Sunday, 9 February 2014


Sunday, 9 February 2014

I've already reviewed Chris Carter's THE AFTER and detective drama BOSCH (Amazon's 2014 pilots that most appealed to me in terms of concept and the talent involved), but wanted to briefly cover the remaining three...

Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death) and Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher) unite to adapt the 2005 memoir of oboist Blair Tindall, MOZART IN THE JUNGLE, which lifts a lid on the world of prestigious symphony orchestras and the young, talented musicians drawn to New York to play in the city's Philharmonic or for various Broadway shows.

Malcolm McDowell plays the orchestra's venerable conductor Thomas, who retires and is replaced by musical prodigy Rodrigo Gustavo (Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal). Thomas is, naturally, alarmed to find that his successor has a radical attitude and approach to the role, which brings them into conflict as old gives way for the new. That's a decent basis for drama, if nothing extraordinary, but where this pilot scores points is in excellent world-building. I love shows that offer you a peek behind a curtain into a world you know little about, and Mozart in the Jungle managed that. So, despite it being of niche interest on paper, I would watch more.

The acting was uniformly strong, the characterisation of Rodrigo was great, and I loved the scene involving a "drinking game" between two tipsy musicians at a party. A good tease for what could become a good show, but clearly this isn't the full package yet and needs some tuning.

The most uninspired of the Amazon pilots is sports comedy THE REBELS, written by Jeremy Garelick (The Break-Up) and Jon Weinbach (The Other Dream Team). Natalie Zea (Justified, The Following) plays Julie Levine, a former cheerleader who becomes the sole owner of a struggling Los Angeles football team after her husband tragically passes away. Guess what, she hasn't got a clue about football or running a multi-million dollar business (calling the team's uniforms "costumes" and promoting her husband's assistant to General Manager), so comes into immediate conflict with the male-dominated Board.

It's all very predictable and none of the characters leapt off the screen—certainly not enough to lure me, a Brit with zero NFL interest, into watching a second more. And while it's great to see Zea as the lead in something, she can't do anything with a script so devoid of good jokes. The funniest moment is a monkey shooting people at a party.

The pilot getting the most critical buzz is Afternoon Delight writer-director Jill Soloway's TRANSPARENT, which concerns a very unusual and dysfunctional modern family. The pilot's biggest surprise concerns a secret their patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) is keeping from his three adult children, so I won't spoil it here... but it's unusual enough to draw you back to see the familial repercussions.

Otherwise, I just can't get terribly excited about Transparent—perhaps because, here in the UK, it isn't so unusual to see "mumblecore" dramas with a similar laid-back style. So what probably feels very fresh and different to US eyes (i.e. perfect for a company like Amazon to make), feels less fascinating to British peepers. There's great acting and unusual characterisations (the unemployed sister who pitches novelty books, the band promoting brother who sleeps with the sexiest members), but it's so slow-moving I was quickly bored. I can see the artistry involved, but as a drama it held little appeal for me.

So there you have it. Amazon's five pilots for 2014. Which one deserves to become a series? For me, I'd like to see more of The After and Bosch, but appreciate that Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent are more deserving of pick-ups... in the sense they're shows most "ordinary" US networks wouldn't pilot. What are your thoughts?