T. S. Eliot was predicting the modern era of television when he opined that April is the cruelest month. Most shows are slowing down as they prepare to wrap up for the season. Meanwhile, networks introduce filler shows like “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” I haven’t caught an episode of that particular series yet, but I assume whatever he is doing, it probably doesn’t have a literacy requirement. However, online streaming services like Amazon and Netflix have changed the trend.
Last century, unused pilots would be aired on networks during the summer months. Now, the more heinous of first episodes are buried away in network vaults and hidden from public consumption. But Amazon has decided to buck this trend: imagine a dozen pilots thrown at you at once, alternating between nausea-inducing and outright terrible! It’s an endurance test not seen since the days of “Fear Factor.”
Last week, Amazon released eight pilots of potential series. “Zombieland” is zombie bland. The executive producers and writers of the movie inspiration may have returned, but this pilot lacks the charm, humor, and starpower of the original project. Bill Murray does appear briefly in the pilot for “Alpha House,” a particularly lazy satire from “Doonesbury’s” Garry Trudeau. Trudeau somehow manages to draw more entertainment value from three panels on a newspaper comics page than a full twenty-two minutes of filmed John Goodman. And his characters are just as flat. David Javerbaum “Jeopardy!-Teen-Tournament”-contestant-turned-“Daily-Show”-headwriter is responsible for “Browsers,” a musical comedy so ill-designed that it makes the recent “Glee” school shooting episode look like the greatest episodes of “Mad Men” ever aired. And I think that the “Onion News Empire” is trying to be a parody of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” a show that couldn’t make it to its second episode before becoming a self-parody.
The only bright spot of the Amazon piloting program is “Those Who Can’t,” which laugh-for-laugh is the single funniest comedy I can remember seeing since perhaps “The Hangover.” “Can’t” centers on a trio of high-school teachers who can’t teach and are more abhorrent than the children they babysit. It is just about as perfect as a comedy can get and if this momentum can carry through an entire season it could very well become a legendary series.
Netflix, of course, doesn’t make pilots. Netflix just throws a few million dollars at a big name to produce thirteen episodes of series like “House of Cards” and the upcoming “Arrested Development” redux. But while both of these projects have their merits, Netflix’s most recent series should make them seriously reconsider their future choices. “Hemlock Grove” is about a mysterious and brooding gypsy kid who moves to a new town when teenage girls start getting mauled and murdered. He’s a loner and a werewolf, so he tries to figure out who is causing trouble. Leading the cast is “Degrassi” alum Landon Liboiron. As an avid fan of “Degrassi,” I like to predict which cast members will go on to have successful careers. Liboiron is one tree of a wooden actor and it’s hard to believe he keeps getting hired, just like Aubrey “Drake” Graham. Famke Janssen also appears as a mysterious woman. Unfortunately, Janssen’s character never evolves beyond “woman who looks like she is an actress who is counting down the number of scenes until she can buy a Land Rover with her paycheck.”
“Hemlock Grove” is frustrating because its aesthetic is so polished and good. Each scene is colored with these creepy muted tones and it’s a beautiful show to watch. But then you realize that there are so many werewolves with so little substance that it makes “Twilight” look like a lost Dostoevsky novel. If I had an unabridged dictionary on the desk next to me then I could probably spend a few hours searching in a vain attempt to find the perfect set of adjectives to describe Hemlock Grove. If I were particularly lazy, then I would probably make some comment about Socrates and how he would have chugged a gallon of the real stuff to avoid this Hemlock. Just remember to keep the real stuff away from Mr. Lochte. Since he can’t read, Mr. Lochte is liable to chug a bottle of pirate juice. What else could that skull and crossbones mean?