Remember the short-lived 1990s 'Amazing Stories' spin-off 'Family Dog'?
The quirkiest character to come out of 'Amazing Stories' has been largely forgotten.
Image: Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Universal Television, Nelvana Limited
Everybody's buzzing about Apple's announcement that they will revive Steven Spielberg's Emmy-winning series from the 1980s, Amazing Stories. The L.A. Times called it a "major statement," indicating this was a power move for the tech company as it embarks into the world of creating original streaming content.
For viewers back when the series first ran between 1985 and 1987, reviews were mixed, though. People gave it a solid C, calling it "one of the worst disappointments I’ve ever had watching TV." Despite this cold reception, critics were fully on board for select episodes like "The Doll," which won actor John Lithgow an Emmy for Oustanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, and "Without Diana," which won an Emmy for Outstanding Makeup for a Series." The winningest episode of them all was "The Mission," though, directed by Spielberg himself, and scoring him an Emmy nomination, plus series wins for Oustanding Cinematography for a Series and Outstanding Sound Editing.
Whether you loved or hated each individual episode, you have to give the overall series credit for trying new things. Varied directors were pulled in for single episodes, including horror titan Tobe Hooper (whose death was a huge loss to horror fans in August this year), who directed the episode "Miss Stardust" in 1987, about an overeager PR man promoting a beauty pageant who meets an alien who owns the rights to the name of the pageant. That's the kind of kooky plot that could easily resonate with modern audiences. Other major directors who steered Amazing Stories included Irvin Kushner ("Hell Toupee"), Robert Zemeckis ("Go to the Head of the Class"), Martin Scorsese ("Mirror, Mirror") and Clint Eastwood ("Vanessa in the Garden"). There were also surprising directing talents sprinkled in, like actors Burt Reynolds and Danny DeVito.
Scrolling through the plots is a joy, and it really makes you wonder what could be done with the series revival. Our biggest question, though, is will we be seeing more of the "Family Dog"?
The "Family Dog" episode of Amazing Stories premiered 30 years ago in 1987, toward the end of the series' original run. It's the only animated episode in the entire series and it was aired as a backdoor pilot to a spin-off show that actually happened - the only spin-off from Amazing Stories (if you don't count Batteries Not Included, the Spielberg film that was originally intended as an episode of Amazing Stories).
In the "Family Dog" episode, three stories unfold almost entirely from the perspective of the family dog, Jonah. It was written by Brad Bird, who also wrote Batteries Not Included, with Jonah voiced by Bird and the episode directed by him, too, and it also had a score by Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek, plus production design by Tim Burton. That winning combination led to a very short-lived spin-off series that aired on CBS for just one summer in 1993.
Perhaps the series didn't succeed because Bird wasn't involved at all. Bird told Salon in 1999 that "he recognized that his woebegone mongrel's fluid, uncannily expressive way of moving could never be duplicated on a weekly schedule."
As Amazing Stories seems likely to return through Apple's next big release, we're secretly hoping to see more of "Family Dog" in its original charming 1987 form, seen in the video above.