Reviews/CommentaryTelevision

Amazing Stories – A Look Back to 1985

If people were to ask me to guess what Apple’s first attempt at a series would be, I wouldn’t have guessed a revival of “Amazing Stories.”

I questioned how much anyone remembered it but I was excited in the lead-up for the original Spielberg-led premiere in 1985. In fact, it was probably one of the first shows that I remember being aware enough to anticipate and it was kind of ‘my show.’

“Amazing Stories” had a pretty solid pilot about a kid’s grandfather essentially dying but it introduced audiences to the show’s (generally) up-beat twist endings. Like most anthologies, episodes were hit or miss. If you look at the create staff involved, you’d assume that everything was a home run… I mean, look at some of these – one example had Clint Eastwood directing a Spielberg-written (solo credit!) episode that starred Harvey Keitel. I know, you’re like ‘How’d that turn out?!?’ Answer? Its okay, but there’s a reason you never heard of this before.

The show got consistently beat by “MacGyver” in ratings, as that series had also rolled out that same fall of 1985. NBC tried moving “Amazing Stories” to Monday nights in 1986 but darned if ABC didn’t move “MacGyver” to that same slot! “MacGyver” ended up having a nice lead-in to “Monday Night Football” and obviously lasted a full seven seasons. “Amazing Stories” got moved to the Friday night death slot in the spring of 1987 and the last of its episodes were burned off.

I stuck with the show on and off both seasons but increasingly got seduced by “MacGyver” (although I got pulled back in due to “Alf” in 1986). Luckily, back in those days viewers could catch up on missed episodes of either show during re-run cycles mid-season or in the summer.

“Sci-Fi Channel” re-ran “Amazing Stories” in the later 1990s and did a few marathons, so I was able to get all of them recorded and viewed on VHS. Like I said, they’re hit-or-miss and even the hits sometimes have reservations. The show was very emblematic of mid-to-late 1980s Spielberg – a ton of good ideas and the world was his oyster but the execution was often experimental or just not quite right.

What Apple has in mind seemed debatable. It’s not like “Amazing Stories” had “Twilight Zone”-level IP recognition but Spielberg would again push the show. Mind you, his involvement back in 1985 was supposed to guarantee a rating home run and it did not. Why his involvement would finally lead to a home run thirty years later was not clear.

Given the format, the show could be anything but it’ll be interesting to see if the mostly-upbeat twist ending format.

As is often the case with anthologies, the episodes that have stuck with me over the years were the ones that leaned dark. Here were my ‘Greatest Hits’ to suggest:

1) “Ghost Train” was the first season premiere that I mentioned above, involving a kid coming to terms with his grandfather’s pending death, and it was pretty vintage Spielberg

2) “The Mission” was a big-budget fifth episode, set in WWII that starred Costner and was directed by Spielberg. They spent an insane amount of money for the time and it was film-level in look. The pilot was tense as heck but I have mixed feelings on the resolution (although I dug it as a kid).

3) “Go to the Head of the Class” was a real event at the time, a Halloween-themed horror/SFX spectacular that Robert Zemekis directed and it starred Christopher Lloyd. Pretty good scares in a light vein.

4) “Thanksgiving,” about an abusive stepfather and his step-daugher coming across some weird creatures in their well that traded meat for gold – this scared the hell out of me as a kid.

5) “Family Dog” is a cult-famous, early Brad Bird animated short that later became a short-lived television series.

6) “Moving Day” was a fun late episode where an average-American teen learned that his family was from another planet and he had to deal with the notion of moving (permanently) to another planet.

There are other good episodes as well from amongst the forty-five that were made – heck, the series finale starred “Weird Al.” That said, those six are pretty solid ones to check out first.

P.S. The show had a pretty cool opening sequence and I always really liked the logo.

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