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'Amazing Stories' review: Gentle, goodhearted reboot, but is that enough?

Victoria Pedretti and Dylan O'Brien in "Amazing Stories,"

Victoria Pedretti and Dylan O'Brien in "Amazing Stories," Episode 1: The Cellar." Credit: Apple TV+/Curtis Baker

SERIES "Amazing Stories"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Apple TV+

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The five-part anthology comes from Steven Spielberg and "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The first (and only) episode offered for review is "The Cellar," about Sam (Dylan O'Brien, "Teen Wolf''), who is accidentally transported back to 1915, where he meets Evelyn (Victoria Pedretti, Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House").   


 

MY SAY: So far, Apple TV+ is the Mike Bloomberg of the streaming wars. Both started late, spent a whole lot of money to catch up, and couldn't buy buzz if they handed out personally endorsed checks in Times Square. Mike has dropped out while Apple soldiers on, which brings us right up to this big moment, and this key launch. "Amazing Stories" was an important muscle flex by NBC back in 1985, when it finally had the viewers (and "The Cosby Show") to flex those no longer atrophied muscles. Spielberg wrote or developed many of the stories and brought that same big-screen  Spielbergian touch, best described then (as now) as sweetly mawkish and defiantly optimistic. "Stories" won some Emmys and (best of all) wasn't another crime procedural.

But viewers yawned, switched to their procedural, and "Stories" was soon gone. While the view from here is limited, this reboot feels like a wormhole into that distant past. Same vibe, same optimism, same shrewd Spielbergian spin that the real soul of America is out there in corn country, where the dark fields of the republic roll on under the night. It's old-fashioned, also atavistic — an all-family viewing option in a world where families haven't actually sat down to watch a show together since 1985. 

 That may be shrewd too, and a play for an untapped market, although logic (or this limited sampling) suggest otherwise. First, you're supposed to watch on your phone anyway. Second, there's no such thing as "untapped" anymore. Television has turned into Niagara Falls and so has your phone, if you haven't already noticed. Meanwhile, we've become a nation of TV smarty-pants. Nothing amazes us anymore. We think we've seen everything because we have seen everything. "The Cellar?" It's "Outlander" minus Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. It's also sweet, gentle and good-hearted, but ask yourself: Does anyone want to see "Outlander" without Sam and Kate? 

I like this reboot or at least like the idea of it. TV has become too Hobbesian. We insist on buzz, demand something new, insist on the provocative, or the hard chop to the chin that tells us how screwed up the country is right now. 

Yet Apple+, or at least this buzz-free reboot, beats on, its boat ceaselessly against the current, borne into the past.

How'd that work out for Gatsby? Or Mike?

BOTTOM LINE Nice, also determinedly dull. 

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