If there’s one thing that’s plagued Hollywood studios and networks this past year—you know, besides horrific sexual misconduct, crippling toxic masculinity, and institutionalized roadblocks for diversity—it’s an utter and complete lack of awareness.
On that front, Amazon is ending the year with real flair.
Amazon Studios, which produces the streaming service’s original television content, has passed on all three of its comedy pilots. All three, by the way, star women: Sea Oak, starring Glenn Close; Love You More, starring Bridget Everett, and The Climb, which was created by and stars Diarra Kilpatrick.
More, as Deadline reports, Amazon has yet to make a decision on the future of two of its other critically hailed, female-driven comedies: One Mississippi, created by and starring Tig Notaro, and I Love Dick, created by Jill Soloway and starring Kathryn Hahn.
In a year that saw Amazon Studios force out its leadership due to sexual misconduct and find itself on the receiving end of industry backlash for the mistreatment and cancelation of its popular (and topical) drama Good Girls Revolt, this is not a good look. In fact, it borders on asinine.
One of the first major Hollywood players to be implicated in the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein allegations was Amazon Studios chief Roy Price, who was accused of sexually harassing Isa Hackett, the executive producer of Man in the High Castle, and telling her lewd things including, “You will love my dick.” Soon after Price’s departure, his top lieutenant, Head of Half Hour and Drama Series Development, Joe Lewis, also exited the company, reportedly because of his entanglements in the Price scandal.
Price and Lewis were part of the team that greenlit the three comedy pilots, as well as One Mississippi and I Love Dick. That the series would get lost in a leadership reshuffle that includes a mission redirect when it comes to scripted content might not be entirely surprising. But the optics of not moving forward with three strong pilots starring women given the conversation about gender at Amazon should be incongruous to any company mission.
Amazon nearly had the most topical series of the year on its platform.
Just weeks before the election, Good Girls Revolt premiered, a dramatization of the events leading up to the landmark 1970 all-female class action lawsuit in which the women who worked for Newsweek magazine accused the company of gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. It was a series chronicling the unjust and demoralizing ways women’s contributions are marginalized; how they are exploited, dismissed, and abused, often sexually, by men in positions of power, and the change that comes when angry-as-hell female voices rise.
Five weeks after it premiered, on the dawn of Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump’s inauguration and the galvanizing #MeToo movement that defined the last months of this year, Amazon canceled the series.
According to reports and the account of Dana Calvo, the creator of the show, Roy Price never bothered to watch the series, which Calvo maintains ranked as one of the platform’s more widely watched shows. Apparently he never even bothered to learn the characters’ names. Calvo said no women were involved in the decision to cancel the show.
In other words, Calvo thinks—and it certainly appears—that misogyny played a major role in its cancellation. Other anecdotes that have come to light in recent months would certainly support that characterization. It’s been reported, for example, that Price passed on The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies when the two female-led juggernaut series were shopped to him—the latter reportedly because he feared there would not be enough female nudity.
With the futures of One Mississippi and I Love Dick still up in the air, that veritably leaves The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the wondrous new dramedy series from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, as the service’s sole female-centric series.
(Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sensational dark comedy Fleabag won’t return until 2019, and the rom-com Castatrophe, co-created and co-starring Sharon Horgan, has no timeline in place yet for a fourth season. Amazon did have a series starring Miley Cyrus and Elaine May this year, but that was created by Woody Allen. So, uh, let’s not that count one.)
To be fair, there are many decisions that go into picking up a pilot to series. Those decisions are likely even more complicated with Amazon Studios now in a critical transition, with its leadership in flux and a programming shift away from its revolutionary pilot bake-offs toward straight-to-series orders like, as Deadline reports, the laughably expensive bet on a $250 million Lord of the Rings series.
But because these three passed-on comedies were still part of that pilot program, in which Amazon makes the pilots available to subscribers and uses their feedback data to help determine whether to greenlight the series, we’ve seen them.
Love You More is a musical dramedy from Sex and the City showrunner Michael Patrick King, in which Patti Cake$ breakout Bridget Everett offers her customary underappreciated tour de force in the lead role. It’s harkens to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend not only because of its musical component, but for the way it blends raunch and heart while also tackling serious issues. Candidly, we loved it.
The Climb is a standard-fare though effortlessly appealing descendant of shows like Girls and Broad City, in which a listless office drone aspires to be a viral internet sensation, with a distinct point of view certainly worth exploring.
The strangest and therefore most exciting of the trio is Sea Oak, the genre-bending series in which an older woman who dies tragically comes back as sort-of zombie hell-bent on seizing back the life she lost. It’s wild, and happens to arrive with even wilder bonafides: written by Man Booker Prize winner George Saunders and starring none other than Glenn Close.
As culture writer Mark Harris pointed out on Twitter, how can any content producer trying to make a splash not give a show like that a shot? “I mean, you can't take a chance on 6 or 8 eps of a Glenn Close/George Saunders half-hour? Just to see where it goes? While Goliath is on its third showrunner before its 2nd season has even aired? Okay.”
As more and more content platforms flood the landscape, Amazon, in a state of turmoil, is in the midst of an identity crisis. Might it behoove the company in the meantime to land on one that doesn’t, at least from the outside, seem so egregiously dismissive of women?