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Review: Apple TV+'s Amazing Stories fails to live up to its enormous potential

By Tim Augustin - 19 Mar 2020

Review: Apple TV+'s Amazing Stories fails to live up to its enormous potential

Image: Apple

Amazing Stories is Apple TV+’s next big original series, serving as a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1985 anthology series of the same name. Unlike the original, Spielberg doesn’t have much of a creative hand in the show’s production this time around - besides serving as an executive producer. Believe me, it shows in the few episodes we’ve seen so far. 

Amazing Stories can be anything it wants to be. It’s an anthology series à la Black Mirror, but Black Mirror is at least restricted by a general theme: technology. Amazing Stories is all about, “transporting audiences through worlds of wonder,” and in the first two episodes, it chooses to be a romantic drama with time travel and… a romantic drama with ghosts. How original!

 

The Cellar

Image: Apple

As mentioned before, Amazing Stories is an anthology series. That means every episode of the show focuses on different stories and characters in different genres. The reboot’s pilot episode, titled ‘The Cellar’ stars Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf/Maze Runner) and Victoria Pedretti (You/Haunting of Hill House), and it’s all the better for it. These are two really great actors, and great choices to kick off the show. 

The first episode focuses on Sam (O’Brien), a cliché stuck on his phone all the time, swiping left and right on Tinder while helping out his brother to restore houses. Like any young adult, he’s feeling a little lost in life - so even when his brother offers him a permanent role in the business, he rejects it, unsure of what he really wants to do or where he wants to be. 

Image: Apple

When the two get tasked to remodel an old house, Sam stumbles onto a cellar - right as a horrible storm hits the area, and he finds himself transported back in time. After an almost-nasty encounter with the house’s current resident, Pedretti’s Evelyn, he discovers that he’s found himself in old America. With no way back to his new time, he eventually (and predictably) bonds with Evelyn. The two fall in love, and he promises to find a way to take her back to 2020 with him. 

The Cellar is carried by its two stars. Pedretti and O’Brien share chemistry at least, selling their romance while rushed and forced writing lets it down. You’ve seen this ‘time traveler falls in love with someone from another time’ manner of story before, though a few sci-fi elements help keep things interesting. On the whole? It’s alright. The Cellar is nothing mind-blowing, but it’s a promising start to a five-episode season that’s hopefully filled with better and more original ideas. 

 

The Heat

Image: Apple

Enter ‘The Heat’, Amazing Stories’ painfully dull second episode. It focuses on two teenage athletes - Sterling (E’myri Crutchfield) and Tuka (Hailey Kilgore). Sterling and Tuka are relying on their skills in sports to get out of their neighbourhood and onto bigger things, via scholarships.

After hitting a late-night drag race, tragedy strikes. Tuka stands in the middle of a road like a complete buffoon trying to get Sterling’s attention, and is run over by a passing car. She immediately dies, but her story doesn’t end there. Dazed and confused, Tuka wakes up to find that the world has become completely unaware of her presence, after walking into her own funeral.

Though The Heat does veer off into supernatural territory, it doesn’t quite commit to it. The show takes an emotional sci-fi vibe, with Tuka struggling to understand why she’s suddenly so alone. She anchors herself to Sterling, who grieves the loss of her best friend. When the two go on a run together, Tuka discovers that she can still reach out to her best friend from the other side, even if Sterling doesn’t take it too well at first. 

Image: Apple

The Heat could have been interesting, but it’s emblematic of the larger problem with Amazing Stories - it’s playing things too safe. The story tries absolutely nothing new, lazily running through a laundry list of tropes and clichés one after another. The acting of its two leads crumbles in the face of O’Brien and Pedretti's in just the previous episode, and that duo didn’t even do much that was interesting in the first place. 

After The Cellar, I was optimistic that the show was saving its more interesting, out-there concepts for future episodes. After The Heat, I am decidedly less optimistic. It continues the show’s new running tradition of spoiling good ideas by not taking them far enough, and then throwing half-baked writing and acting into the mix. 

 

Verdict

The Cellar and The Heat feel far apart in storytelling, writing and cinematography - but they close that gap by being equally mediocre, with stories that underdeliver on the show’s premise. Without stronger and more unique ideas, Amazing Stories’ name might end up feeling more ironic than it is accurate.