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Amazon's new TV pilots: 'Betas'

Actor Ed Begley Jr. plays a financier in

Actor Ed Begley Jr. plays a financier in an episode of “Betas,” one of the 14 TV show pilots being made by Amazon.com Inc. Amazon is hoping people will sign up to pay $79 a year for an Amazon Prime membership, a free shipping, online video and e-book borrowing service that will include access to the full series on the Web, connected TVs and mobile devices when they're completed. (Credit: AP)

Amazon launched 14 pilots on its website this past weekend with the goal of creating a new series — or 14, depending on viewer response, which so far is good. The retail giant said eight of the 10 most streamed TV episodes this past weekend were among these, which include six children's show, and eight comedy pilots, including a remake of "Zombieland," and a show from Onion ("Onion News Empire").

This week, time permitting, I’m offering capsule reviews of the comedy pilots here in TVZone; my personal guarantee: None of these reviews are thought out — not that any of my reviews ever are — but are pure streams of consciousness. (Hence, if some of this is unintelligible to you, it was to me as well) This morning, we body tackle . . .

"Betas"

What it's about: Four young smart guys at a Silicon Valley company want to make their own pile, and build — what else — their own app, their own social app. It's called BRB, with elements inspired — or lifted from Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram, Gowalla, Meebo . . . help me here — I'm running out of names I actually remember (but am also being kind of show-offy, like this show’s writers.) In any event, they're Trey (Joe Dinicol), their Steve Jobs of the group; Nash (Karan Soni) — intensely neurotic, the real brains; Hobbes (Jonathan C. Daly — a funny guy; you may remember him from "The Life & Times of Tim"); and Mitchell (Charlie Saxton), our little group's "Woz." In the pilot, they go to a party to pitch a moneyman, George Murchison (Ed Begley Jr.) He is unimpressed.

My say: There's actually an interesting idea here, and far too occasionally, a funny one. There's also a hint of why Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, if indeed he did watch this pilot, picked it from among the 14,000 that were submitted for his personal approval. It's got that in-the-know feel certainly and clever adaptation of Valley lingo that lends a certain authenticity and vapidity all in the same moment.

Again, Bezos, if he did indeed pick this one, must see these kinds of arrivistes and their blather as representative of all the bilge that's flooded his industry with bad ideas and worse execution. "Betas," in other words, is his revenge.

But TV pilots sculpted as weapons hardly ever work, and "Betas" does not work. It's noisy, pretentious, mean-spirited and shallow. In fact, it's shallow and smart and intensely vulgar — someone's attempt to mindmeld with Todd Phillips and/or Judd Apatow and instead hooking up with Gilbert Gottfried.

But the thing is, TV pilots are supposed to be small slices of promise — a promise that the journey you are about to undertake will be enjoyable, amusing, possibly illuminating, and hopefully funny. Especially that you'll care about the characters enough to want to go on this trip with them.

But with "Betas," you kind of get the sense that these guys would be even worse after they got their billion, their bile and blather even more repellent. As such, this show seems more like a threat than a promise.

Bottom line: A missed mark, by a mile.

Grade: D.

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