At one point, Amazon Prime Video may have just seemed like a less popular version of Netflix. But now in 2020, there are a ton of streaming services online (and many more to come). And Amazon Prime has established itself as a legitimate streaming platform with plenty of good shows and films that Netflix doesn’t offer. Not to mention some impressive original programming. But like with anything, some really good programs on the platform get overlooked. Let’s take a look at a few of those. In alphabetical order:
Forever (1 Season, 2018)
Out of all the programs on this list, the drama/comedy series Forever is easily the most difficult to discuss. This is because to even explain the show’s full premise would spoil it. So what can you say about it? Well, the show stars Saturday Night Live alums Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen as childless married couple June and Oscar. The first episode starts with a romantic montage of their relationship from when they first met to the present. June and Oscar have an okay marriage. But they’ve fallen into a bit of a rut over the past few years. So they decide to shake things up and go on a ski trip. If you know nothing about the show going in as I did, the show will likely surprise you with the events take place next. This highly creative and unpredictable nature of the show’s ongoing storyline is easily its main strength. At times, the show feels like a deconstruction of sitcoms about married couples.
Forever does things with its storytelling that most shows won’t do. The narrative plays with time in a fascinating way for one thing. Also, in the series’ best episode, we get a completely different plot that focuses on two characters we’ve never met before, and never see again. This one is also elevated by some very entertaining dialogue between the episode’s two protagonists. The well-written dialogue is a constant in this series, though. Rudolph and Armisen do good work in the acting department as well. And this is coming from someone who often isn’t a fan of either of them. The show was unfortunately cancelled after only a single eight-episode season. Thankfully, the creators chose to end the season finale on a note that could also work perfectly fine as a series finale.
Homeless (1hr 32mins, 2016)
This right here is the kind of subject matter I’d like to see more movies tackle. Homeless tells the story of 18-year-old Gosh (Michael McDowell) who becomes homeless after his grandmother passes away. However, the film starts with him already out on the streets. He goes to stay in a shelter for a little while. But over time, we learn more about the character through flashbacks. And director Clay Riley Hassler does a good job utilizing the “show, don’t tell” rule to communicate information about Gosh and his backstory. This directing is definitely impressive considering this was his first (and so far only) feature-length film. Hassler also took on the role of director of photography. And his cinematography here as well as the rest of the filmmaking is also quite good considering the minuscule budget. Homeless is a passion project filmed over only 25 days by a group of friends. You can really feel the care put into the movie.
The script smartly avoids stereotypes about the homeless. They go in an interesting direction making the protagonist a young adult. He became homeless because of circumstances beyond his control. They don’t portray him as lazy or helpless. At one point, he gets a job. He gets a place to stay for a little while. But he still doesn’t have a home. This movie could have come off as insensitive if they handled it poorly. But instead, they did their research and put a lot of thought into it. This is without a doubt a team of filmmakers to look out for the future. So go give this film some support.
Minutes (1h 25mins, 2018)
From critically acclaimed indie filmmaker Jim Cummings (not the Winnie the Pooh guy), Minutes is a collection of six short films each starring a young protagonist during the most important minutes of their lives. IMDb calls this a mini-series. But Amazon presents it as an anthology film. Directors Cummings, Danny Madden and Dustin Hahn chose to film each of the shorts in one long, continuous take, in a way that never felt sloppy and added both realism and tension to the stories. Each short/episode is around 10 to 20 minutes long, and the team did a good job with filling each with the necessary amount of comedy, drama, character and plot.
In the first short for instance, we meet a young elementary school teacher named Mr Zahn hosting a stressful parent-teacher night. Zahn doesn’t like his students. He doesn’t like the way the school functions. And he quickly learns to dislike the parents. He tries his best to have patience with them, but like many of the stars of these shorts, by the end, he develops an attitude of “f**k everything!” We get more of this attitude in particular in the third and best short “Marty <3 Katie.” This one focuses on a guy named Marty, a restaurant manager and aspiring actor who has a rough night at his restaurant dealing with difficult customers, in a story anyone who ever worked in customer service can relate to. This one does the best job with utilizing the long take, using it to help suck the audience in and really feel the stress Marty goes through on this night.
The rest of the shorts are enjoyable and had a lot of work put into them as well. The funniest is about a young woman attempting to rob a liquor store and nothing goes as planned. Then there’s the final short about a Native American guy doing stand-up comedy for the first time to a crowd who is the wrong audience for a lot of his jokes. All of the shorts impress with what they accomplished with their limited budgets. The inexperienced actors also gave believable performances. This one is worth an hour and 26 minutes of your time.
Undone (1 Season, 2019)
The main aspect of note of the recent Amazon original series Undone is the choice of co-creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy (BoJack Horseman) to animate the entire show using rotoscope animation. This is where animators will trace drawings over the live-action video footage. This gives them the opportunity for everything to look realistic, while still getting to do more with the visual effects, this being a science-fiction series. The story here is about a young woman named Alma who has had a difficult life and currently feels a bit lost. In the first episode, she gets in a car accident after thinking she sees her dead father. And then there’s some stuff involving time travel that I won’t give away.
I mentioned the people behind Netflix’s BoJack Horseman worked on this show. But this one is definitely pretty different, particularly in the tone. While BoJack has a ton of satirical humor, this show is primarily a drama. Most of the comedy is more incidental. Undone is a psychological series. It’s the kind of show that constantly keeps you thinking, often questioning what’s real and what isn’t. And you’ll always want to see what happens next. I’m not a binge-watcher myself. But this is the kind of show that’s made for bingeing. And it’s half-hour episodes make that task even easier. Thankfully, this one is coming back for a second season after ending on a big cliffhanger.