In some senses, Amazon’s free* ad-supported (AVOD) streaming service has been available longer than Peacock, HBO Max, or Disney+. But while IMDb TV had been quietly offering an enormous library of free streaming content for years before Amazon started thinking about introducing any “Originals” to its programming slate, it wasn’t until the ecommerce behemoth renamed the service Freevee earlier this year that all the Freevee (née IMDb TV) Originals that Amazon had spent the last couple of years building up started to coalesce into a discernible brand.
And what is that brand? Basically, whatever you’d find playing in marathon blocks while surfing basic cable on a weekday afternoon. Which, for an ad-supported streamer in a landscape full-to-bursting with brain-numbing prestige options, was a niche just waiting to be filled.
Beyond that one broad requirement, though, Freevee Originals are remarkably eclectic. Its most notable titles range not just from scripted to unscripted, or from animated to live-action, but also from domestic to international. In fact, of the ten titles we’ve ranked in this inaugural “Best Freevee Originals” list, four hail from outside of the United States.
In the short term, this means that no matter what you might be looking for, Freevee is likely to have at least one Original for you to start with. And it bodes just as well in the long term, signaling Amazon’s intentions to as much surprise its AVOD audience with its growing Originals slate as it does to comfort them.
With that, enjoy!
Note: Not included in this ranked list but still available on Freevee for anyone interested are Timewasters (a British time travel farce that is often fun but leans more on offensive jokes than is defensible for how recently it was made), Judy Justice (Judge Judy, but streaming), Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary (a concert documentary for the country lovers among us), and Moment of Truth (a true crime docuseries about the murder of NBA legend Michael Jordan’s father). And for those of you who like to get a head start on fall TV, the Tegan & Sara-inspired coming-of-age drama High School is set to premiere October 14.
To be frank, you’re unlikely to find anyone in the Paste TV halls who thinks that Leverage: Redemption—the first scripted IMDb TV Original Amazon ever commissioned—is good. Promising? Yes. Occasionally fun? Sure. But actually good? Well, you can ask our own Amy Amatangelo about that.
But where Leverage: Redemption has failed to impress some critics, it seems to have more than satisfied the hopes and dreams of a plurality of longtime Leverage fans, who just came in looking for some familiar faces having a fun, heist-pulling time. Laundry-folding television, basically. Which, if that’s the tone Freevee (née IMDb TV) wants to set for itself, all the better. The streaming world could do with its own version of daytime TNT.
The first of four international imports to make this ranked list, Corner Gas Animated, which wrapped its fourth and final season in 2021, is an animated reimagining of the live-action sitcom Corner Gas, a Canadian mainstay set in and around a tiny gas station in Dog River, Saskatchewan that ran from 2004 to 2009 (and won six Gemini Awards in the process). With the original cast reprising their roles, just in animated form, Corner Gas Animated allowed series creator Brent Butt to take a story that had previously been limited by, like, the laws of physics, and turn it into something even weirder and more audacious. (Think: unicorns, and then go from there.) And just in case two long-running iterations and dozens of awards aren’t enough to convince you to check out the particular cornerstone of Canadian comedy, maybe let yourself be swayed by the impressive collection of guest stars the show managed to net over the seasons, a list which includes (but is not limited to) Sarah MacLachlan, Michael J. Fox, Arcade Fire, Tantoo Cardinal, Simu Liu, and Ryan Reynolds.
One of the handful of “reality” shows Freevee has started to build its unscripted originals library around, Hollywood Houselift with Jeff Lewis is pretty much exactly like Lewis’ old TLC show Flipping Out, just with more celebrities and fewer toxic meltdowns. More narrative than most of the home renovation shows HGTV audiences might be familiar with, Hollywood Houselift follows Lewis around as he consults on various celebrities’ planned renovations, tracking each project over multiple episodes while simultaneously tracking Lewis’ own personal and professional life. In the series’ first season, Lewis works with Anthony Anderson, Wilmer Valderrama, Fortune Feimster, Evan Ross, Ashlee Simpson, Mira Sorvino, Lamorne Morris, Melissa Rivers, and Roselyn Sanchez, each of whom is looking at a very different kind of project. But while the prospect of peeking into celebrities’ homes might be the series’ initial draw—especially for audiences that don’t typically seek out home renovation shows—the character-driven “story” arcs native to its reality TV roots will be what keep you hitting play on each next episode.
Bug Out is the true crime docuseries for people who hate true crime docuseries. Ostensibly about a massive bug heist that saw $50,000 worth of critters disappear from the Philadelphia Insectarium in 2018, the four-part series ends up being as much a study of unreliable narrators as it is an investigation. When I first watched the screeners earlier this year, my desperation to talk with *literally anyone* not just about what the docuseries uncovers but how it gets there was almost physically overwhelming. So go! Be overwhelmed! And enjoy some truly wild bugs while you’re at it.
The first of the recent wave of excellent Australian crime dramas to be imported for American audiences that won’t be stuck behind any kind of paywall, Troppo—adapted from Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake—stars oddball American actor Thomas Jane as a mysteriously disgraced detective named Ted Conkaffey (who’s exiled himself to the Australian boonies and is halfway to drinking himself to death), and The Gloaming’s Nicole Chamoun as Amanda Pharrell (a local-girl-turned-town-pariah who works days as a tattoo artist, but who wants so desperately to be taken seriously as a private detective that she’s tracking down missing pets). When one local (poor) man “goes troppo” and throws himself to the crocodiles in front of a boat full of tourists, and another local (rich) man goes missing shortly thereafter, Amanda puts herself right in the middle of the action, and, through a series of unlikely events, pulls Ted in with her. Oppressively hot and humid even through a TV screen, Troppo is as good an introduction as any to the rich array of mystery series Australia is making these days, and a promising continuation of Freevee’s own international import slate.
Produced by LeBron James’ Uninterrupted Studios, Top Class—which follows the ups and downs of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, one of the country’s most prestigious high school basketball teams—is one part sports docuseries, one part coming-of-age drama. Featuring players so exceptional that they’ve already become household names—think Amari Bailey, Shy Odom, and Ziaire WIlliams—the series nevertheless manages to be as thoughtful and measured as it is exhilarating. Another of the series on this list to put itself in dialogue with the pandemic, Season 2 covers the players’ first season back to campus after a year of remote learning. Whether you’re a longtime fan of basketball, or just interested in seeing inside the experiences kids have been having these past few years, Top Class has something compelling to offer.
After finding themselves released early from their sentences in the first few weeks of pandemic for “health and safety” reasons—an official action which amounts to more or less shoving half of the (conveniently co-ed) prison’s population through the front gates with nothing more than a “good luck!” and the clothes they came in with—a trio of non-violent offenders (Garret Dillahunt, Shakira Barrera, and Phillip Garcia) in rural Western Maryland end up banding together. First it’s to find a safe spot to “shelter in place” during lockdown, then it’s to take advantage of COVID chaos by doing enough crime that they can support themselves in a job market hostile to anyone with a criminal record. If this sounds like a tough nut to crack jokes from, well, you’re not wrong! But with Greg Garcia—the mind behind My Name is Earl, Raising Hope and The Guest Book—leading Sprung’s creative vision as creator, director, and primary writer, the fact that the limited Freevee comedy series ends up threading the absurdly dark/warmly funny needle isn’t surprising.
Starring Adrienne C. Moore (Orange is the New Black) and Meredith MacNeill (Baroness Von Sketchshow) as a comically mismatched pair of Toronto detectives—one irons her t-shirts! one wears mismatched socks!!—who are obliged to team up to take down a local opioid operation, Canadian import Pretty Hard Cases (née Lady Dicks) is, as one might expect with leads like Moore and MacNeill, extremely funny. I mean, there’s a reason the Odd Couple dynamic (especially in detective shows) is such a classic. And letting both halves of that dynamic be steered by women? You love to see it.
In its second season, the show leans in with a surprisingly informed take post-summer 2020’s BLM protests. In doing so, the series remains a complex, thoughtful (and still funny!) story that—though its moments of progressive catharsis do occasionally ring too much of fantasy to be satisfying—doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. The overall situation is infuriating, but at least Pretty Hard Cases understands why, and seems prepared to address it.
This newest take on Alex Rider is something entirely different. More of a piece with what teen TV has become in in the last decade—slick, serious, cinematic and mature, with a strong bent towards internationalism and diversity—it’s the kind of spy drama you can recommend indiscriminately to your adult friends. So what if its reluctant spy hero is a teenage boy? The show takes him seriously, which means their fictional version of the SAS takes him seriously, which means the deeply realistic bad guys out to literally kill him also take him seriously. And while that much seriousness has the tendency to drag lesser adult action series to an absolute standstill, the hyper-realistic teen antics Alex and his tiny circle of friends get up to, even in the midst of life-or-death situations, serve as useful tonal ballast that lends the series just enough warmth and humor to bolster the rest of the story’s inherent tension. (That the soundtrack is excellent definitely helps.)
That said, there are a few elements of the series that jangle more than they should. Of course, Alex Rider is still a spy drama, and as such is obliged to have its characters make a lot of silly decisions for the sake of plot. But if watching 2020 (and each fresh hell brought on by every following year) torturously unfold has taught me anything, it’s that the existence of rich teen Nazis with a chip on their shoulder and the will to wreck the world ought to be taken much more seriously than any of us might want to believe, and Treadstone-esque Alex Rider gets it. It’s a sophisticated spy thriller custom-made for the Bourne Identity set.
When Prime Video’s Bosch took its final bow back in 2021, it did so as the streamer’s longest running Original series. Seven seasons! In streaming years, that’s nearly a full Supernatural.
And yet, even fitting that much story under their belt, the show’s creative team hadn’t even come close to matching either the length or breadth of Michael Connelly’s source material. And so, following Harry Bosch’s move to the private sector at the end of the flagship Bosch, Eric Overmeyer, Tom Bernardo, and Connelly, himself, moved over to Freevee and developed Bosch: Legacy, a project that is less “spin-off” than it is only slightly evolved continuation—down, even, to the moody, kaleidoscopic title sequence. Starring Titus Welliver as Bosch (now a private detective), Madison Lintz as his daughter, Maddie (now, confoundingly, a rookie LAPD officer), and Mimi Rogers as Honey Chandler (still a lawyer, but on the hunt for revenge)—all three reprising their roles from the original—Legacy picks up literally where Bosch left off. And while Freevee’s commercial format forces a more action-movie rhythm than feels natural for a Bosch project, the joy of being able to watch Harry Bosch stick screws into the corrupt heart of the LAPD is worth the trade-off.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She
can be found @AlexisKG.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.
GET PASTE RIGHT IN YOUR INBOX
The best music, movies, TV, books, comedy and more.
© 2022 Paste Media Group. All Rights Reserved