The kind of dramatic whiplash offered by The New Yorker Presents is rare indeed among television shows. The new Amazon series, an anthology of half-hour episodes made up of smaller vignettes, covers the broad range of topics you might encounter in any one issue of the storied magazine, from a chilling documentary on a police shooting of a homeless man in Albuquerque to more whimsical humor pieces starring Alan Cumming or Paul Giamatti, all delivered in a necessarily breezy tone that avoids an air of self-importance. The result is a mixed bag, but one that—like the magazine—offers the opportunity to pick and choose as you go.
In that, the show seems well suited to Amazon’s bulk-release strategy, and as with many streaming series released in their entirety, it’s good to go into The New Yorker Presents knowing that it starts a little slow. The first episode includes an interview with the performance artist Marina Abramović that only skims the surface of her rich (and controversial) body of work. That’s followed by a humor piece, scripted by Simon Rich (a New Yorker contributor and the creator of the TV show Man Seeking Woman), that has an intriguing cast (Cumming as God, speaking to a demented man played by Brett Gelman) but provokes only mild chuckles. The New Yorker’s humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but its profiles usually go much deeper, making the half-hour format feel somewhat limiting.