Amazon shows delve into subject matter that has never been presented to the masses before. Whether it's Fleabag, Sneaky Pete, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel..., the reality is that the ideas and thoughts being discussed in these shows are often well out of the mainstream. This isn't to say that Amazon shows are stodgy borefests, that will only appeal to "upper crust" viewers. Amazon Prime, like the website from which it came, isn't singularly focused on one type of viewer. Rather, it is a buffet of content, and what's on display in this list are their cream of the crop of show offerings. For now...
Comic Phoebe Waller-Bridge turns the whole single woman, rom-com, idea on its head as the star of this truly masterful show. Functioning without a filter, Fleabag, as she is known, truly deals with the everyday goings on of life on her terms. She is offered help, Fleabag often can see a way out of her pain and sadness, yet, she just can't go with the flow. It's not that this character won't help themselves. Rather Fleabag as a show will not allow the character or the viewer to have an easy way out. What we get is a sort of female-styled Curb Your Enthusiasm, but to even call it that is a cop out. And if there's one thing that we know about Fleabag is that neither she or the show would ever take the easy way out of anything!
Imagine you were doing a job that on that face of it looked like you were part of a great cause. Helping military veterans transition back home after having been in combat sounds like a pretty high calling right? Then imagine that you discover that this job really has a dark underbelly. That would be the premise of this Amazon show starring Julia Roberts, Shea Whigham and Bobby Cannavale. Part thriller, part mystery, this whole thing plays like a horror show and that is the true power of Homecoming. We all want to believe that we're doing good things. Our hope is that the work we do will count for something. What does one do when they start off with the noblest of intentions and suddenly have to ask, "Is all this help really helping?" Julia Roberts and the cast of this show meet that question head on and don't blink in the process.
Mozart in the Jungle
Has Gael Garcia Bernal ever done anything that wasn't top notch or award worthy. In the role of Rodrigo De Souza he plays a character that must be fearless to wade into the waters of the New York Symphony. Faced with mounting challenges and questions regarding his ability to lead, De Souza plans to reinvigorate said symphony from the inside out. One of the biggest changes he makes is hiring Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), a new oboist. Over the course of the series these two form a very close connection as they are both navigating the jungle they've both willingly entered. What transpires is a very well put together show with great performances from the likes of Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell (among others). It is easy to look at a show like this and see it making statements about "upper crust society." However, Mozart in the Jungle goes much deeper than that and it's a shame that this show didn't continue past it's fourth season.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Is there anybody who doesn't like this show? Rachel Brosnahan plays The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in this comedy drama about a woman who, through going off course, ultimately finds herself. Set in the late 1950s, the story follows Miriam Maisel (Brosnahan) as a woman who never really dreamed of being anything but a housewife. Then her husband takes a walk on her and suddenly Miriam now has to look at everything about her "American Dream." What was she always meant to be? A doctor? Lawyer? Accountant? Nope. It is "Midge's" destiny to be a stand-up comic. Once she realizes this, the role fits her like a glove and she sees her life come into full bloom. Of course, nothing is as simple as that because this show is still set in the late 50s. Comedy was (and still is in a lot of ways) a boys club, but now that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been released, there's no turning back from Miriam being who she was meant to be.
The Man in the High Castle
This show really epotomizes smart TV. Sadly, it is no longer a "going series," but thankfully Amazon has made all of it available to watch (or binge). The premise was as simple as its execution was brilliant. What would life be like if Japan and Germany had beaten the Allied powers in World War II? Given the state of the world today and everything happening in the United States domestically, it would be hard not to at least acknowledge the rise of similar "strongmen" leaders. With source material from none other than Philip K. Dick, this dystopian look at an alternate history is nothing short of fascinating. The kind of television that epitomizes this golden age. Sure, with multiple seasons under its belt not every episode is going to slay (not even with a show like Breaking Bad, sorry), but The Man in the High Castle epitomizes what great storytelling hopes to achieve. Is there a way to bridge art and commerce? Can entertainment be highly enjoyable and enlightening at the same time? The answer, in regards to this Amazon original, is a resounding YES. This show ended in November of 2019 and, like the subject matter is deals with, it seems eerily distant and resoundingly present at the same time.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson
Alright, a show that premiered in 2016 but was cancelled in 2018 probably isn't great television. Or, is it? The premise is simple, action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself. He's retired from acting and now he's basically gone back to being a undercover agent. If this whole thing sounds silly that's because it is. At the same time that doesn't mean that this isn't good TV. Seeing Van Damme essentially send up himself is funny. However, that isn't all that this show was. It was a fresh take on how we look at this actor who was, in the late 80s and 90s, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. That Van Damme can laugh at himself says a lot about who he is not only as an actor but as a person. Is Jean-Claude Van Johnson perfect? Hardly. Should it have had more than 1 season? Absolutely! Van Damme shows that he can still command the screen. He is interesting in a way that many action stars are not. You think Sly, Arnold or Bruce would ever joke about themselves this way? Never. For that reason alone Jean-Claude Van Johnson deserves it's place on this list.
Giovanni Ribisi plays a con artist who is wanted dead by some very bad hombres. Never one to shy away from being a real weasel, Ribisi steals the identity of a man he was doing time with. The man's name was Pete. Through the fine art of double-talk and forked tongue persuasion, Ribisi manages to get in with Pete's family and eventually finds himself straddling two dangerous worlds. The plot of Sneaky Pete is actually a lot more involved. That is what makes it precisely the kind of strong programming that is the hallmark of the Amazon brand. Bryan Cranston was one of the creators of this show for crying out loud! Unfortunately, the last season of this show was in 2019. However, there is a gritty ruggedness afoot in this one hour comedy, that is both bold and deftly pulled off. We're meant to laugh but we're also supposed to appreciate the character of Marius Josipovic aka Pete Murphy. With 30 episodes to its credit, it is a long arc that despite it's cancellation, is very satisfying.