Amazon Tops TV

'Prime' beats network to premiere punch

One company takes a far more interesting approach to original content than its streaming and broadcast TV peers.

Amazon commissions pilots and releases them to the public for feedback. Reports conflict about whether this is legitimate crowd-sourced research, or if Amazon already knows which pilots will proceed to series. Either way, it’s an interesting part of the new media landscape.

Whether the result is award-winning, like Amazon Prime’s “Transparent,” or the mourning of promising shows that weren’t picked up, the company’s pilot season is appropriately dramatic. It’s just too bad neither of Amazon’s two newest pilots warrant either reaction.

Having a pedigree like director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie,” “Delicatessen”) and star Diego Luna (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”) should make this show a lock on paper. It follows the notorious Giacomo Casanova after his imprisonment, when the famed lover has had a change of both venue and heart. He longs to be more than a notorious philanderer.

Instead of following a man grappling with his addictions to be a better man, the pilot plays like “Dangerous Liaisons” with more nudity. Despicable people do despicable things, and there really isn’t anyone worth emotionally investing in. This show might have filled a niche in Amazon’s original lineup, but its Prime service already offers a BBC Production covering Casanova’s life. The limited series stars Peter O’Toole and David Tennant as the older and still youthful cad.

Sneaky Pete
Giovanni Ribisi plays Marius, a con man with serious debt issues. He’s fresh out of prison, but he decides to take his cellmate Pete’s identity to hide from dangerous men to whom he still owes money. After insinuating himself into the lives of Pete’s family, he ends up working in the family bail bond business while he figures out how to get his old life back.

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This show could go in a couple of distinct directions. Marius might evolve into a nuanced, layered character who would fit wonderfully in “Justified’s” complex world, or he could be merely a guy with a specialized set of skills who has to catch a different bad guy every week. There are signs the show could go either way and be a success for Amazon.

“Sneaky Pete” shows the most promise of Amazon’s pilots, but it’s still a lackluster showing from the streaming service. To be fair, not everyone can have hits every year. The issue is that compared to last year’s Amazon pilots, including “Man in the High Castle” and “Mad Dogs,” the new crop can’t help but feel inferior. You may as well be comparing Michael Chiklis’ performances between “The Commish” and “The Shield.” In other words, there is no comparison.

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