Amazing Stories 2020: Episode 1 - The Cellar (2020) - Reviewed

Originally created by Steven Spielberg in 1985 for American television, Amazing Stories was more or less the movie mogul’s The Twilight Zone, presenting an anthological series of episodes with elements of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, comedy and adventure.  The series attracted a great deal of acting and directing talent in its day and garnered five Emmy wins, but fell to the wayside ratings wise before ultimately being cancelled. 

Regarded now as quintessential 1980s television from one of the cinematic medium’s greatest purveyors, it was inevitable thirty-five years later that Mr. Spielberg would once again revisit his commercially unsuccessful but critically acclaimed series once more.  Pairing up his Amblin Entertainment production company with Apple TV+’s streaming service, Steven Spielberg presents what should be referred to as the 2020 version of Amazing Stories.

With three episodes presented in 4K posted to the streaming platform, let us take a look at the first one entitled The Cellar.  Directed by veteran television director Chris Long, The Cellar follows young home restorers Sam (Dylan O’Brien) and his brother Jake (Micah Stock) working on an abandoned old house with a hidden cellar. After a freakish thunderstorm, Sam finds himself transported back through time into the early 1900s version of the same home.  Happening upon Evelyn Porter (Victoria Pedretti), a young woman who loves music against the wishes of her domineering mother forcing her into an arranged marriage, a time traveling romance of sorts blooms between the two ala Somewhere in Time.

Though an overtly saccharine introductory chapter to this new iteration of the series, The Cellar sports an excellent contrast between the varying time periods thanks to detailed production design, remarkable costume design and striking visual effects sequences.  Dylan O’Brien is strong in the role of an aimless millennial who quickly finds new meaning in his life, as is Victoria Pedretti who dreams of life in music yet is born in a time when such a profession was frowned upon.

Overall, the first episode of this newly rebooted Amazing Stories is a bit lighthearted when compared to the edginess of much of modern television programming, but for my money it was a good start to what has the potential to be a great new show for the 2020s!  If nothing else, the spirit and sense of wonderment of the original show is still alive and well and hasn’t been lost to the tide of time. 

--Andrew Kotwicki