Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages writer Jacob Oller.
Continuing Amazon Studios’ crowdsourced programming strategy, its three latest offerings are now available to stream for free, battling it out in the realm of internet democracy. Compared to previous seasons, Amazon seems to be tightening its focus, keeping its shows within one genre (comedy) so as to better compare the competitors when the viewers vote on which deserves a full-season pickup.
If you don’t have time to watch them all but still want to be an informed voter, the following reviews for the three pilots benchmark their potential, current successes and general sensibilities.
Before there was Deadpool, there was The Tick. The superparody has been a comic, a cartoon and a live-action comedy full of good-hearted absurdism. Where Deadpool is vulgar and cynical, the dim Tick sees everything for the first time and loves it dearly. So when rebooting the character into another live-action comedy, especially into the supersaturated world in which we live, playing upon the tropes of the genre (with a distinct flavor compared to the darkness of DC or the roguish winks of Marvel) is a necessity.
The Amazon pilot, starring the perfectly blustery Peter Serafinowicz as the bright blue bug, finds its new voice but still must grapple with its abundance of plotting. It’s silly, weird and allows for wholesome nonsense that doesn’t reek of the internet like Deadpool or hint at adult themes like many PG comedies — it’s just goofy. That’s not to say stupid.
The show has a handle on its mythos from the start, a world with superpowers, political repercussions and mental illness. And they all coalesce into the ideal state for a naive pair of weirdos (Tick and his newly-recruited brainy wimp/sidekick Arthur) to make their mark on the world. Its uniqueness is best when peppering its plotting with absurdities rather than using a standard story with funny characters. While a bit uneven in its pilot, if The Tick can embrace its voice in all aspects of its storytelling, it’ll be one of the freshest, post-post-modern takes on superherodom.
I Love Dick
I Love Dick piques with its risque title and bares it all with its content. The artsy female-gaze of a dusty leather bar comes from a woman whose relationships are broken and whose personality has followed.
A writer couple (an already stellar Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne; one of film, one of books) moves to rural Texas from New York to take part in an artist’s retreat led by Dick (Kevin Bacon, in full sex-cowboy mode). Full of academic negging and frustrated denim sexuality, the pilot always seems on the brink of fights or fornication. There’s a blunt treatment of lived-in relationships and the excitement of novelty that shines through a dark background of art snob satire. The surroundings are empty and empty-headed but the inner lives churn like someone shifting a beat-up pickup’s sex drive.
Showing its leads as ships not passing but violently colliding in the night isn’t just satisfying, it’s fun. It also gives the show potential to stretch itself. When characters start this overtly troubled and passionate journey, their struggles and development can either be brief failures or long-fought successes. Either way, I Love Dick will find an audience that will love to watch.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson
From two 80s obsessed creators (Dave Callaham, who wrote The Expendables, and director Peter Atencio, whose Key & Peele and Keanu dabble in pitch-perfect genre weirdness) comes another piece of artistry that tightropes between karaoke and sampling. There’s enough originality that viewers can see the source material of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career in a different light, but it’s still reverent enough that his moonlighting as a superspy feels adequately silly.
Ten different kinds of dumb and wonderful, JCVJ sets up Van Damme as someone chasing his past every way he can — his acting, his second job spying and his love life. The world has no place for Van Damme, so he’ll have to make one. In doing so, the pilot embraces the camp of his fame-making films with added irony familiar to those who’ve watched Atencio’s other comedy work. There’s sadness and despondency, but it’s always coated in cheery ridiculousness, as moments leapfrog off temporary emotional vulnerability to give more impact to a punchline.
The end result is a pilot that promises a formula that never quite lets audiences have what they seemingly want, but Jean-Claude Van Johnson always entertains. Whether JCVD is failing to drop into his iconic splits or making small busywork with his hands in his agent/spymaster’s office, he’s matured into a wonderfully understated comedic actor, a weathered meathead somewhere between James Bond and Leslie Nielsen’s WD-40 Dick Steele. For those that saw their tastes evolve alongside campy 80s action movies, JCVJ will kickbox its way into their hearts.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Chicago-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.