The Amazon Pilots initiative, which sounds like something that might be coordinated by S.H.I.E.L.D., rather than the shopping giant, has hit upon a potential gem with Red Oaks, a light-hearted, coming-of-age Drama-Comedy, in which Craig Roberts's David interacts with a range of people at the titular country club during the 'go-go' 80s, whenever they were.
The 30-minute pilot has all the hallmarks of something that could last and either be binged on during the course of the weekend or form ideal Friday-night tea time viewing. It's more bawdy and adult-centric than Friends but its drawn in the same broad characters and joke cycles. Nash (Ennis Esmer), the club's tennis pro, is a riot as David's guide through a crooked microverse; his role model, line manager and romance guru. 'How's your wife?', David asks as he approaches Nash playing strip golf with two of club's staff. 'Dead', comes his instant response.
The problem with the future of Red Oaks, a series with some promise, is that it might not have one, which is where the Amazon Pilots initiative falls down and falls down severely. 'Call the shots. Watch. Rate. Review', encourages the Pilots homepage on Amazon. But what if people don't? What if they prefer Hand Of God, a vigilante Drama with Ron Perlman or - God save us - Hysteria, a Mena Suvari-fronted Thriller where Suvari's doctor is researching an epidemic which may be linked to - wait for it - social media.
The problems with Amazon Pilots extend further than the fact that Amazon have opened up my Friday night TV choice to be a democracy decision. It's only 16 months since the very first Pilots piloted. Of those, Alpha House got a first season and then a second, whilst Betas got picked up but never developed. A second round of pilots did little to catch my attention but Amazon apparently liked pretty much all of them, though we're still waiting to actually see any of the shows on offer. So, after two rounds of pilots, what have we actually got? Two seasons of Alpha House, a show not watched by anyone I know. I can't put the situation any better than Alan Sepinwall does, in the blog with all of the above details and the following gem of a description:
'At this rate, they may be ordering some shows before a word's even been written, and traveling back in time to cancel others before the creator has even thought of the idea.'
Red Oaks, for example, stars Roberts, a man on the rise. Whilst he may have some scheduling problems to skirt around if the show does get a full order, surely they'll be nothing compared to show's producer and pilot's director: Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green. There appears to be a plausible scenario whereby Red Oaks gets ordered, waits for ages to actually have time to film and then disappears because Amazon are on wave seven of Pilots and have unearthed the next Breaking Bad.
Which makes Amazon Pilots a little bit of a pointless tease. Red Oaks is good, really good in fact. It has good people behind it, it clearly has a good script and a good plot and it has a pilot deemed good enough to produce and stick on Amazon Instant Video. Which sort of begs the question: why not just make it?