Amazon’s Pilot Season: Pick Jean or Tick, not Dick

By Steve Safran 

Amazon Prime Video, the company’s streaming service, has a new slate of pilots out for your consideration. They are a quirky lot without a surefire winner, but with a couple of good choices.

Amazon periodically has “pilot season,” where it puts a few different pilot episodes on its streaming service and lets subscribers watch and give feedback. You answer a survey that takes a few minutes, telling Amazon how much you liked the show and how likely you’d be to watch more episodes. You can then invite your friends via Facebook and Twitter to stream the shows and review them as well.

This batch has three wildly different shows. They are broadly described as comedies, although the humor in one begins and ends with its title (I Love Dick.) We have a reboot (The Tick) and a postmodern comedy with Jean-Claude Van Damme (Jean-Claude Van Johnson.) Watch and decide for yourself if any of these deserve to be picked up. The network takes viewer voting into consideration, but doesn’t make its final decision based upon votes alone. Still, it’s fun to play Network Suit for an afternoon.

My reviews are below – there are no spoilers, but if you want to review the shows yourself with a totally open mind, come back after you’ve seen the episodes.

Tick_Landing_page_750x375._V282759396_The Tick: In my mind, Patrick Warburton is The Tick. He originated the role in the 2001 Fox incarnation of the show. However, Patrick Warburton is not in this iteration of The Tick, so my expectations were low. Here, Peter Serafinowicz steps into the blue suit and… he’s not bad. He doesn’t try to do “Patrick Warburton’s Tick.” Serafinowicz, who has sci-fi/fantasy cred from his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who, is a less beefy, less bumbling Tick. He’s funny and goes off on tangents, just as the original comics character does. He’s good, and I’d like to see more of him.

The pilot is told from the point of view of Arthur (played by Griffin Newman), who goes on to be The Tick’s sidekick. The choice to tell the story this way works, and we get a much more sympathetic, less slapstick version of The Tick as a result. It also sets up a great neurotic duo. B

I Love DickI Love Dick: This should work. It has all the elements. Kevin Bacon, Griffin Dunne and Kathryn Hahn star in this show written and directed by Jill Soloway who also created Amazon’s hit show, Transparent. It’s based on a book that has a cult following and uses the love letters from the book as a framing device for the show. It’s shot like a professional short film, showing off a dusty Texas landscape and conveying the stifling atmosphere of the surroundings and the relationships in the story.

And yet… it’s not funny. Not that it has to be funny, but the title requires more of a payoff than “Oh – the character’s name is ‘Dick.’”  It’s not compelling, either. The three main characters aren’t especially likable. There’s a subplot involving a neighbor, but it’s hard to tell if it’s a setup to something bigger. The humor comes from some awkward conversations involving, among other things, the Holocaust, and it’s mostly just uncomfortable. C-

Jean Claude Van JohnsonJean-Claude Van Johnson: This is about how Jean-Claude Van Damme (the actor) comes out of retirement to become Jean-Claude Van Johnson (the undercover agent) for whom Jean-Claude Van Damme (the actor) has been a cover the whole time. Don’t try to follow that. It’s funny and silly, and has a good time sending up “JCVD” and his action persona. Lots of great gags here that turn tropes like training sequences and fight scenes on their heads. While he’s no Leslie Nielsen, Van Damme turns out to be a funny deadpan actor.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson probably couldn’t sustain itself indefinitely, but as a limited run on Amazon, it could be a lot of laughs. B+