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Amazing Stories revival hits Apple TV+, but critics say it's not exactly 'amazing'

By Jacob Oller
Amazing Stories screencap

Amazing Stories gave Steven Spielberg a lot of leeway to hire the best of the best over the course of his '80s genre anthology series, and now that it's rebooting over at Apple TV+, many fans were hoping for the same kind of sci-fi tweaks on the Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone formula. After a superhero-filled first trailer, things were looking up, but now that the first reviews have hit the revival — which only offered its very first episode for review — it seems like the shine may have worn off and left people yearning for the original's magic.

The first episode, "The Cellar," showcases a guy played by Dylan O’Brien who finds himself thrust back in time to 1919. Nostalgia? Listen, it's based on an Amblin product ... nostalgia is baked in as the main ingredient. How does creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz's version hold up against the OG anthology?

Here's what the critics are saying:

Variety's Daniel D'Addario writes that fans shouldn't expect the "Spielberg sparkle" in this version of the series, which feels "less like a revival than a holdover." In fact, he notes it lacks much of what made the original great or even the very tone of the master filmmaker. "Those tuning in expecting to see the director’s light touch and clever manner of engaging our emotions will be disappointed," D'Addario says, with a first episode that "doesn’t make a case for viewers to stay tuned."

Patricia Puentes, at CNET, explains that the episode lacks subtlety and "the narrative complexity we've gotten used to with recent science fiction series," meaning that the episode feels like a throwback in the worst ways. It's certainly wholesome, Puentes writes, but that might be all that it has going for it.

The Guardian's three-star review, by Lucy Mangan, calls "The Cellar" compact and well made, finding at least some positives in the anthology's first twisty tale. Seeing the show that "has optimism instead of cynicism at its core," Mangan sees the reboot as a return to the sepia-toned daydreams of yesteryear ... for better and for worse.

Another middle-of-the-road review came from The AV Club's Alex McLevy, who gave the series a C. "Should 'The Cellar' be the template for Amazing Stories to follow, it’ll have to work much harder to earn back the adjective in its title," he writes of the unimpressive episode. McLevy also touches on this hardcore throwback feel, which attempts "to pick up where it left off without any acknowledgment that 30-plus years have elapsed" -- including some outdated storytelling methods that could be bland and boring to those well versed in TV.

Over at CNN, Brian Lowry is clear: If you're just judging by "The Cellar," then Amazing Stories "doesn't merit its A-list adjective." The "fairly conventional trip into the vaguely supernatural" is too simple to stand out and doesn't bode well for the future of the series being much more than a reminder of how great Spielberg's TV contributions have been.

Finally, Rafael Motamayor's Collider review agrees with the consensus. It may be somewhat novel for Amazing Stories to be an anthology without much of a hook, but it "tries so hard to take a brighter and family-friendlier approach to the anthology format it ends up feeling like a watered-down version of better shows." The safety is on and the genre weirdness is kept to a pleasant hum in this series -- even if it's hard to judge an anthology by just one entry. At least John Williams' theme is back, which is unbeatable even by modern standards.

Amazing Stories is out now on Apple TV+.