Cocked, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Samuel Baum and Sam Shaw
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Released January 15, 2015 by Amazon
Familial strife over business concerns has been a story told often in television and movies, but rarely has the business in question been the gun business in America. Among Amazon’s batch of pilots is a show that aims to tackle that very ground, in the form of Cocked. Looking at a big gun company staring down financial troubles just as an estranged member of the family that runs it is forced to come back home, the episode unfortunately squanders the show’s potential, pairing a celebration of one character and all he represents with poor work fleshing out the rest of the show’s group and the world it’s set in.
The biggest issue with this pilot is the manner it which it appears to implicitly endorse the worldview of Grady and his father. Not only is Grady shown as wildly successful throughout the episode’s runtime, whether it’s with women or in shooting guns, Richard is similarly shown as someone who gets trod on by everyone. Even when Richard is in danger, it’s Grady who comes to his rescue, and while Richard verbally expresses an aversion to the Paxson family lifestyle, it’s only Hannah’s words that seem to make any kind of impact, as Richard’s protests are undercut by everything that happens to him, and his inaction in the face of threats. Showing a protagonist with a particular set of values without the show itself espousing said values requires a certain deftness to the writing, a deftness that Cocked does not display in the slightest. Any moral concerns about a gun-reliant mindset aside, this also robs the potential series of any level of ambiguity or drama. It’s clear that, going forward, the one with the bigger gun is going to be the winner in every fight, and that the protagonists are always going to be the ones with the biggest gun. Knowing how every conflict is likely to be resolved going forward doesn’t bode for an exciting series.
The pilot also shows a level of disinterest in nearly anything else that could make for a compelling drama. The theft of a prototype, which could have made for an intriguing subplot on its own, is discarded within the early minutes of the show, and the machinations of the company are only touched on to illustrate the difference in how Richard and Grady think about business. The troubles facing the Paxson company are only spoken about in passing, and Rayburn is mentioned as an antagonist without any talk of the prior history between the Paxson patriarch and his brother. Tabby’s megalomania comes as a sudden part of the episode, feeling like an afterthought that was tacked on to give her some character development. Which doesn’t mean Tabby’s the only one who is thinly drawn, as every other character suffers from nearly zero development, even Grady and Richard, despite the episode being focused on the duo. There’s no attempt to delve into what makes either brother tick, and why they are the way they are, with the only attempts at depth coming in the exploration of their relationship with each other. By the end of the pilot, the audience not only has no sense of the characters, but also no real understanding of the world they inhabit, other than the idea that guns and violence are key aspects of victory in any given fight.
There are a couple of bright spots in the episode, though they are few and far between. The aforementioned relationship between the Paxson brothers works surprisingly well whenever the show moves away from celebrating Grady’s worldview and mocking Richard’s one. The contentious nature of the brothers’ relationship carries a weight to it that can be believable as the result of decades of being forced to spend time with each other despite animosity. Jason Lee also acquits himself quite well as Grady, bringing a level of swagger and charm to the character while also showing a level of honesty in his more vulnerable moments. On a better show, the performance could have been an effective gateway into the show’s world for the audience, and Lee’s performance could have laid the groundwork for potentially fascinating character arcs. However, Cocked is clearly happy with Grady just as he is, and Lee’s work goes a long way towards not making the character completely repugnant. Dreama Walker similarly carries herself well in the limited screentime she gets, as she infuses the character of Tabby with a level of resentment at her marginalisation that helps sell the final monologue she gives Richard. Trammell does the best he can in the thankless task of Richard, and overall, the potential strengths the pilot indicates the series might have if it gets picked up don’t outweigh the myriad weaknesses, making this a series that’s better left not picked up.
– Deepayan Sengupta