It’s pilot season on Amazon, which means the streaming service is once again letting the viewers vote for the shows they would like to see made into full series. For fall 2017, the pilots are: “Sea Oak,” “Love You More,” and “The Climb.” All feature women in main roles and all are very different in tone. Here are some thoughts on each and my top pick.
“Sea Oak” is the story of Aunt Bernie (Glenn Close), a timid woman who is disappointed with her life. Her two lazy nieces (Jane Levy, Rae Gray), their babies and her less lazy nephew (Jack Quaid) live with her in a subsidized housing complex called Sea Oak. When Aunt Bernie is killed in a home invasion, everyone’s life changes, particularly hers. Angry and dissatisfied, she comes back from the dead, determined to do things differently this time around.
Created by author George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) and based on one of his short stories, the comedy has a strong sense of place and puts you right in the heart of Bernie’s economically depressed Rust Belt city life. Close gives the living Bernie emotional depth and when her meekness turns into rage, the undead Bernie is even more interesting. The nieces are not clever, one declares Bernie is in a comma instead of a coma, while the nephew is stuck in a dead-end job. None of them are that likeable, which makes Bernie’s new-found defiance fun to watch.
In “Love You More,” Karen Best (Bridget Everett) is a single woman who drinks more wine than she should and sleeps with men she shouldn’t. She’s great at her job, which is being a counselor at a boarding house for young adults with Down Syndrome. Everett elevates the familiar characterization of Karen’s mess of a personal life with authentic moments of sensitivity and warmth. The show’s dramatic moments are often more satisfying than its comedic ones and allow Everett to show her skills. The pilot includes a fantasy song sequence where Karen, struggling to find the perfect bra in her size, belts out a celebration of women’s breasts. The musical number is very “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” but Everett puts her stamp on it.
“The Climb” focuses on Nia (Diarra Kilpatrick) and Misty (Alysha Umphress), best friends who live in Detroit and work unfulfilling jobs. While Misty has a practical approach: “You realize that work is not supposed to be fun right?” Nia longs for the life of her favorite social media star Copper Lewinsky. Nia and Misty are funny and relatable and Nia’s dream is both a contemporary nod to Kardashian type success and a critique of it. When she tells Misty that she believed that her Barbie with the Malibu dream house was a preview of her life, it’s sincere rather than silly because Kilpatrick delivers the line with such commitment. She makes you root for Nia and her desire to be something more.
It’s hard to imagine Amazon viewers not rewarding Close with a full series so “Sea Oak” should be given the green light. But for its take on a sweet friendship and big dreams, my choice is “The Climb.”
Amazon’s fall pilots are streaming now for prime members.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing’” and the recently released “The American Television Critic.” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.