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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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Whit Stillman's "The Cosmopolitans" is one of five TV show pilots that Amazon has launched.
Whit Stillman's "The Cosmopolitans" is one of five TV show pilots that Amazon has launched.

Amazon launches five new TV show pilots for you to rate

Amazon.com – the prime retailer to buy cool things from the comfort of your own home instead of stepping inside a sketchy Wal-Mart or an overcrowded Target – has released five new original television show pilots today that lets you, the viewer, decide which one gets developed into a series. Move on over Netflix, because Amazon is now staking their place in the original TV programming game. 

The first step is to, of course, subscribe if you haven’t yet and watch the pilot episodes. After you’re done watching, you then rate the pilot and post a comment or comments ranging from ultra-pleased to boiling with anger that you just spent your valuable time. 

Amazon then uses this critical feedback to determine which shows you’ll be able to enjoy on Amazon Prime Instant Video. So, basically, a lot of people’s jobs and futures are on the line based on your decision. Not to put pressure on you or anything.

This is Amazon’s third "pilot season" and by far the smallest yet. In its first year, Amazon released 14 pilots, five of which were turned into series, while the second season included 10 pilots, with six making it to primetime. 

There will be something for everyone this season, ranging from half-hour comedies such as "The Cosmopolitans," "Really," and "Red Oaks" to hour-long dramas such as "Hand of God" and "Hysteria." If you haven’t heard of these shows yet, don’t worry; here’s the rundown.

"The Cosmopolitans"

Written and directed by Whit Stillman ("The Last Days of Disco," "Damsels in Distress"), "The Cosmopolitans" follows a group of young Americans searching for love and friendship in contemporary Paris. The romantic comedy stars Adam Brody (or that one dude from "The O.C."), Chloë Sevigny ("Boys Don’t Cry," "American Horror Story: Asylum"), Carrie MacLemore ("Damsels in Distress"), Dree Hemingway ("Starlet," "Listen Up Phillip), Adriano Giannini ("In Treatment") and newcomers Freddy Åsblom and Jordan Rountree.

Stillman is the latest acclaimed filmmaker to make the transition from film to television. It’s becoming a trend, one actually worth celebrating. His films and writing style clearly demonstrate a masterful sense of relationships, so it’s not at all surprising that his first venture into television also focuses on a group of friends and assumingly their relationships with one another. Even more unsurprising, this looks quite good (even though the pilot stars Adam Brody). It’s also nice to see Stillman and Sevigny reunite after the excellent 1998 dramedy "The Last Days of Disco."

"Hand of God"

Again, an acclaimed filmmaker has made his way to television. This time, it's Marc Forster ("Monster’s Ball," "World War Z"), who directed the pilot for "Hand of God" starring Ron Perlman (yes, "Hellboy" himself). Perlman is Judge Pernell Harris, a hard-living married man with a high-end call girl on the side, who suffers a mental breakdown and goes on a quest to find the rapist who tore his family apart. With no real evidence to work on, he begins to rely on his visions and messages that he believes have been sent from God through his disabled son.

The pilot also stars Dana Delany ("Desperate Housewives," "Body of Proof"), Garrett Dillahunt ("Looper"), Andre Royo ("The Wire"), Alona Tal ("Broken City"), Julian Morris ("Pretty Little Liars"), Elizabeth McLaughlin ("Betrayal") and Emayatzy Corinealdi ("Middle of Nowhere"). 

It seems like this hour-long drama is going to be dark and gritty, just what the doctor ordered. Ron Perlman is always impressive, so I only hope he'll brings a lot to his role, which seems like a very deranged, maniacal anti-hero. 

"Hysteria"

The other hour-long drama during this pilot season is "Hysteria," which takes viewers to Austin, Tex. where members of a girls competitive dance team are stricken with a psycho-physiological illness that manifests into violent fits and spasms. The mysterious illness then spreads through the community through technology (wait, huh?). Mena Suvari ("American Pie") stars as neurologist Logan Harlen, who returns to her hometown to investigate the cause. As she fights her own personal demons, she develops the suspicion that the hysteria surrounding the girls might actually be linked to social media and her own tragic past (again, huh?).

Well, one thing is for sure, "Hysteria" seems at the very least intriguing. Let’s just hope that the concept is strongly executed, because if it’s not, this may be a mess of epic proportions. Shaun Cassidy, who is known for thrillers such as "Invasion" and "American Gothic," wrote the pilot and Otto Bathurst, who created the critically acclaimed UK mini-series "Peaky Blinders", directed. Not sure if that bit of information helps at all, but did I mention that the concept is at least intriguing? 

"Really"

The half-hour comedy pilot "Really" stars Jay Chandrasekhar of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe (you know, the guys behind "Super Troopers") as Jed, who’s married to Lori (Sarah Chalke from "Scrubs"). He's faced with a decision that might split his social circle. The show is supposed to be a funny, honest look at the complexities of marriage and the dynamics of a tight-knit group of friends. 

It's not a terribly original concept, especially since there’s another show right now on FX creatively titled "Marriage" starring Nat Faxon and Judy Greer as a married couple who have a tight-knit group of friends. But with the cast and talent involved in "Really," this has the potential to be very, very entertaining (and hopefully funnier than "Married"). It also helps to know that Chandrasekhar doesn’t only star, but he also wrote and directed the pilot.

"Red Oaks"

"Red Oaks" is the pilot I’m looking forward to the most. Why? Well, because it’s directed by the superbly talented David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express," "Joe") and produced by Steven Soderbergh (who recently transitioned to television himself for Showtime’s "The Knick"). The half-hour comedy pilot stars Craig Roberts ("Submarine") as David Meyers, an assistant tennis pro at the Red Oaks Country Club in suburban New Jersey in 1985. He’s reeling from his father’s heart attack and has to make the decision on what major he’s going to pursue in the fall. While at the Country Club, he forms a bond with his misfit co-workers and deals with wealthy club members.

Again, the coming-of-age concept isn’t that original, but at least this has great potential to be hilariously entertaining solely based on the talent involved. You have David Gordon Green directing and Steven Soderbergh producing: I know already that this isn’t going to be the least bit terrible. Also, I’m thrilled to see that Craig Roberts is the lead because he’s so, so good in Richard Ayoade’s "Submarine." If you haven’t seen that film yet, do yourself a favor and rent it now (or at least after you watch "Red Oaks"). 

Each pilot can be viewed with the Prime Instant Video app available on most tablet and phone devices (including all Amazon devices, obviously). You can also watch the pilots through Roku, X-Box, PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and, of course, Amazon.com.

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