First Impressions: Amazon Pilots August 2016

Chad White

It’s Amazon Pilot Season again and the streaming service has released three comedy pilots for the month of August. Here is a comprehensive review of all three.

The Tick

Starring: Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Brendan Hines and Jackie Earle Haley

Reboots are tricky, especially if the source material is a beloved cult phenomenon. They almost never involve the past cast and creators and often don’t hold a candle to the original product. This is doubly true for a show that’s come back twice. Amazon thinks this reboot can fly, however. The Tick is a very funny and much larger in scale version of its live action predecessor. It’s missing the cheap look of the Fox original and the cartooniness of the 90’s animated series but it makes up for it in production and being true to the character.

Peter Serafinowicz stars as the blue suited hero this time around. Fears that he’d muck this up somehow can be quelled. Serafinowicz successfully forge his British accent into something American – boasting every line as if it were his last. He is able to capture the ineptitude that has been part of The Tick’s personality from day one. Griffin Newman joins him as his faithful companion Arthur, whom the show seems to put in the center of everything. Arthur is the de facto hero when Tick is not around. There’s a lot of backstory – almost too much – for the entirety of the episode. Arthur is a disturbed child after seeing The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) kill his father and several superheroes. It’s not coincidental how the hero and sidekick meet. Arthur is painted to be somewhat troubled since the incident, seeking justice and trying to find evidence that The Terror is resurging. And Haley’s The Terror is, expectedly, terrifying. It’s amazing how he is able to mold himself into the character (as with all of his parts). The Terror is a true villain.

In this world where superheroes are real, it’s nice seeing how these out of this world characters can play with real world issues. Whoopi Goldberg interviewing their version of Superman in Superian is a mark on how our world would treat heroes. The good guys are lauded; the bad guys are dreaded. This show could really play with those dynamics if it were given a chance to expand on the universe.

Should you watch The Tick?

If you liked the first two The Tick shows, you’ll most likely like this one. The actors are likeable and the production is upped. It’s sad that Patrick Warburton isn’t in this but Serafinowicz did an admirable job. Give it a watch and tell Amazon you want it back.

 

Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Phylicia Rashad, Kat Foster

Out of all of these pilots, this is the one I thought I would’ve hated the most. It’s got an aging star playing an aging star who tries to make a comeback in movies and being a spy. That premise screams “cancellation.” But Jean-Claude Van Johnson is equal parts cheesy 80’s movie and a modern take on an actor’s comeback. The show stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself but in a world where his movies where a cover up for his covert operations (under the Johnson last name – read Bond). His agent/Charlie Townsend-figure is Phylicia Rashad’s Jane, who is equal parts happy to see a retired Van Damme back and hesitant to put him in the field. Kat Foster plays the woman, Vanessa, that Van Damme came back out of retirement for.

From minute one, the show isn’t afraid to show how much of an homage it’s paying to the 80’s. But it also is able to fit in solid jokes from Van Damme and his lifestyle and career. Our hero wakes up from a night of careless sex to see the woman he was with sticky from the shower only for him to say that all of the water in the faucets is coconut water. There are many nonsensical jokes that make up the entirety of the half-hour run time. Having Van Damme ride a Segway to pick up the paper or fail to do his signature split are good notes that the show hits.

Johnson could be a really funny mission of the week show with the actor going to different locales for movies. He could learn more about himself, get back together with Vanessa and do his movie based fighting moves. The self-referential nature of the show is also a plus with Van Damme’s weapon loadout consisting of only his feet.

Should you watch Jean-Claude Van Johnson?

In-jokes and meta-humor aside, Johnson is a decent show. It’s not afraid to play around with the characters and it makes for a better series than an overly done movie. Van Damme could carry this show for a couple of seasons. Watch it.

 

I Love Dick

Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Bacon, Roberta Colindrez, Adhir Kalyan, Phoebe Robinson

This one is probably the highest profile of the bunch. Jill Soloway is a wonderful talent and her ideas have proven to be fascinating. Recycling one recurring actor from Transparent, I Love Dick manages to be a lot more upbeat if not less broad. The show manages to hit some of the marks but star power alone cannot put Dick over the top.

Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne star as a couple whose relationship is on its last legs. When Dunne gets an opportunity to write in the art mecca of Marfa, Texas, the two relocate in hopes of finding something different for themselves. Kevin Bacon is the professor that hired Dunne and the three develop this weird, sexual energy around each other. Hahn -- an auteur herself having directed a movie that was considered then kicked out of the Venice film festival – is challenged by Bacon’s reasoning about her profession, which he calls a hobby. Throughout the episode, scenes are bookended by a letter that Hahn is writing to Bacon (because of his aforementioned rebellion on her job). These are read via voice over and accompanied with bold white text on a red background. If anything, that aspect is what makes this show standout.

The story itself hasn’t been overdone too much but parts of it are lame in the sense that they’re excessively dry. This isn’t bad, necessarily, but the sad married couple with one of them falling for someone else are stories that have been done time and again. On the other end of the story’s spectrum, though, is Roberta Colindrez, Adhir Kalyan and Phoebe Robinson teaming up to write a play about Dunne and Hahn. Should this show continue forward, the story should play out well with the love aspect and unknown performance piece.

Should you watch I Love Dick?

It’s probably the slowest of the other two, even though it took Tick 9:50 to get the actual Tick in it, but Dick is stimulating. This couple broke their drive spell after meeting Bacon. The description of the show reads that they both fall in love with him too. I’d love to watch that story play out. Watch it.