SeriesFest 2017: 8 Great Pilots That Deserve to Find a Network Home

Prison drama, vampire comedy and robot noir were just some of the nascent TV shows we hope to see more of soon.
Giving Up

The world of independent television remains a complicated one with no easy path to success, but many creators are finding that the best way to sell their visions is to make the pilots themselves. And a festival like SeriesFest, held last week in Denver, Colorado, can be a powerful opportunity to put that vision on display.

READ MORE: SeriesFest 2017 Awards: Prison Drama ‘Up North’ Leads Winners

From reality-soaked drama to heartfelt comedy to genre fare, the range of projects was remarkable. IndieWire took note of the promising projects while attending the festival, and the eight below are the ones which stood out immediately as potentially ready for wider exposure.

“Up North”

Network That Should Buy It: HBO

[SeriesFest Award Winner: Best Drama, Best Directing of a Drama, Best Actor, Audience Award] A tonal cousin to “The Wire,” but with an intimate and personal core to it, the heart of “Up North” is centered around an innocent teenager arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and gets trapped in the New York prison system as a result. Nuanced, real, and heartbreaking, “Up North” promises to be a real dramatic powerhouse.

“The Vampire Leland”

Network That Should Buy It: Netflix

Directed by Tijuana Ricks, this comedy about a vampire with an existential crisis and the unexpected new friend he makes (figuratively and literally) had professional gloss, plenty of fun plot threads to explore, and a wry tone that had us hooked. It’s enough of a genre mashup to perhaps be difficult to place, but that’s exactly what Netflix and other streaming platforms are built for.

“Giving Up”

Network That Should Buy It: IFC

[SeriesFest Award Winner: Best Comedy, Best Directing for a Comedy] The story of a not-so-young artistic couple who find themselves up against a deadline to “make it” in New York City proves to be a funny and very relatable story about dreams, as well as how hard it can be to give up on them. The dark quirks to the humor, including throwing a “wake” for Mo and Ira’s ambitions, only add to the nuance of the series.

“The Gay and Wonderous Life of Caleb Gallo”

Network That Should Buy It: The CW

[SeriesFest Award Winner: Best Writing for a Comedy] We wrote about this show in its web series form a while back, but Brian Jordan Alvarez’s series was equally charming as a half-hour pilot, one that could easily expand out to an hour to fit with the CW’s tradition of celebrating unique, diverse voices. Alvarez’s  flair for dialogue makes the show a true standout, as is its intriguing approach to sexuality and relationships.

“Running With Violet”

Network That Should Buy It: Lifetime

Best described (loosely) as “‘Thelma and Louise’ meets ‘Fargo,'” this dramedy could use a bit more polish, but the quirks embedded in this story about a single mom, an abused housewife, and a girls’ weekend away with a body in the trunk give this show a fresh voice.


Network That Should Buy It: Syfy

Based on a Penny Arcade web comic and funded by a $473,494 Kickstarter campaign, “Automata” features lush production and a fascinating mash-up of ’30s noir and sci-fi (with an emphasis on the “noir” side). Featuring the voice of Doug Jones as robot Carl, director Van Alan packs a lot of world-building into the first episode, one it’d be fun to see evolve further.

“Lost and Found”

Network That Should Buy It: TBS

Tonally, this series lacks the narrative thrust of TBS’s “Search Party” but otherwise feels very similar. The pilot, which features a Los Angeles couple deciding to “consciously uncouple” surrounded by friends and family, could have been a clever short film, but there’s enough planted for further storylines, especially as the relationship between Stella (Melonie Diaz) and Ian (Will Janowitz) doesn’t quite appear to be over.

“According to My Mother”

Network That Should Buy It: Hulu

[SeriesFest Award Winner: Best Actress in a Comedy] This deeply felt, haunting, yet hilarious story about a mother and son who can’t connect but need each other very much would feel right at home alongside shows like “Casual” and “Difficult People,” while also adding some welcome diversity to the platform. While the details of this Asian-American family are specific and well-observed, the overall story is deeply universal.

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