Today we continue our on-going series of retro-reviews as we take a look at the original Amazing Stories television show that aired across the 1985 and 1986 seasons on NBC. Executive Produced by none other that Hollywood’s science fiction impressario, Steven Spielberg and featuring scripts and direction from some of tinsel town’s hottest (1980s) talents.
Spielberg negotiated an unprecedented deal with NBC back then; a million dollar’s per episode budget, an entire two seasons purchased outright and Spielberg would have complete creative control; the show was nominated for 12 Emmy’s during its run and won several, for supporting acting, cinematography, sound editing and makeup.
Though often panned by critics, it was enjoyed by many – enough to make nostalgia a factor in returning the show to the air over thirty years later.
The name Amazing Stories was originally licensed by TSR Inc., then publishers of the magazine, to NBC for use as the show’s title; in 2015, the current publishers of the magazine again licensed the name for its use.
SEASON 01: EPISODE 03
ALAMO JOBE first aired October 20th, 1985
Directed by Michael D. Moore
Story Developed by Steven Spielberg, Joshua Brand, John Falsey
Teleplay by Joshua Brand, John Falsey
Story by Steven Spielberg
Kelly Reno … Jobe H. Farnum / Boy in 1985
William Boyett … Colonel William Travis
Lurene Tuttle … Harriet Wendse
Richard Young … Davy Crockett
Robert V. Barron … Curator
Michael Cavanaugh … John Lefferts – Storekeeper
Benji Gregory … Sam (as Benjie Gregory)
Dick Yarmy … VCR / Man #2
Pattie Pierce … Tour Guide
Charles Lucia … Dad (as Chip Lucia)
Might be spoilers ahead.
This episodes opens with a frenetic action scene and, if a flag with 1834 in the center of the screen isn’t enough to clue the viewer in, references to a Colonel Travis and Davy Crocket ought to be enough, except the director didn’t think so and so we’re shortly brought up short by an incongruous tourist (in 80s garb) gushing over the photos he is getting of “The Alamo”.
That sounds harsher in print than it was in the viewing; the action is pretty detailed and complex for TV of this era (I think some footage was borrowed from films) and we’re encouraged, I think successfully, to get into the milieu before the temporal anachronisms intrude.
We quickly learn that we’re at the penultimate moment of the battle of the Alamo – el Deguelo has sounded and the Mexican Army is bursting through the mission walls.
We are introduced to Jobe, dressed in typical fringed frontiersman garb and learn that he is only fifteen years old and should have left the Alamo with the other children and women; but out of desperation, various famous Alamo fighters press him into service he voluntarily participates in – saving Crockett from death, watching Travis die, but only after Travis gives him a note and commands him to find General Lefferts and report on the happenings.
But while all of that is flashing by, we also experience the intrusion of modern day tourists and technology – the previously mentioned photographer, a tour guide with gaggle in tow, a soda vending machine.
Time, for some reason, is fluid around Jobe; he desperately warns the sightseers to hit the ground, but he can’t be heard; additional actions makes it apparent that only Jobe can see both time lines.
Jobe finally exits the mission itself and once the main gates have closed, he finds himself entirely in 1980s San Antonio – with obvious results.
Marty McFly did a better job of hiding his othertimeness during his adventures; Jobe is completely a fish out of water, though his interactions with our near contemporaries show him to be a compassionate, likeable, unassuming creature. So much so that by the time he attracts the attention of the police (this sure was the 80s – attention is drawn to Jobe’s musket), we’re rooting for him to complete his mission.
He does, discovering “General” Lefferts at an antique store, where he delivers the note. The proprieter authenticates it; we’re also shown (with no direct tie in, an opportunity lost, I thought) Jobe’s initialed belt buckle – one on Jobe, one on display; it confirms the reality of Jobe as time traveler, but surely the antique dealer who can confirm the authenticity of Travis’ note, would get a clue, but doesn’t.
Having completed his mission, Jobe returns to the Alamo, and to his own time.
This is actually the first episode where I felt the show was beginning to hit its stride; a light time travel tale, involving no paradox (other than the travel itself), a sympathetic character, some decent actions scenes and a satisfying ending, although it seems pretty clear that in the beginning it is intended that the audience believe the historical action is nothing more than recreation, hoping to create more of a surprise twist at the end when we learn Jobe is real and really is from the Alamo; another attempt at a similar red herring is made later on where we’re encouraged to believe that Jobe may just be a reenactor who has gotten a little confused, but neither effort is successful and both are unnecessary for the story.