Plans to remake Steven Spielberg's 1985-87 anthology series Amazing Stories have been in the air for years. Bryan Fuller was involved early on but moved on Now, without much fanfare, the new Amazing Stories has debuted on Apple-TV.
Spoiler Level Mild
Spielberg was the hottest ticket in town back then having directed one mega hit after another from Jaws to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to the massively successful ET and, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark.He also produced many blockbusters like Poltergeist and Gremlins. Getting Spielberg to bring his magic to television was quite a coup for NBC which greenlit two seasons of Amazing Stories. Episodes featured well known actors and, um an amazing sountrack by John Williams and directors included Burt Reynolds, Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Peter Hyams, Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, Martin Scorses, Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul), Timothy Hutton, Danny DeVito, Robert Zemekis, Tobe Hooper and Spielberg himself. A cavalcade of stars were featured in the series such as Bronson Pinchot, Kevin Costner, Kiefer Sutherland, Gregory Hines, Sid Caesar, Charles Nelson Reilly, LaWanda Page, Sid Haig, Beau Bridges, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Milton Berle, John Lithgow, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher LLoyd, Kyra Sedgewick, David Caradine, Annie Potts, Polly Holiday, June Lockhart, Weird Al Yankovich and Patrick Swayze.
The episodes were 30 minutes in length except for 2 one hour episodes. The new series is 60 minutes. Spielberg also wrote several episodes and other writers included Richard Matheson, Brad Bird, Anne Spielberg, and Paul Bartel. The episodes ranged from mediocre to spectacular…some of the more memorable ones included “Fine Tuning” in which a science project built by 3 kids picks up transmissions of aliens who are imitating classic characters from 1950’s television and were on their way to meet them, “The Sitter” where a babysitter (Mabel King) uses voodoo on rambunctious kids, “Hell Toupee” about a murderous hair piece, “Gather Ye Acorns” a classic episode about a boy who collects comic books whose life doesn’t go all that well as an adult (Mark Hamill) until the 90’s when he discovers the comic books he’d held onto were now worth a fortune, and “Life On Death Row” in which Patrick Swayze plays a death row inmate who suddenly develops miraculous healing powers and the urgent attempt to get his life spared. In the show’s only animated episode “The Family Dog” by Brad Bird a poor pooch is living with the family from hell. Years after Amazing Stories ended, CBS picked up “The Family Dog” for a series which lasted 10 episodes. Still, the original Amazing Story was a laugh out loud hoot!.
I must admit a great deal of skepticism when I hear the words “reboot” or “remake” or “reimagining”. So far reboots this last year only have ranged from the crass (Twilight Zone on CBS All-Access) to the clueless (Star Trek Picard). I turned on the new Amazing Stories and saw the upgraded graphics that remained in step with the original series and I heard the new theme only it wasn’t new it was the rousing fanfare of John Williams original theme for the show and suddenly I felt tingly–the feeling I got when I saw the first Spider-Man movie and the first MCU movies. But the story…would this be where I got let down? Would we be getting a darker, grittier Amazing Stories loaded with F-bombs?
The story, “The Cellar”, wasn’t a disappointment. It wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t as wild as some of the stories that preceded it. It seemed to me that what Apple TV was going for was family friendly entertainment. In “The Cellar” two brothers Sam and Jake Taylor are renovating an old house. Jake is excited to be playing “Property Brothers” with his younger sibling. But even as Jake surveys the house all wide eyed and bushy tailed, Sam (Dylan O’Brien) is more interested in whether to swipe left or right on his dating app on his cell phone until he becomes mesmerized by an old photo he finds hidden in a cubby hole. When a heavy storm, what’s known as a “derecho”, hits, Sam is in the basement of the house under a barometer which is dropping rapidly even as Sam’s ears are ringing almost unbearably and his surroundings appear to be warping around him. As quickly as it started it’s all over. And when Sam looks around him the basement appears very different…fresher, newer.
He hears music and goes to find it and comes across a woman dressed in turn of the century clothes. She pulls a rifle on Sam and threatens to shoot and he leaves seconds before the woman’s mother comes in. She doesn’t approve of her daughter’s music interests or her singing. Her daughter, Evelyn, needs to be learning how to be more lady like for her upcoming marriage to a wealthy man, someone Evelyn is not in love with.
Outside, Sam has no choice but to accept the evidence before his eyes as he walks through town. He has traveled back in time 100 years to the time of the girl in the photo. Sam returns to the house and manages to acquaint himself with Evelyn. He tells her he has traveled back in time from the year 2019. He shows Evelyn the photo of her he pocketed. But Evelyn tells him she has never been photographed. “You will be” he tells her.
One night Sam helps Evelyn slip out of the house and they go to a speakeasy where Sam convinces Evelyn to sing. Sam realizes he’s falling in love with Evelyn. But when another big storm hits while Sam is standing by the barometer he is sent back to his own time. He tries to convince his brother of where he’s been without much luck. Sam becomes desperate, intent on going back in time again. But when he makes the trip he winds up back in the house but it has a very different look. After seeing Evelyn with her baby who she calls Sam, the older Sam discovers a poster of Evelyn who is now a famous singer. The poster is from one of her concerts and it’s dated 2034! Now can he get back to her before the derecho storm weather goes away or will Sam become separated from Evelyn forever, lost in time?
While by no means fresh and original–the story is very derivative of other time traveling romance stories, most notably Christopher Reeve’s Somewhere In Time–by virtue of not following the “dark and gritty” trend of story telling and falling back on the family friendly feel of the original series, the episode feels satisfying nonetheless.
The second episode, “The Heat”, is a different, er, story. It’s set in the present and follows two friends who are track stars hoping to make it during an upcoming competition where college recruiters will be in attendance. The dialogue was a chore to get through or even understand. Maybe it’s my age but I highly doubt anyone over 20 years old could easily follow along. While the episode had its moments, overall I just wasn’t that impressed. I will say the young actresses were very believable in their roles and did their best with the writing which at times made zero sense.
Amazing Stories (1985-87) Gallery:
Have we reached an "anthology overload"? There are so many anthology shows that have popped up in recent years... was now the right time to bring back Amazing Stories? I will need to see more episodes before rendering a final opinion. While I much prefer the season long anthologies like American Horror Story (which is by far my favorite), the single episode anthologies need to work extra hard if they are going to survive. The fact that the show is on Apple TV which is very new and has only had one other genre show, Servant, it may be the safest place for Amazing Stories to have a chance given that Apple TV doesn't yet have the catalogue of shows or viewers everyone else has.
Amazing Stories: The Spielberg Classic Reurns
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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