Do We Really Need an Amazing Stories TV Reboot?

Amazing Stories
was a science fiction magazine that began publication in 1926. No, strike that. It was not a science fiction magazine, it was the science fiction magazine, as in, the first of its kind. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback, who coined the term “science fiction.” (Originally, “scientific fiction” and then the unhappy portmanteau “scientifiction,” before settling on the solid, if somewhat limiting, term “science fiction.”) Gernsback’s name was imortalized in the “Hugo Awards,” given annually to the best science fiction of the year.

Amazing Stories was the first magazine dedicated to science fiction, but others soon followed, and the sad truth is, once Astounding and later Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction appeared on the scene, Amazing Stories got left behind. It ceased to be the premier SF magazine as soon as it ceased to be the only SF magazine. There were occasional periods when it reached a respectable level of quality; sadly, there were other times when it was regarded in the field as a joke or embarrassment. Nevertheless, over eighty years, most of the biggest names in science fiction appeared in the pages of Amazing: H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Murray Leinster, Jack Williamson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Doc Smith, Edmond Hamilton, Fritz Leiber, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Randall Garrett, I could go on and on.

For two years in the 1980s, Steven Spielberg produced an Amazing Stories TV series, an anthology show in the vein of Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It was…not very good. It got mediocre ratings and was quickly cancelled. Now comes the news that Apple is paying big bucks to reboot Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. I can only conclude that Apple has more unused cash lying around than it has brains.

The original series was highly anticipated when it was first announced because Spielberg was, if anything, hotter then than now, having just come off Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The ABC TV network made a highly unusual 2-year commitment to the show, sight unseen, mostly on the strength of Spielberg’s reputation. And brother, did he let them down. They ran the two years they had already committed themselves to, then unceremoniously dropped the project as soon as they could. I don’t recall many tears shed when Amazing Stories went off the air.

The production values of the show were quite good—you expect nothing less from Steven Spielberg—but the stories were disappointing. Which seems strange. You would think, with (at the time) sixty years’ worth of story inventory from the magazine, hundreds and hundreds of stories from some of the greatest SF writers of all time (admittedly, not their best work, but still), Spielberg could have pulled out 48 good stories for a two-year TV run.

But in fact, he didn’t even try. Amazing Stories, the TV series, purchased the name from Amazing Stories, the magazine, but that was all they took. In a colossal act of arrogance that staggered me in 1985 and still staggers me today, almost every story the show produced came from Spielberg himself. The man literally sat down at a typewriter one afternoon and cranked out 48 one-page story treatments. These were handed out to other writers to develop into scripts, and that was how Amazing Stories was born.

This was presented to the news media at the time as evidence of Spielberg’s genius, but really. One guy sitting in front of a typewriters and brainstorming can’t possibly come up with 40 story ideas, every one of which was better than anything that ever appeared in the magazine. But Spielberg somehow convinced himself that he could. I suppose he believed too much of his own hype.

I can’t help noticing that even the news article I linked to above dances around the topic of whether the original Amazing Stories was actually worth watching. It wasn’t. A good story can still shine through, even in a mediocre production, but a mediocre story is never going to be compelling, not even if Steven Spielberg produces it.

Other than as a case study in the creative dangers of an inflated ego, Amazing Stories has nothing left to offer. Better to create something original, and let this unhappy experiment rest in peace.

Riverdale, Revisited

Ms. Grundy and Archie. This is as happy a moment as any you’re likely to see on Riverdale. (Image: CW)

Okay, so it’s been a while since I posted my thoughts on Riverdale, so time to check back in with the series and see what’s up. In that previous post, I expressed my thoughts, especially on the Archie-Ms. Grundy relationship the show was exploring. I was concerned about the direction the producers were planning to take that story line, and I explained why. I also said that they deserved the benefit of the doubt until we saw how that story played out.

I am happy to report that in the very next episode of the series, Ms. Grundy got driven out of town by Archie’s father and Betty’s mother because of the inappropriate relationship with Archie. So, hooray! Now, this is Riverdale, so there were a lot of nasty conversations and Betty and Veronica broke into Ms. Grundy’s car and stole her gun and a whole lot of other stuff that we wouldn’t want to see anyone do in real life but is par for the course in Riverdale, but hey, the story of that relationship ended without getting icky. (Maybe I should say “ickier.”)

No, the ending actually modeled some good ideas for any teenagers who might learn that a friend was in an inappropriate relationship with an adult. And by “good ideas,” I mean, “tell your friend the relationship is unhealthy and needs to end, then tell some adults.” Since this is Riverdale, there were also midnight sleuthing and petulant adults who can’t resist turning any discussion no matter how important into a rehash of decades-old grievances, but we’ll let all that pass because it’s Riverdale. What did you expect?

Some critics have remarked that the ending of the Ms. Grundy story line seemed abrupt. It all came to a screeching halt just four episodes in, which might surprise you, given that about half of the hype about this show before its premiere revolved around “Oooh, Archie is having an affair with Ms. Grundy, can you believe it?” It’s tempting to speculate that this represented some sudden change of heart. Perhaps the show runners were getting too much flak about this story line, and made a last-minute decision to cut it short? Maybe. But I say, what matters is that they made the right decision, and they deserve praise for that. How and when they made the decision is unimportant.

All right, so now that we are ten episodes in, and the Ms. Grundy unpleasantness is behind us, what do we make of Riverdale? Well, Riverdale is…weird. It’s a CW teen soap opera that’s so over-the-top that you can’t help thinking that it’s a sly parody of teen soap operas. But here’s the thought that’s bothering me these days: I asked myself, “If this show were exactly the same as what it is, except that the characters were not named Archie and Betty and Jughead and Veronica, if there were no tie-in to Archie comics, would you still be interested?” I have to confess that the answer to this question, at least for now, is a resounding “No.” A lot of the draw for Riverdale right now is seeing how amazingly far removed from the comics the show has gotten and watching it strain to move farther still, even from the recently re-booted and more realistic and relatable Archie comics.

But this is a draw that can’t go on forever. As the show enters its second season (it’s been renewed), it will become harder to keep going back to that well. Riverdale is going to have to stand on its own, without leaning so heavily on the comics. Otherwise the conceit of the show, “Hey, we sure are different from the comics you read as a kid, aren’t we?” is soon going to wear thin.

Reflections on Riverdale, Three Episodes In

image: CW

Okay, so I’ve watched the first three episodes of Riverdale, the new CW drama based on the Archie comics. Now, I remember Archie comics from when I was a kid in the 1960s, and frankly, they seemed archaic even then, with clean cut teens riding hot rods and hanging out at Pops Chock’lit Shoppe. In recent years, though, the comic books have been much more interesting and experimental, culminating in what I guess you would call a reboot that somehow manages to preserve what was best in old-time Archie while re-imagining the characters and their world into people and places you might actually believe existed in real life.

The funny thing is, I can recall people joking about a steamy Archie-based TV series on the CW called Riverdale since at least 2010. And now it’s a thing. The most recent episode, 1×03, is called “Body Double.” The main plot line of the episode revolves around slut shaming. I don’t want to focus on this plot line right now, so I’ll just say it didn’t work for me, though I will cut the show some slack, because it seemed their hearts were in the right place. Better luck next time.

I want to focus instead on the ongoing story line about Archie having had an (apparently sexual) relationship with his music teacher, Miss Grundy, who is a 30-ish hottie in this version of the Archieverse. The relationship is apparently over, although sometimes Archie and Miss Grundy look at each other in ways that suggest the fire is not entirely quenched. Miss Grundy is primarily concerned that Archie not tell anyone, for the sake of her career. Archie firmly insists he won’t, apparently out of a misguided sense of chivalry, but he wants Miss Grundy to give him lessons, because Archie has dreams of a songwriting career. In the most recent episode, Miss Grundy speaks with Archie’s father about Archie’s music, and persuades Mr. Andrews to support his son in his pursuit of his dream. We also learn that “Miss Grundy” has stolen the identity of an older woman (more like the Miss Grundy we know from the comics), and it is implied that she is involved in something shady, probably criminal. (In addition to sleeping with Archie, I mean.)

I used to practice law in the field of child protection, so I have some opinions about all this:

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