While it isn’t behind the most-watched streaming subscription service, Amazon Studios is bounding forward with an intriguing assortment of upcoming projects. (Including that Woody Allen series.) They’ve followed their recent Golden Globe success for the stellar comedic drama Transparent by unleashing the latest Pilot Season on potential audiences.

As with their earlier Pilot Seasons, Amazon has brought a genre-jumping variety of would-be series for viewers of all ages, and there are three of them that absolutely need to be enjoyed by everyone now, so that they may one day get full series orders. (Not that a series order did Chris Carter’s After any good.) For what it’s worth, I didn’t hate any of the pilots I watched, although Carlton Cuse’s Point of Honor could almost be an unironic parody of war dramas. So if the following series sound up your alley, be sure to check them out and rate them, since Amazon always takes viewer opinions into account.

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Mad Dogs
Based on the acclaimed U.K. series of the same name, Mad Dogs was developed by Shawn Ryan, of The Shield and Terriers fame, and it absolutely features the same machismo-imbued characters we’ve come to expect from Ryan, as well as a pretty stellar cast of B+-list actors. The story is pretty simple: five lifelong friends all get together for a Belize-set reunion at the expansive villa of the super-wealthy Milo (Billy Zane). There’s the indulgent fun-hound Cobi (Steve Zahn), the big-talking Gus (Romany Malco), the seemingly depressed Lex (Michael Imperioli) and the morally sound nice guy Joel (Ben Chaplin).

As you might imagine, these “best friends” all have reasons why they haven’t kept in constant touch with one another, and what at first looks like an obnoxious “privileged middle-aged men being privileged” story quickly unravels into tension-fueled madness. Secrets are revealed, including hints at how Milo managed to pad his bank account, and things take a deadly turn that leaves the guys in a perfect storm by the time the episode ends. While Mad Dog isn’t spotless, it’s interesting in that its early-episode “problems,” such as a loud and voracious sex scene, end up justifying themselves plotwise by the pilot’s end. I need to see what happens to these guys in Episode 2. Make Episode 2 a reality!
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The Man in the High Castle
Trading star power for triumphant weirdness, former X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz looked to sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle for his first Amazon project, and it’s one of the most striking and interesting pilots I’ve ever seen in my life. Taking place in an alternate history’s 1962, in which Germany and Japan won World War II and have split the U.S. (and part of the world) into factions, the story shifts and alters some of the points in Dick’s narrative to better fit the small screen format, and it surprisingly all works rather perfectly.

Executive produced by Ridley Scott, The Man in the High Castle sees Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) as two unconnected characters brought from different sides of the country into a controversial rebellion plot involving film reels that tell of a reality where the war played out very differently. Also taking rising tensions between Germany and Japan into account – in which Rufus Sewell and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa come into things – this drama is as dense as it is spectacular to watch, with a world-building approach that very few shows manage to pull off. For anyone looking for another non-Americans trip into a political thriller that doesn’t vilify the entire Middle East, this show is for you. Go vote for this series!
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Table 58
Another way in which Amazon Studios wins me over is by putting together children’s programming that doesn’t come off as pandering fluff. While Netflix is busy riding franchise coattails with The Adventures of Puss in Boots and All Hail King Julien, Amazon is giving audiences new and refreshing series for younger viewers, and this Pilot Season’s shining star is Table 58. This tween-centered series, written by former Phineas and Ferb scribe May Chan, takes the age-old concepts of school-born cliques and “outsiders can come together to be insiders” and builds them up with a quirky and silly sense of humor.

Logan Davis (Nathaniel J. Potvin) was the popular football quarterback at his old school, but his entrance into Milton Middle School retains none of his former glory. Not one to fit in with the school’s crowds of goths, jocks and burnouts – there are no drug references, but we get the picture – Logan sits with Table 58, which comprises other students whose clique experiences (or lack thereof) led them there. It’s a fully realized world where the bully has a Terminator-like way of targeting his victims, and the vice principal is like Community’s Dean with a yardstick stuck up his ass. (And how is that not Molly Shannon as the principal?) Meant for kids but with more than enough imaginative gags for adults, Table 58 needs to make it through the entire school year. Make it happen!

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