Since 2013, Amazon has released a batch of original TV pilots several times a year. Some of them will become full-fledged series, some not. The New York Times’ TV critics assessed the latest crop.
Michel Faber’s spiritual 2014 sci-fi novel, “The Book of Strange New Things,” did not seem like the kind of tale that could be adapted to series television. Having seen the pilot based on it, I’m still not sure it can be. But “Oasis” looks pretty while trying.
Peter Lee (Richard Madden, Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones”), a clergyman on a dying Earth, is recruited to minister on a distant planet intended to become a life raft for the wealthy. Why the space base needs a chaplain is a mystery, as are the hallucinations afflicting the crew working in this lifeless (or is it?) but stunning landscape.
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The moody, haunting first hour — more “Solaris” than “Star Wars” — only hints at the direction of the series, and its ending suggests a risky change in the novel’s premise. The idea of a space saga about faith is compelling. But seeing whether the atmosphere of “Oasis” can sustain a story will require a hyperspace leap of faith.
‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’
This new offering from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino shares some of that show’s rhythms and mannerisms. Quick and clever dialogue, yes, and also a main character who’s quite taken by her own impish brassiness. Rachel Brosnahan (“House of Cards”) stars as Miriam Maisel, also known as Midge, living her nice-Jewish-girl Upper West Side dream in 1958. After her aspiring stand-up husband turns out to be a dud both on stage and off, Midge discovers she’s actually the one with the comedy chops. The show operates at maximum archness, and while the period setting never feels real, the moments of emotional authenticity that do break through shine beautifully and brightly.
‘The New VIP’s’
It’s hard to be raunchier than some of the stuff on Adult Swim, but “The New VIP’s” manages it. Plenty of animated shows in the ribald genre talk about genitals; not many will show a cartoon penis.
The series, from Steve Dildarian (“The Life & Times of Tim”), is a demented workplace comedy in which underlings at a vaguely defined company hatch a scheme to seize control when the boss keels over in the executive washroom. The plan involves body disposal, cosmetic surgery and Ray Liotta. It’s funny stuff if you have a high tolerance for crudeness.
Terry Zwigoff’s first completed project since “Art School Confidential” in 2006 is a half-hour hit of a particularly potent strain of nostalgia.
Adapting T.C. Boyle’s 1984 novel, “Budding Prospects: A Pastoral,” Zwigoff (who directed the pilot and wrote it with his wife, Melissa Axelrod) re-creates with loving care the mid-1980s, pre-internet Mission District of San Francisco, just beginning its long trip from shabby to chic to overrun.
If “Budding Prospects” gets picked up, future episodes would take place in the Mendocino hills, where three city slackers (Joel David Moore, Adam Rose and Will Sasso) agree to spend the summer growing marijuana for a smarmy lawyer (Brett Gelman).
Would that scenario keep Zwigoff interested? It would seem to have “Bad Santa” possibilities. In the meantime, the pilot is a slight but charming Bay Area miniature that should appeal to fans of “Crumb.”
‘The Legend of Master Legend’
The sad-clown trend continues with this glum comedy — or maybe it’s an idiosyncratic tragedy? — about a man who is a superhero in his own mind. Master Legend (John Hawkes) roams Las Vegas in a homemade silver-and-black get-up that’s a cross between a suit of armor and a professional wrestler’s costume.
He rights wrongs and secures justice, or at least that’s his intent; he causes more problems than he solves. The show is based on a Rolling Stone article about the real-life phenomenon of self-appointed superheroes, a disquieting subject that makes for an off-putting show.