In the trailer for Amazon’s “The New Yorker Presents,” a collage of short documentaries, scripted live-action, animation, comedy, poetry, and cartoons based on content from the 90-year-old magazine, the series promises, in essence, to reinvent what’s long been called the “newsmagazine” program.
The ranks have thinned in recent years, as the likes of “Dateline” (NBC) and “20/20” (ABC)—no more than true-crime pulp, at this point—have left the real reporting to “60 Minutes” (CBS) and “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (HBO), but “The New Yorker Presents” suggests something of a sea-change. The interest in non-fiction programming is once again on the rise, and Amazon is itching to tap into it. Part of this task is translating the magazine’s reputation for journalistic excellence into film form, which certainly seems like it would be in the wheelhouse of New Yorker editor David Remnick and prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney (most recently, “Going Clear”).
But it’s clear from both the trailer and the pilot episode (currently streaming for free on Amazon) that “The New Yorker Presents” isn’t satisfied by the notion of being a staid “newsmagazine.” After a gorgeous series of animated New Yorker covers in the title sequence, the “table of contents” is a delightful sight, a novel way of encouraging the viewer to dabble; there’s no expectation to watch the segments in order, or even in the same sitting. (I’m particularly excited for the brief narrative films glimpsed in the trailer, featuring the likes of John Turturro, Charles Grodin, and Michaela Watkins.) As on any sketch show, of course, the material is hit or miss—an imagined conversation in the pilot between God and his prophet, starring Alan Cumming, is more clever in the conception than the execution—but the possibilities of such a format seem endless.
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“The New Yorker Presents” premieres on Amazon Video February 16, and will make available two new half-hour episodes each Tuesday throughout its first season.