Not content with owning The Washington Post, a publishing imprint and at least one industry's entire distribution infrastructure, Amazon's Jeff Bezos has lately ventured into the world of original web series programming. As with Netflix, the idea is that Amazon has become nearly monopolistic as middle-men — the consumers all already use them — so why not just cut out the producers?
For Amazon Original Series' third "pilot season," it's recruited enough talent that the programming might seem like a good idea. Three of the five pilots, all of which are streaming free online, are comedies directed by big names: Little Rock native David Gordon Green ("George Washington," "Pineapple Express"), Whit Stillman ("Metropolis," "The Last Days of Disco") and Broken Lizard's Jay Chandrasekhar ("Super Troopers"). Is it time to cancel your cable? With few interesting movies out this week, the Times investigates: 'Red Oaks'
Produced by Steven Soderbergh and directed by David Gordon Green, "Red Oaks" is a kind of amalgam of nostalgic coming-of-age comedies like "Caddyshack" and "Adventureland," following a college student who takes a summer job as an assistant tennis pro at a country club. Much attention is paid to the 1980s period details, to finding just the right shade of pastel aerobics outfits or the right moment to be soundtracked by Robbie Dupree's "Steal Away." The plot, though, feels like boxes being checked: Of course the star wins his tennis match, and of course the mysterious brunette turns out to be the daughter of the mean-spirited country club owner. Nobody remembers "Caddyshack" for the plot; they remember it for the absurdism and for the jokes about rich people. "Red Oaks" just feels rote. One problem is that it isn't very funny; there are a lot of other problems. 'The Cosmopolitans'
Whit Stillman films have always succeeded or failed on the strength of their conversations, which actually makes him sort of well suited to this type of small-screen project. He can scale things down and not lose as much as other filmmakers, so it's maybe not a surprise that "The Cosmopolitans," which stars Chloe Sevigny and Adam Brody, is the strongest of the three entries here. The show centers on a crew of American expats living in Paris who talk about their relationships, go to parties and claim to be "Parisians." Stillman is great at navigating and finding humor in razor-sharp class and social divides, and there's plenty to find here in the hierarchies of cultural outsiders. Also every character is, in some small but not insignificant way, despicable, which only adds to the effect. 'Really'
Where "Red Oaks" centers on the college-aged and "The Cosmopolitans" on characters in their postgraduate late-20s and 30s, Jay Chandrasekhar's "Really" highlights their parents' generation, who have dinner parties in suburban homes and drunkenly plan camping trips they're too busy to take. The husbands smoke weed in their "man caves," complain about their wives, crack jokes about joining the "mile-high club" and are, without exception, extremely unlikeable. This includes the protagonist, played by the director, who is faced, at the end of the episode, with a predictably depressing moral quandary that will probably guide the direction of the series, which I recommend you avoid. The humor here seems imported from some hack stand-up nightmare, complete with bold new observations about cigarettes and texting-and-driving.
The other two pilots are "The Hand of God," about a judge turned vigilante, created by Marc Forster and starring Ron Perlman and Dana Delany; and "Hysteria," about a doctor investigating an epidemic, created by Shaun Cassidy and starring Mena Suvari.