'Alpha' leads Amazon's pilot pack

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Onion News Empire on Amazon.com

Onion News Empire on Amazon.com (May 2, 2013)

"Dark Minions": Cocky series, this one. A note at the outset promises that the half-done animation will be completed if it goes to series. That's not such a long shot. It's the better of two adult animation efforts, and adult animation remains popular. And it's likable, even when you're looking at rudimentary drawings.

Two stoners sign up to work for the intergalactic conglomerate that has taken over the galaxy, while various rebel groups try to fight back. Co-written by Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, "Big Bang Theory" co-stars, it's all pretty laid-back and amiable, with nothing in particular to recommend against it. 

"Zombieland": Getting into the zombie game is probably never a dumb move, unless, you know, it's a game of Twister. And if you liked the 2009 movie about a group of survivors thrown together and trying to reconnect with others, you'll like this one too. There's no Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone or Jesse Eisenberg, but the stand-ins do a fine job. And the show, from the writers of the movie, maintains a light tone amid the gore, with, for instance, rules for survival in Zombieland being typed on the screen. 

Don't bother

"Betas": Young tech hotshots are trying to code and get funding for their new app, in Silicon Valley, of course. There's some nice Web-culture observation, but everything's a little broadly drawn, from the rock-star venture capitalist to the group's socially awkward lead coder. There's a heaviness of tone, too, and a crudeness of mind that undercut the relatively inconsequential goings-on. Does the world really need a new app that helps people connect? 

And then when the script tosses in — wait for it — a rival app development team, it's very hard to stay with this. If you want that kind of contrivance, you may as well go back and watch "Twister," the 1996 blockbuster with rival teams of storm chasers.

"Browsers": Another Web-culture series that's mostly a dud, this one is set at a spot-on knockoff of The Huffington Post, here called The Daily Gush. Four interns start fresh and excited at The Gush, because apparently in today's media world the dream job involves not creating content but finding it elsewhere, re-posting it and diverting the revenue stream to yourself.

The executive producer, former "Daily Show" head writer David Javerbaum, deserves credit for daring to make this a musical. Some people still talk fondly about "Cop Rock." But the singing numbers are many, and rather than creating a giddy, alternate-universe mode ("Umbrellas of Cherbourg"), they mostly are things to be endured. Meanwhile, the Huffington character, played with relish but an accent already wearing thin by Neuwirth, is way too on-the-nose, and ditto for an Ann Coulter-like figure who comes to visit. 

"Supanatural": First, let's award it a few points for being fully animated. And then take them away again for lead character Lucretia, who, in a different era, might have been played by Eddie Murphy in drag. There's a clever idea here: Two mall droogs lead a double life hunting down precious archaeological artifacts and saving the world. But it's also an idea — mall-culture parody mixed with high adventure — that'll be hard to keep going. At least the talking skull in the pilot episode sounds like a long lost brother of the skeletal sidekick on "The Craig Ferguson Show."


Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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