Since Netflix put out House of Cards, online distribution for television shows has exploded. In a model similar to premium cable like HBO and Showtime, online distributors are able to create shows that push the boundaries of their network competitors. In recent years, Amazon has joined the fray and released the award winning series, Transparent. In January of this year, Amazon released 13 pilots, and enabled viewers to vote on them. Amazon Studios would make the pilot with the most votes into a series. This review will be about a pilot that impressed me the most called, The Man in the High Tower, based off the book of the same name.
The show starts during the early 1960’s in an alternate reality where the Allies lost World War II to the Nazi and Japanese forces. America has been divided up into two parts similar to Germany after WWII in real life. The Eastern half of the country is now the “Great Nazi Reich” while the Western half is the “Japanese Pacific States”. In between the two territories lies a neutral zone that is a few states wide. The episode follows two characters from each of the opposing countries. Through the course of the episode they come to possess a mysterious newsreel that shows the Allies winning WWII and the defeat of the Nazis and Japan. The two characters end up accidently meeting one another at the neutral zone on their way to deliver the reel to an unknown person. A subplot in the later half of the episode reveals that the relationship between the Nazi and Japanese government is not as strong as it once was and a war between the countries may be on its way.
I went into the show very intrigued by the idea of alternate universes, as this has always been an interesting concept to me. I must say that the pilot greatly exceeded my expectations, as it was able to create a very believable reality. In the opening act we are given a glimpse of Nazi New York and Japanese San Francisco, which suggests the series will elaborate on how the outcome of the war affected society. The exact year the war ended in this timeline is not specifically stated, but context given from characters implies it ended about 20-25 years before the pilot episode. I think this provides the show with a chance for interesting content because the newer generation in the show does not know what life was like when America existed, while the older generation is depicted as resenting the way things are now. If done correctly, the differences of philosophy between generations could provide for interesting conflict.
Another interesting point that struck me during the episode is the gender representation in the two main characters. We have one main character of each sex, which allows the audience to obtain a first hand account of this new world from the viewpoint of each gender. My only concern for the show is that it will either drag out its mystery too long to allow for more seasons, which happens to many Sci-fi shows, or it will become too outlandish and stray from its original vision. Either way, I am really anxious to see the rest of this season, premiering this fall on Amazon. The pilot episode is currently free on Amazon Prime Video and I highly suggest you give it your time as I rate a 4 out of 5 Reels.
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