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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Betas

Article first posted as Betas on TheTVKing.

Another of Amazon's new pilots is Betas. Set in Silicon Valley, four computer programming geeks attempt to build the next great bit of code and make their dreams come true. But while it is hard to catch a break, their own worst enemies may just be themselves.

Betas reminds me a lot of The L.A. Complex, except about a different and specific slice of Americana. These are the young people who believe they can achieve fame and fortune through their own special skills, and then find that luck and networking plays as big a part as talent in this game. Not to mention, they are surrounded by others who can do what they do just as well, if not better. Are passion and drive enough to set one apart and make the wish a reality?

Funnily enough, Joe Dinicol, one of the stars of The L.A. Complex headlines Betas. This time, though, he isn't the dork, but instead, he's Trey, the visionary leader who tries to keep his buddies on track. He makes the transition well, and, ditching his glasses, is very believable as a sympathetic leading man. If the group at the center of this does succeed, they will have him to thank.

The others in Joe's gang are: Nash (Karan Soni, Safety Not Guaranateed), the genius with crippling social skills, whose hermit-like ways remind me a bit of Pindar on TNT's Franklin & Bash, with a dash of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon tossed in for good measure; Hobbes (Jonathan C. Daly, Kroll Show), the older guy tired of being stuck, but not able to stop goofing around; and Mitchell (Charlie Saxton, Hung), the earnest romantic who looks up to, and is easily influenced by, the others.

Each of these boys, and despite their age, they are still boys, not men, are presented as a layered, realistic character. They aren't just stereotypes played for laughs, but developed individuals with personalities that alternately complement and clash one another. One can see how they are friends, but one can also see that they might not come together at a key moment, which could hurt them.

The series itself is also the mix of reality and indie vibe. Betas is not a laugh-a-minute sitcom, hewing closer to drama in many regards, even though it has funny moments. The tone is not silly, even when silly things happen, and instead feels like an authentic slice of life. There are Asian stereotypes, but in ways that might actually be seen in the world and feel necessary here, not so cartoonish that they feel ridiculous.

In the "Pilot," Trey tries to get interest from an eccentric investor named George Murchison (the great Ed Begley Jr.), who likes to jam on his flute with Moby (himself). Viewers can see that Trey has picked his target well, someone who is vulnerable and can be manipulated, though Trey's motives are to further his work, not hurt Murch. Trey plays Murch just right in order to spark his interest. The scene is a tad too familiar, but the results should prove sufficient to push the story along.

Of course, in a series like Betas, we must have romantic interests tossed into the mix. Trey's is Lisa (Margo Harshman, The Big Bang Theory, Bent), Murch's wary assistant who, of course, does not seem at all interested at first, though a soft spot slowly appears for Trey. And Mitchell's is Mikki (Maya Erskine), a fellow techie who he is scared of approaching until Hobbes pushes him, and then finds her completely accessible, especially when they bond over pranking the douche in the office, Dane (Tyson Ritter, The House Bunny). Neither gal really breaks new ground, but Harshman, especially, should be able to transition the role into someone interesting.

Betas won't be a show for everyone, to be sure, but it has a specific vision and mood that feels very well developed, and for those that get into it, it should become a beloved favorite. At times soapy, the characters are every-men who can, and probably will, achieve greatness. Fans will root for them and invest in their story.

The Betas "Pilot" is available now on Amazon.com.

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