Looking at Amazon’s 10 New Comedy Pilots Currently in Development
Last month, Amazon launched eight comedy pilots as part of their efforts to create a number of new original TV series. While many of these came from established TV comedy writers some such as Those Who Can’t came through Amazon’s open door submission policy. Launched almost exactly a year ago the policy allows for any aspiring writer to submit their half hour pilot script for review of up to 45 days. After that time is up Amazon can choose to either let your script go, buy it outright for $55,000, or extend their evaluation period twice for 18 months for $10,000 an extension. In the past year Amazon has formally moved 10 such submissions into “Development”.
Much like how Amazon is allowing its customers to vote to decide which of its already produced pilots should receive full series orders, they’ve chose to make the development process transparent as well and made PDF downloads available to the public of all the pilot scripts on their development slate. In addition to the pilot scripts some of the writers have also included mini show bibles outlining future episode plots, character arcs, etc. available. While many of these shows may never make it to pilot, these 10 represent the primetime scripts that Amazon has either exercised or extended their option.
I downloaded and read through all 10 pilot scripts (as well as show bibles where available) and ranked them below. It’s unknown what draft version each of these were so it’s possible they may see dramatic overhauls as Amazon develops them further, but the these opinions are based on the same drafts that Amazon made their development decisions from.
The 100 Deaths of Mort Grimley
Intended to be produced as an animated series, The 100 Deaths of Mort Grimley follows the title character’s journey into hell after his suicide following the death of his mother. Once in hell, Mort is tasked with returning to Earth where he must coerce others into killing themselves in order to bring hell more clients. Animation seems to be used as a crutch here to throw the idea of motivations behind characters’ actions out the window. For example Mort is overjoyed when his mother dies, only to kill himself in the next scene now that his domineering mother is dead. The script takes a trip to crazytown and sadism replaces anything that could be considered laugh lines in this bizarre, spelling-error-ridden script.
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A slacker video game store employee in his 30s is suddenly left with the challenge of running the store himself after the owner dies of a heart attack. While this script might be an accurate representation of the types of conversations that happen at a video game store, it’s not very fun to read or watch. The dialogue between the two main characters Nick and Andy is completely interchangeable and other characters exist simply so they can have racist or homophobic insults lobbed at them under the veil of comedy. Out of all the pilot scripts in development, this one feels the most like a pure first draft.
Sassy Gay Samurai
Sassy Gay Samurai is not surprisingly about a sassy gay samurai. Although it’s not spelled out, it’s presumed that this too is meant to be animated based on the cartoonish visual elements described throughout. Sassy Gay Samurai is joined by his friends John Buffalo, a macho cowboy who’s still a virgin, and Gary the Unicorn, which is just a unicorn named Gary, as they battle Rasputin who’s evil plan is apparently to rid all “gayness” throughout history. Of course, this doesn’t actually mean homosexuality, it just means anything to do with the arts and culture. The convoluted script and storyline serves solely as a means to trot out tired jokes and puns about gays, virgins and other topics of interest amongst 14-year-old boys.
Salem Rogers is in rehab, where she has been off and on since winning ‘Model of the Year’ in 1998. After years of verbal abuse the staff of Sober Thoughts Rehab Center decide to conspire into convincing her the facility has been acquired by Native Americans, which originally owned the land, and closing down in order to get her to leave. Once on the outside she reunites with her former assistant/now struggling Young Adult author Agatha Todd whose life Salem has ruined repeatedly in the past. The character of Salem Rogers herself is fairly one-dimensional, which leads to some tonal issues with portraying her as the protagonist of the story, but there are some slapstick moments that could be funny if directed properly.
The second series devoted to exploring the life of video gamers this series instead focuses on Sam, a law school student addicted to gaming and in jeopardy of losing his girlfriend as a result. The characters don’t feel very fleshed out, however, and the gaming aspects don’t ring true if this script is intended to find an audience with actual gamers. There are multiple scenes where the characters seem more like someone’s idea of what hardcore video game players are like than anything else. The characters are obsessed, constantly referencing notebooks, hand drawn maps, working at Blockbuster Video, pretending to hold controllers and playing games in their mind when one is not available, etc. Normally these would be forgivable as sitcom tropes, but when the focus is squarely on these characters it feels out of touch.
Magic Monkey Billionaire
After a famous magician dies, he leaves his fortune to his monkey assistant, Monkey, while snubbing the rabbit he uses in his act, Rabbit. Rabbit is forced to spend his days locked in a cage as a classroom pet while Monkey lives a life of leisure in his new mansion. Although billed by Amazon as a primetime sitcom the pilot feels closer to an animated after school-style cartoon, right down to each episode consisting of two separate 15 minute stories. The gags are mostly visual and follow in the style of Pinky and the Brain or Animaniacs, where the intended audience is children but there’s plenty of winks to older viewers.
A Perfect Affair
Mix the Reese Witherspoon vehicle Sweet Home Alabama with Party Down and you have A Perfect Affair. The pilot follows type-A event planner Tina Lee Jensen-Holmes as she balances her event planning company with her personal life. The show follows the same episode convention of Party Down, with each episode telling its own self-contained story framed around and event that Tina Lee is executing. Of all the pilots this script does the best job setting up the characters including Tina Lee’s first husband, a former NFL star now living off of his alimony, her second husband, the current CFO of her company who is caught cheating on her with another employee in the first episode, and her recovering alcoholic brother. Solid casting and a few more re-writes could turn A Perfect Affair into a pilot worth checking out.
Structured differently than all the others, Doomsday takes a BBC-style mockumentary look at the lives of five characters preparing for the end of the world. While it might not be the most orthodox sitcom of the bunch, Doomsday has some of the strongest jokes of the initial round of pilots. It walks the line somewhere between The Office and Best in Show, portraying ridiculous characters in a very realistic environment. While the characters in the pilot are all shot separately (the former home shopping host turned prophet, his biggest fan, an elderly couple and a survivalist conspiracy theorist) it seems that at some point these characters might meet down the road if indeed the pilot is picked up.
Support follows a group of struggling indie musicians who are given what they think is the chance of a lifetime: the opening slot touring for LCD Soundsystem. Dropping everything to join the tour ‘The Band’ finds out quickly that an opening slot isn’t a ticket to stardom and afterparties. This ensemble comedy features a motley crew of indie music stereotypes and does an excellent job of ditching the exposition up top to immediately jump into the story itself. The pilot script manages to avoid most of the common cliches about bands and sets up some interesting group dynamics that could make sure this show can last beyond merely its pilot episode.
The Face and The Heel
The best of the bunch, The Face and The Heel is a pretty standard workplace comedy except in this instance the workplace happens to be a professional wrestling organization. The Aristocrat is tired of being a bad guy and wants a change. Unfortunately his new boss, the owner’s daughter, disagrees. She also happens to be his ex-girlfriend who he might or might not still have feelings for. The Aristocrat must try to deal with this while his in-ring enemy and out-of-ring best friend, Vic Torious, goes through the devastation of his most recent break-up. The script respects its subject matter (a ‘Face’ is industry lingo for heroes while ‘Heels’ are villains) while poking fun at the absurdity of a profession where gigantic muscle men pretend to hit each other for the amusement of a crowd. While it’s hard to imagine a sitcom about professional wrestling on network television, this might be the sweet spot for the type of niche programming Amazon can capitalize on with its reach.