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Amazing Stories, review: Steven Spielberg-produced show is bland rather than actively bad

Apple’s new series apparently cost $5m per episode – the money certainly didn’t go on the script

Ed Cumming
Thursday 05 March 2020 18:19 GMT
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Amazing Stories trailer

Amazing Stories is another of Apple’s early forays into the #content game, a series of five standalone tales and a revamp of a strand from the 1980s. If it sounds similar to the recently rebooted The Twilight Zone, that is not an accident. The headline here is that one of the executive producers is Steven Spielberg. He was announced with a large glossy presentation, with his beaming face next to the Apple logo. On the basis of this first episode, there is little sign of the genius who gave the world ET, and a lot of evidence of a corporate behemoth with piles of cash where taste would be more helpful.

In the present day, Sam (Dylan O’Brien) is a “cliche millennial”, in the words of his older brother, swiping through Tinder while the two of them go around Iowa fixing up houses. In the basement of one especially creaky house, Sam finds a mysterious old barometer, along with a picture of a beautiful previous inhabitant, Evelyn Porter (Victoria Pedretti). During a storm, he is transported back in time 100 years, where horses and carts trundle alongside primitive cars and Prohibition is in full force.

The series apparently cost $5m per episode. It’s hard to see where the money went. Certainly not on the script. In the house in the past, Sam finds the young Evelyn, waiting to be married off by her mother. She gets over the shock of this interloper from 2019 remarkably quickly, and it is testament to contemporary workwear trends that his jacket and trousers do not provoke more comment. His phone has vanished, but he still has the photograph of Evelyn in his pocket, as proof he has come from the future.

For his part, he adapts instantly to his new situation, seemingly untroubled by needing to sleep or eat, and provoking almost no comment with his 21st century speech, mannerisms and attitudes. When Evelyn asks Sam what the future is like, he extols the merits of Deliveroo and Sonos, rather than penicillin, the Second World War, or Apple’s share price. As he hops between eras in pursuit of his great love, his behaviour looks increasingly like insanity. The simplicities of the past start to look more and more appealing compared to the bewildering choices of the present, although let’s hope he doesn’t need any dentistry.

Despite the 53-minute running time, and only a handful of characters, neither Sam nor Evelyn is developed to the point where we mind much what befalls them. This feels like TV from an earlier time: bland rather than actively bad. The original showrunner, Bryan Fuller, was removed, apparently after trying to take the series in a darker direction. He might have been right. As family friendly viewing, it’s fine for Amazing Stories to be simple, and for the time-travel plot not to join up. Nobody was expecting Memento. There is no excuse for it to be this overlong and underwritten. What’s the point of all these new streaming services if they are just going to fill them with old ideas?

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