AMAZING STORIES TV SHOW DEBUTS

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To watch, visit AppleTV+

The first episode, titled The Cellar, is a light time travel fantasy written by writer, director, producer Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story, A Simple Favor), directed by Chris Long (The Americans, The Man in the High Castle) and starring Victoria Pedretti (Evelyn Porter), Dylan O’Brien (Sam) Mica Stock (Jacob).

SPOILERS

Jake and Sam are in the home restoration business and while working on an old home discover various artifacts from about a century before, including the photo of a young woman (Evelyn) who captivates Sam (somewhat of a distracted millennial desperately looking for love) and a barometer hanging in the basement that is somehow connected to infrequent yet powerful derecho storms (fast moving line of weather accompanied by high winds and sometimes thunderstorms);  brought together, they transport Sam from 2019 to 1919.

Sam encounters Evelyn Porter, a young woman being married off to a local physician in order to save the family homestead (Mom is pretty insistent that her daughter do everything proper in order to not screw up their financial life line – highlighting the state of womanhood during the Prohibition and Suffragette era) but it is clear that Evelyn desires something different, something more than that life offers her.

Various obstacles are thrown into the path of the time-crossed would-be lovers – a doubting Jake, the jilted fiance, the weather itself, differences in customs and mores a century apart;  various obstacles are also placed in the viewer’s path, not the least of which is – where did Sam stay at night over the course of the many days he remains in the past and, perhaps most jarring of all – where the heck did the whirlpool in the basement come from?

Despite both sets of obstacles, Sam and Evelyn manage to make one final trip from the past to the future;  Sam remains behind, Evelyn finds her future in the future and both eventually discover that they are in their proper places.  Credits roll.

***

The story itself is one of those time travel tales that ignores the mechanisms of time travel and the accompanying convolutions of cause, effect and paradox, the barometer in the basement and the derecho are merely a convenient device for advancing the story, itself a light love story, reminiscent of every light love story ever written: two souls meant for each other are kept from each other.

Such a story is meant to be carried by the chemistry of the actors and this is perhaps the weakest aspect of this first tale.  None of the actors entirely hit their marks, offering up odd emotional reactions from time to time throughout the show – overly intense when inappropriate, disaffected when they ought not be, emotionally under-whelmed when they ought to be overcome:  it’s almost as if they are receiving direction on how to emote from off camera and their timing is off (or as if they’re told “in this scene you’re supposed to be excited and confused”, but they don’t get why they should be excited and confused, resulting in puzzlement rather than confusion).

And then there’s the diversity check boxes;  early on Sam dates a woman of color and shows her a photo of Jake, his little girl and Jake’s husband.  There are a black jazz band and some customers in a speakeasy Sam and Evelyn visit.  It conveys the idea that the show needs to be more diverse in its presentation but hasn’t quite gotten a handle on how to do it;  we’re still seeing window dressing rather than engagement.  (A true leap forward might have replaced Evelyn with Edward….)

***

The biggest thrill of watching this very first episode (which opens with the original John Williams’ 1985 title score) was seeing the title credit at the end –
which is, of course, the company that publishes this website.

Personally, I didn’t find this first episode to be as bad as the critics have suggested.  I think it gets a solid B-, but then I may be a little forgiving at this point owing to finally getting to see the show after nearly five years (contract negotiations for use of the name began in June of 2015).  And I’m very happy to see that contractual obligations are being honored.

All in all – production values are what you would expect, the story is in line with the target the show has always sought (families watching and sharing together) and the theme is marginally SFnal, (though time travel afficianados will have plenty to talk about) and my overall conclusions are: time was not wasted watching this episode and we ought to stick with the show to see how it develops.

I presume the next episode will be released next week (Friday presumpatively as well) and urge you all to take advantage of the free trial to check it out.

***

Reviews from around the web are mixed:

imore.com
? (Paywall) wall street journal
Cnet
+ Heaven of Horror
+/- JoBlo
+/- filmschoolrejects
appleinsider
CBR
+ the guardian
AV Club
(Paywall) telegraph

4 COMMENTS

  1. I haven’t seen the first episode yet but I hope it’s better than rumored. They need to stop trying to SJW all the reboots and just write great stories. Creepshow and The twilight Zone were extremely disappointing.

    • Michael,
      Thanks for the positive words, except for the “trying to SJW all the reboots” part.

      For a number of reasons.

      First – the science fiction community in general and this website expression of that community in particular, is proud to be associated with social justice causes; one of the reasons people write science fiction is to show all of the rest of us how our futures could be better, and the ways in which it could be better are, more often than not, things that address social injustices, like prejudice and misogyny.

      Second – using such a phrase suggests you buy into the argument that there is such a thing as an “SJW” and implies that whatever it is, it is a bad thing. This bespeaks a lack of true engagement with the issues, a lack of critical thinking and a lack of deep consideration of issues. When you actually think about stuff, and do so in a logical manner, and you’re honest with yourself, you quickly realize that no issue can be adequately summed up with a catch-phrase or buzz word.

      Third – if that is in fact your theory as to why contemporary shows are not appealing to you, well then, there’s not going to be much for you to watch in the future because Hollywood is playing catchup with the internet these days and a whole heck of a lot more “SJWing” of shows is on your horizon.

      Fourth – if you were just trying to get a rise out of the folks who read the site, forget it, as two strikes here and you’re out.

      • Wow, as a life long SF fan – what an obnoxious, silly, hectoring, contemptible and ill informed reply.

        SF is and has for most of it’s history been far more than SJW issues, which is just a small group of fanatics trying to social engineer the rest of the universe. Virtually every show or film that has taken that route has tanked in the ratings. And just last week, a local council that had put up some innocent sign which had the biological definition of a woman on it, took it down when a small clique created a Twitter storm calling it anti-trans. That’s the BIOLOGICAL definition, but of course science is biaSenator Joe Macarthy must be smiling, whilst Orwell and Rod Serling must be spinning in their graves.

        • Oh, so…Battlestar Galactica reboot tanked? The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) tanked? Westworld is tanking?

          The evidence alone undermines your argument.

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