Susan Omand and her imaginary friends delve into Amazon Prime’s pilot shows and come up with Highston...
When the pilot of a half hour comedy show has a guest star list of Shaquille O’Neal and Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, you know it’s going to be a bit of a weird one and Highston certainly lived up to that expectation.
Highston Liggetts (Lewis Pullman) is a gentle 19-year-old struggling to find his place in a world he doesn't quite understand. As a coping mechanism, he has a string of imaginary celebrities who provide him with comfort and advice, which seems to be accepted by his parents Wilbur (Chris Parnell) and Jean (Mary Lynn Rajskub) until they decide that Highston needs to get his act together and get a job or go into the rehab facility that his therapist Dr Leland Conway (Kurt Fuller) has suggested. Flea and Shaq, for it really is them, try their best to help Highston through a job interview with a debt collection agency, which obviously doesn’t go so well, and then encourage his escape from the rehab facility that he gets sent to, leaving him on the run, on his own, at the end of the pilot episode.
Right, where to begin? The main casting in this is great and it really helps to have a relative unknown in the role of Highston, Pullman only has 3 other short films to his name so far, making you root for the character more than if you knew the actor. His support cast is very strong, especially with a comedy stalwart like Curtis Armstrong (whom those of us of a certain age will remember as Bert Viola in Moonlighting) as Highston’s weird Uncle Billy. There are also a few stars of the future to look out for as Daniel Kim and Chloe Levine managed to steal the group therapy session between them. What didn’t work for me though were the guest stars, as both Flea and Shaq lacked chemistry, both with each other and with their interactions with Highston. However I’m not going to count that against the series, if it gets picked up by Amazon, because the premise of having a variety of “celebrity advisors” in Highston’s head likely means we would get different ones each week.
The writing too was good, playing on the random quirkiness of the characters and bringing back memories of the likes of Police Squad with lines like "Honey, I know what the problem is" - "Our inability to experience a moment of pure joy?" definitely raising a smile. So why am I not too bothered if this gets greenlit or not as a series by Amazon? [Ed's note- it did] I think it’s because dysfunctional family has been done so many times before in half hour comedy shows and I’m getting tired of the easy win of “let’s poke fun at mental illness” thing. I also think the celebrity advisors angle will get old very quickly if that’s going to be the unique selling point (i.e. one trick pony) of the show and the comedy value of every episode will depend a lot on the celebrities involved. So yes, it’s quirky and charming and has some scope for humour but it’s a mash up of ideas that have been done much better, with shows like Wilfred and Raising Hope, and it’s certainly nowhere near Dead Like Me, which some of the Amazon reviews have been comparing it to. It passed half an hour nicely enough but it’s not something I’d add to the “must watch” list.
Image - Amazon