Tell Me a Story Review: Standout Performances Strengthen New CBS All Access Drama

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Kevin Williamson is no stranger to psychological thrillers and fairytales. After all, he created both Scream and Dawson's Creek and with Julie Plec created our favorite combination of the two, The Vampire Diaries.

Translating a TV series that has seen success on Latin television in Spain and Mexico infused with a beautiful and talented cast should be a winning combination for the prolific producer.

After watching two episodes of the upcoming CBS All Access drama Tell Me a Story starring Paul Wesley, Kim Cattrall, Danielle Campbell, Billy Magnussen, James Wolk, Dania Ramirez, Sam Jaeger, Davi Santos, Zabryna Guevara, and Dorian Missick, we think it's worthy of investing some of your time.

Paul Wesley as Eddie Tall - Tell Me a Story

As already surmised from the promotional material and trailers, Tell Me a Story takes place in modern-day New York City, and during its first season will attempt to weave together the stories of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel.

By watching the first two episodes, it was relatively easy to match the plot threads of the first to tales but difficult to find much resembling that which most of us recall of the Hansel and Gretel story.

But there is plenty of time for the themes to correlate. It's merely an early observation.

Related: Get CBS All Access via Prime Video Channels for Hit Shows, Exclusive Originals & Live TV!

It is the Three Pigs story, though, that I found most intriguing and featuring the strongest cast.

Wesley is Eddie, an apparent addict down on his luck who leans a little too hard on his big brother, Mitch (the always welcome Michael Raymond-James) to get him through his trying times.

James Wolk as Jordan - Tell Me a Story

We've become accustomed to seeing Wesley as the sexy hero, and here, he's sporting a giant "F*ck You" tattoo across his chest, among others, and it appears, at first, to suit his attitude. But there is more to Eddie than meets the eye.

When all is not as his brother promised, Wesley is called on to put Eddie through the ringer.

I've always wondered if playing teenage vampires was the best choice for The Vampire Diaries ensemble, but Wesley proves he has the goods to stand tall in any ensemble.

He'll be standing beside Wold, who plays Jordan. Wolk is also well known to TV Fanatic readers for his work on Mad Men and Zoo. The stories of their characters intertwine in what turns out to be less-than shocking fashion but with unforeseen results.

Danielle Campbell as Kayla - Tell Me a Story

Campbell leads the Little Red Riding Hood story as Kayla with Cattrall as her hot grandmother, Colleen, Jaeger as her father, Tim, and Magnussen as a man with whom Kayla gets involved.

Campbell has looked too old to play a teenager since she was a teenager, and that remains the case here. She's as sultry as they come and plays the role of a teen wishing she was years beyond her age to the hilt.

Related: Kirrilee Berger on One Dollar: It is "Not Just TV" but a "Form of Activism and Awareness" 

Of course, Jaeger is every bit the father he was on Parenthood, and tying the story together with Little Pigs, Tim works for his best friend, Wolk's Jordan.

Something "unnatural" seems to be up with Kayla, although there isn't a word of it through two episodes. It's just a hunch after watching enough television to get a feel for it. Tim hopes Colleen, who never felt much for his departed wife, can get a handle on his wayward daughter.

Kim Cattrall as Colleen - Tell Me a Story

Cattrall plays Colleen as someone I'd much rather hang around with than Sex and the City's Samantha Jones. She's a grown-up, confident, and sexy woman without the need to carry over any bit of "tart" she might have been when she was young. It's refreshing, and her scenes feel too infrequent.

Jordan owns a hotel that houses a restaurant and the hottest club in town, Rapture. Tim is a chef at the restaurant, while Eddie bartends at Rapture, a club Taylor visits (although too young) and where the third story begins.

A young man named Gabe and his roommate dance at the club, make cash, meet men, and do whatever feels right. Things don't always go well in that environment. Bad things happen. At Jordan's hotel.

Sam Jaeger as Tim - Tell Me a Story

Without spoiling that particular story, Gabe asks his sister for help (somehow forming a Hansel and Gretel duo?). It seems as though ultimately Jordan will come crashing into all of the stories merely by proximity. Or, not. It's hard to tell how they will all cross paths with any depth but easy with superficiality.

The stories aren't tight, but it's still early. Two episodes with the number of characters and plots in play aren't much time to get it together.

Related: CBS All Access Gives Series Order to Marc Cherry's Why Women Kill

The production features modern themes ripped from the headlines with news snippets blaring on TV (CNN, Trump), rights marches, concerns about violence vs. rhetoric and much more.

Through two episodes, the topics remained relatively even-handed, but whether it will be up for discussion or preachy going forward remains to be seen.

Hansel and Gretel - Tell Me a Story

Fairy tales, after all, were only the cautionary tales of the past in lyrical language. It only makes sense that if Williamson has something to say, he'll take a stand, possibly making one side angry with his point of view. That's how politics works, and Tell Me a Story is likely to be politically inclined.

The acting is terrific, and there is a genuine desire to follow the fate of some of those introduced so far. Whether they were the characters expected to be of interest in the viewers' eyes, I don't know. I was never one to classicly respond to tales of yore.

The first hour, titled "Hope," is worthy of spending some of your time on Halloween. For our audience, it has one of the best ensembles in ages. The three standout performances belong to Paul Wesley, James Wolk, and Kim Cattrall. Others are also quite good, but these actors hit their marks and then some.

Tell Me a Story Season 1 Episode 1 airs on CBS All Access on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Tell Me a Story Season 1 Episode 2, "Loss," airs Wednesday, November 7. Will you be watching?


Editor Rating: 3.75 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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