaholics comparison by having people largely talk in their own funny way rather than trying to hearken back to the “let’s get weird” world of the 18-35 crowd’s favorite workplace/drunk/stoner/whatever show. It’s funny on its own, even though the pilot features a scene that feels almost exactly like an early episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There are worse shows to be compared to, right?
Verdict: B+, I was really surprised to like this and I watched it trying to hate it. Excellent minor roles by Rory Scovel (his CD Dilation is on Spotify and is totally fucking nuts) and Kyle Kinane (playing my favorite character so far, a sparingly-used burnt-out teacher in the lounge).
Almost every joke relies on someone saying the word hater. This show is terrible. Here is what happens on this show: a hole to hell opens, people talk about haters, some people make some jokes about weaves and cheap nails, more hater jokes, then it ends. As much as this whole project is a testament to something good succeeding, this absolutely has to fail.
That’s a real shame, too. All of the pilots I watched feature a handful of up-and-coming comedy-nerd folk, but none more than Supanatural. Read this list: Jon Daly (Kroll Show), Drew Droege (“Glitter in the Garbage” podcast), James Adomian (impressions, roles on everything funny you’ve ever seen), Riki Lindhome (half of Garfunkel and Oates), Kurt Braunohler (Bunk), and Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers, Flight of the Conchords).
Verdict: D, check out everything everyone involved with this has done (other than this). They could not save this patient.
If Supanatural is bad, this is worse. Betas follows around four people (I’d say kids, but it’s three kids and Jon Daly, which is absurd) as they try to make apps to move out of their parents’ houses. It relies on being one of those “in the now” shows about things “the kids” are into. I’m not by any means cool, but I don’t think “the kids” are into Moby and saying “oh snap” anymore.
Here is a real line that a person says out loud on this damn show:
“Scrawny Depp over there is about one Bjork reference away from strummin’ her flying V.”
If you’re into that, check this out. Other warning signs are:
- You call phone numbers “digits” (happens three times in 60 seconds)
- You call money “cheddar” (I think even my Mom knows this isn’t a thing anymore)
- You say “oh snap” (the Urban Dictionary definition is from 2004, just under a decade ago)
- You say “obvi” (someone says this unironically and no one laughs into their face so hard they taste it in their mouth)
- You say “hashtag” (someone is at least made fun of for doing this, but you can feel the writers want to leave it alone. It’s so hip!)
Verdict: F, this is insulting zeitgeist-bait. It’s the one I couldn’t find anything about before it launched and now I know why. It also tries to be a heart-wrenching drama which is so tonally absurd it is almost worth going into.
You can watch all four of these on Amazon’s website or on your Xbox 360, on your Playstation 3 (probably), on your Roku (I think that’s a thing), or by asking your parents really nice.