The Apple TV+ reboot of Amazing Stories started with a warning most viewers likely heeded: The show is going to be maudlin, and it will broadcast its emotional and dramatic beats from a mile away. Thankfully, having thrown down that gauntlet, the threat turned into a promise worth keeping. Each episode has been an improvement on the pilot.
“Dynoman and the Volt,” the third episode of the series, has quite a lot to recommend it. Enough, in fact, that it becomes easy to overlook its obvious storytelling and only half-earned poignancy.
Robert Forster’s final performance
There’s a lot to like about this episode, but every single element takes a backseat to the presence of Robert Forster. The late actor was pitched as a leading man, somewhere between James Dean and Marlon Brando, but his stardom never quite took.
In the ’90s, Forster moved gracefully into character parts — sheriffs, CEOs, grandfathers and cranky old codgers — and never looked back. He went on to become one of the great character actors in America.
Amazing Stories gave the veteran actor one last chance to bend expectations of his performance, casting him as an old man who suddenly gets superpowers.
Amazing Stories Episode 3 review
“Dynoman and the Volt” concerns two people experiencing unwanted life changes in a cramped household. Joe Harris (Forster) is well past retirement age but has no interest in retiring. He’s lately had invasive surgery and his body isn’t what it used to be. He wants to go back to work, but he’s a liability now. He moved back in with his son (played by Kyle Bornheimer) and his family is less than thrilled to have deal with grandpa around the clock.
Joe’s youngest grandson, Dylan (Tyler Crumley), is especially put out about the move. Joe’s been put in Dylan’s room for the duration. And since Dylan has no interest in sharing a bedroom with his horny older brother, Bryce (Toby Nichols), that leaves the couch.
Things at school are no better. Dylan’s only friend, Brady (Morgan Gao), has chosen this moment to get interested in girls and popularity. He throws the needy and earnest Dylan under the bus the first chance he gets to preserve his standing with the cool kids.
The only person Dylan can now hang out with is Joe. Things seem hopeless at first, but then Joe receives a fortuitous package. When he was a kid, he sent away for a toy advertised in the back of his favorite comic book, which detailed the continuing adventures of Dynoman. The toy in question is the ring that gives him powers. Joe comes alive, regaling Dylan — a comic book geek of the highest order — with stories of Dynoman’s travails.
But Joe really comes alive when he puts on the ring and discovers it gives him the powers of Dynoman. An old, ornery man with the powers of a superhero. What could possibly go wrong?
The hero we deserve
There was a lot riding on this hour of television. Forster’s career, which included revelatory performances in Twin Peaks: The Return, Jackie Brown and Breaking Bad, ended suddenly last year when he died of brain cancer. His last work wasn’t meant to stand as an epitaph. His final performance, however, is a committed and beautiful one.
Forster never gives in to the cuddly vibe of Amazing Stories, remaining an cranky clod for most of the show’s runtime. It’s not the expected choice, but it’s the smarter one — and it pays rich dividends. The actor’s instincts remained rock solid to the very end. The episode’s sweet, Spielbergian tone does all the more obvious emotional work for him so he can just do his work.
‘Dynoman and the Volt’ is predictable fun
The story goes precisely where you expect it to, but that matters less when all the moving parts are so nicely judged. Crumley’s performance is similarly committed to the social awkwardness and frustration of a kid about to get hit hard by puberty. He and Forster create a kind of reverse polarity that makes them very compelling scene partners.
With two episodes left in the season, there’s reason to believe Amazing Stories will end up one of the better shows from Apple TV+ thus far.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.