Apple’s ongoing value proposition to viewers deciding between streaming services has been star-driven: This is the service that brings you Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, M. Night Shyamalan, Oprah Winfrey and her book club — and now Steven Spielberg. The director is using the service to reboot his 1980s anthology series “Amazing Stories,” a show about magic and surreality intended for family audiences. The trouble with this new “Amazing Stories,” though, at least in its first episode, is its lack of Spielberg sparkle. Those tuning in expecting to see the director’s light touch and clever manner of engaging our emotions will be disappointed: The show’s first installment feels less like a revival than a holdover.
This episode, “The Cellar,” depicts a pair of home restorers taking on a new job; as they do, oscillations in barometric pressure send the younger of the two (Dylan O’Brien) back into the past, where he encounters an alluring young woman soon to be wed (Victoria Pedretti). The pair fall in love, and fall into an alliance to prevent an unhappy marriage. Directed by prolific TV helmer Chris Long — responsible for several episodes of “The Americans,” including that series’s dazzling final installment — this hour feels both draggy and rushed, failing to engage us in either character’s plight before insisting that they are a perfect match who need to save one another. For that matter, the degree to which O’Brien’s character needs to be saved feels sketchy and underdrawn: The story vaguely gestures at the idea that he feels adrift from his fellow millennials, but has neither the clarity of well-drawn detail nor a truly dynamic performance to carry the day.
In all, this first episode — the only one made available by Apple prior to the show’s premiere — provides a sense of “Amazing Stories’s” ambition: To make entertainment that feels tonally similar to family entertainments of decades past. It also provides a sense of ways in which that ambition falls short of clicking. Feeling underbaked even with all the resources of Apple and of Spielberg, “Amazing Stories’s” first hour doesn’t make a case for viewers to stay tuned.