Amazon has curated a pretty tight list of original shows for Prime Video, which stands in contrast to Netflix's "throw everything at the screen and see what sticks approach" or Hulu's early efforts (which have since improved dramatically).
Some of that might come down to Roy Price, who from 2014 to 2017 was the head of Amazon Studios. But Price resigned in October 2017, one of many in Hollywood accused of sexual misconduct.
Price has been replaced by the former president of entertainment at NBC, Jennifer Salke. What this means for the future of Amazon Originals, we can only speculate. Amazon is not afraid to cancel a show. It's moving away from prestige dramas and cerebral comedies (like Good Girls Revolt and One Mississippi) with things like a Lord of the Rings prequel TV series (for when 9 hours of Hobbit movies isn't enough) and a series about Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.
Why? Leaked internal documents show that at least 5 million people got Prime just to watch video. And shows with broader interest, naturally, get more streams (and more Prime members). Thus, a LotR show—or whatever it takes for Amazon to find its own Game of Thrones-esque mega-hit.
For now, check out the very best Prime Video has to offer. You won't regret it. The further down the list you go, the happier you'll be.
(Oh, and be aware: with Prime Video, you can't just add a show to your watch list and get all the seasons—you need to add each season individually. Very, very annoying, Mr. Bezos.)
When a spy is deep undercover at a boring Milwaukee factory and has a nervous breakdown that leads to writing folk songs and getting stoned a lot, what's a federal spy agency to do with him? Use him to stop the nuclear program in Iran, of course. A Fargo -esque dark comedy, Patriot is an entertaining vision of spycraft; no Homeland-level treachery here. A second season is on the way.
9 Red Oaks
If you're looking for Caddyshack, this ain't it, even if it is set in the 1980s at a richie-rich golf club. It's an extended coming-of-age sex comedy about David, a college student going nowhere fast as he works as a "tennis pro" at the local club where his girlfriend and best friend also have jobs. Falling for the daughter of the haughty president of the club probably isn't his best move. The cast includes incredible folks like Paul Reiser and Richard Kind, but Craig Roberts as David is the show's heart and soul, and he's got a great American accent considering he's from Wales. Red Oaks completed its third and final season in late 2017.
8 Sneaky Pete
When you get out of prison and want to lay low so you can plan revenge against the ex-cop-mobster who landed you in the clink, what would you do? Pretend that you're your cellmate and go live with his family, who hasn't seen him in years! That's how Marius (Giovanni Ribisi) becomes Pete. Except, of course, the con-man/pickpocket learns to love the family. All while the ex-cop-mobster—played to perfection, as always, by Bryan Cranston—is still out there. Want a feel for this show? Showrunner Graham Yost ran the excellent Justified for years and is also a producer on The Americans. Season 2 of Sneaky Pete just launched.
7 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
If there's one thing that's a little infuriating about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is that it makes it look easy to break into comedy as a woman in the 1950s. Look at a show like HBO's Crashing to see just how hard it can be, even for a white guy in the modern day.
That said, this show from the writers and producers of Gilmore Girls is a lush production that brings 50s New York to life through characters that are imminently watchable: Tony Shaloub as Mrs. Midge Maisel's long-suffering dad; Alex "Lois Griffin" Borstein as her would-be agent; and star Rachel Brosnahan as Midge herself.
Abandoned by her husband, Midge works through her pain onstage via caustic monologues. From there, she tries to turn it into a career, much to the consternation of her family, especially her ex, who has stand-up comedy dreams of his own. Brosnahan and the show itself won Golden Globes.
Much like House of Cards on Netflix, it's impossible to look at Transparent right now without seeing it through a #MeToo lens. Much of the legacy this show has had for four seasons (making it the longest-running Amazon Original, along with Mozart in the Jungle) is tarnished thanks to award-winning star Jeffrey Tambor. He personified the role of Mort/Maura, the transgender parent of the Pfefferman clan in way few could equal, but his on-set actions forced Amazon and the producers to send him packing. There will indeed be a fifth season of Transparent—but sans Tambor.
It's understandable if you can't separate the artist from the art here; but if you can, you'll find a nuanced show that's been showered with well-deserved accolades from the LGBTQ community and beyond and, likely, will only get better as it finds new footing in the season to come.
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5 One Mississippi
Comedian Tig Notaro has had an eventful decade, with a lot of tragedy and a lot of happiness all intertwined, which she turns into amazing fodder for not only her stand-up, but also for One Mississippi, a series that lasted two years on Amazon before getting the axe. It probably didn't help that it's long had disgraced comedian Louis CK listed as a producer, much to Notaro's disgust, even before he was tarred with the #MeToo scandals in late 2017.
Go back and watch both seasons anyway—together they total just 12 episodes—as Tig deadpans her way through life as she returns to her hometown in Mississippi in time for the death of her mom while recovering from a double mastectomy—all things that happened to her in real life.
Fans of the books by Michael Connelly have waited years and years to see his characters correctly portrayed on the big screen (we don't talk about The Lincoln Lawyer). For Amazon to turn the novels into a series, give Connelly a hand in working on it with showrunner Eric Overmyer, and cast Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch is like a gift.
Welliver has worked in Hollywood forever, having appeared in films like The Doors, a Transformers flick, and on shows like The Good Wife, Agents of SHIELD, even LOST as the big-bad called The Man in Black. But he truly shines on Bosch as a cop with a mission. Welliver even narrates the audiobook versions of Connelly's novels now—he's that perfect.
Surrounding him are actors of equal caliber like The Wire alums Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick, Amy Aquino as his boss, Sarah Clarke as his ex (and the mother of his teenage daughter). Season 4 premieres on April 13, and it's already been renewed for a fifth.
3 Mozart in the Jungle
A TV show based on a memoir by an oboist doesn't automatically sound like an exciting way to binge watch. But Mozart in the Jungle is hard to look away from. The scene-stealing and chewing Gael Garcia Bernal is hired to conduct the fictional New York Symphony. He turns the musicians lives upside down, but none more than Hailey Rutledge, the fictionalized oboist from the book. Of course, after four seasons, the show has taken many liberties from that source material, transporting the cast to Mexico and Venice, and putting characters into love matches no one would imagine. Yes, it's a bit of a soap opera. Season 4 debuted in February.
2 The Tick
For a super-hero parody stemming from the 1980s, The Tick has had almost as many TV reboots as bigger names like Batman. Yet somehow, this nigh-invulnerable superhero with no background and purely altruistic motives—seriously, he'd find Superman's boy-scout routine too somber—always manages to mesh with the times.
It doesn't matter if it's the old Tick comics, the Saturday-morning cartoon from the 90s, the Fox sitcom with Patrick Warburton, or this stunning single-camera comedy that actually has a special effects budget. The latest puts the gravel-voice comedian Peter Serafinowicz in the blue suit with the always moving antennae—and any fears you had about it not being Warburton are quickly put to rest.
This time around the story focuses more on the sidekick, Arthur, which is a smart way of bringing us into this world where super-heroics are everywhere, and almost mundane because of it. Also perfect in the cast: Jackie Earl Haley—the former Rorschach of Watchmen—as the villain known as The Terror, who probably generates the most laughs even though he's playing him as a straight-up psychopath. The second half of the first season recently debuted on Amazon with 12 episodes; the second season of 10 arrive in 2019.
1 The Man In the High Castle
The fertile mind of Philip K. Dick is responsible for a lot of the most beloved sci-fi we have today—though mostly from the adaptions, less so from his original writing. The Man in the High Castle, his epic alternative history story where the Germans and Japan beat the United States in WWII and split the country between the two empires, might have seemed unfilmable to some and destined to only be a lit classic. But executive producers like Ridley Scott, Frank Spotnitz, and more put it on the small screen and made an instant classic. This is a show that rivals anything HBO's got short of Game of Thrones.
Over two seasons, the show has followed: a couple in Japanese-controlled San Francisco who get split apart and entangled with the resistance movement; a man from the German controlled New York go to work as a spy for the Nazis; a savage Nazi convert (the terrifying Rupert Evans) who is turned into someone you can almost (almost!) understand; and a Japanese trade minister who discovers there's a lot more going on in this world. We haven't had new episodes since 2016, but the third season will arrive sometime this year.
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