Amazon Studios has a "head of half hours," which is not as funny as it sounds.
It's maybe too on the nose for a company that bundles a streaming video subscription with two-day shipping to describe its programming by the size of the container. Yet "half hour" is the best packaging possible for some shows, including not only Amazon series like Transparent, but also FX's Louie, HBO's Girls, and Starz's Survivor's Remorse that occasionally may leave viewers wondering whether it's OK to laugh.
These shows are about a lot of different things - poverty, single parenthood, and loss, to name a few - but all three are also about a half hour (or less, depending on commercial breaks), which means no single episode feels too weighty to bear.
Donald Glover (Community) created and stars in Atlanta, which premieres Tuesday with back-to-back episodes that introduce Glover's character, Earnest "Earn" Marks, a Princeton dropout who's back in his hometown and barely scraping by while trying to help support his young daughter.
When Earn discovers that a cousin, Alfred Miles (Brian Tyree Henry, Boardwalk Empire), has become a local sensation rapping under the name Paper Boi, he sees an opportunity for both to make an economic leap, one that will prove anything but easy.
Glover's aim, he told reporters recently, was "to show people how it felt to be black." Others may speak better than I to that, but the four episodes I've seen include a variety of experiences for its African American characters, some more universal than others.
One thing Atlanta does particularly well is to convey the shakiness of an economy in which a child of working- or middle-class parents can struggle, even end up homeless, setting it against the backdrop of the less-official economy on which many rely.
That Atlanta manages to be drily funny, too, is a gift.
Pamela Adlon's Better Things character, actress Sam Fox, has a lot in common with Adlon (Californication, Louie): three daughters (played by Mikey Madison, Hannah Allgood, and Olivia Edward), an ex-husband, an English mother (Celia Imrie), and a career that includes voice-over work. (Adlon was perhaps most famously the voice of Bobby Hill on Mike Judge's Fox comedy King of the Hill.)
Created by Adlon with Louie creator and star Louis C.K. (who's also a producer on Amazon's One Mississippi), Better Things, which premieres Thursday, is as endearing, and as irrepressible, as Adlon herself.
Mothers, single or otherwise, are bound to recognize themselves in Sam's exhaustion, in her boundless love for her daughters - as original a trio as you'll find anywhere on television - and, I hope, in her unwillingness to be bullied into obliterating the boundaries separating parent from coconspirator.
A scene in Thursday's premiere that begins with the nightmare of school-supply shopping and proceeds to her teenage daughter's request that Sam supply her with drugs ("Don't you want me to have clean, organic pot?") had me practically cheering as Sam finally begged, "Hide things from me. Please."
Better Things doesn't hide much about the indignities of being a middle-age actress with a family to support. But for those who love Louie, now on an indefinite hiatus, and maybe even more for those who find Louis C.K.'s show too depressing to be funny, Adlon's take on working parenthood could, along with Atlanta, be one of the week's best things.
If you can, though, save a half hour (or more) for Friday's Amazon release of the first season of One Mississippi.
In the pilot, written by Tig Notaro and Diablo Cody (Juno), Notaro's character is introduced as Tig, a radio storyteller and DJ who, not long after undergoing a double mastectomy, returns to her Southern hometown to join her brother Remy (Noah Harpster) and stepfather Bill (John Rothman) in seeing her dying mother taken off life support.
So far, so hilarious.
Notaro, who survived a version of these events several years ago, has added tragedy and time to make the kind of comedy that feels both fresh and familiar. She's as appealing, and as low-key, an actress as she is a comedian.
Rothman's portrayal of Bill - whose rules-driven obsessions turn out to be more than the running joke they first seem - is beautifully calibrated.
For those who like their TV biting and bite-size, there's even more to look forward to, as One Mississippi kicks off what Amazon somewhat inconsistently describes as its "month of comedy."
That includes the return Sept. 23 of Transparent, as well as the U.S. premiere Sept. 16 of the heartbreakingly comic British series Fleabag, starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a woman whose frank approach to sex masks some deeper issues, and the Sept. 30 launch of Woody Allen's Crisis in Six Scenes.
On Oct. 9, HBO adds two more hard-to-pigeonhole half hours to its lineup with Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, and Insecure, starring Issa Rae (YouTube's Awkward Black Girl), who created the show with longtime producer (and host of Comedy Central's recently canceled Nightly Show) Larry Wilmore.