Is the Outer Limits Better Than the Twilight Zone?
There I was, scrolling along social media, when a headline jumped out at me: “The Outer Limits Was Better Than The Twilight Zone”.
Whoa, now. Back up the space ship. What’s that again? Perhaps Talky Tina was pulling my leg.
But no. There was a picture of Robert Culp, in one of his OL appearances, adorning a Nerdist article that dared to assert a preposterous second-place finish for Serling’s brainchild. I was aghast.
Okay, I’m playing up my reaction a bit. I don’t really tie myself in knots when I read an opinion I disagree with. It’s a big world, and lots of people like different things. But I was naturally intrigued by writer Kyle Anderson’s claim, and as an Outer Limits fan myself, I had to find out: Does he make a compelling case?
No, he doesn’t. But before you assume that’s simply my natural bias speaking, let me explain why I think so. Anderson actually makes some interesting points. I just don’t think they prove his premise.
Mind you, Anderson doesn’t dislike TZ. “I would never be so foolish as to say The Twilight Zone wasn’t great television, nor that The Outer Limits‘ 49 episodes were better across the board than the 156 made for Twilight“, he writes, then adds:“The Twilight Zone formula, while groundbreaking, was always safe. That series looked like other black and white, studio-lot series of the time, and each episode featured an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, always with a twist ending. The Outer Limits was never that formulaic, and with a much less ample budget, it led to some visually and mentally disturbing images you’d never get anywhere else.”
Now, anyone who’s seen both shows can readily admit that, when it comes to the overall look of them, Anderson has a point. OL was indeed the place to go for more in-your-face sci-fi weirdness. And sure, although TZ had its share of visually gripping moments, it did have a more conventional look.
In terms of sheer optics, OL definitely took more chances. Its stories tended to be more “out there” and led to some unique takes on aliens, time travel, and just plain horror. So … game, set and match to OL?
For me, it’s just the opposite. Part of what makes TZ better is the fact that it wraps its clever tales and memorable twists in settings that, well, “looked like other black and white, studio-lot series of the time”. That, in fact, was its genius: it took the everyday world and dropped a dose of strangeness into it — strangeness that was often designed to provoke a moral reaction. And because it featured familiar-looking people, cars and houses, it made a greater impression.
Take one of many fan favorites, “Nick of Time”. You have an ordinary couple, spending time in a run-of-the-mill diner, innocently feeding pennies into a table-top fortune-telling machine … when you suddenly realize that things are taking an odd turn. Hold on, is this just a fun little device? Or something more sinister?
Or consider another Zone classic, “The Invaders”, with Agnes Moorehead battling a couple of small housebreakers. She’s just your average country woman, eking out an existence in a simple farmhouse, right? Whoops. No, she’s not.
How about “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”? We don’t see a single alien until the end (and they look remarkably human), but doesn’t the episode draw much of its power from the fact that the horror erupts on a street that looks like a million other streets?
That’s not to say The Outer Limits didn’t make a strong impression with its episodes — it did. But while its “out there” quality was definitely entertaining, I think it made the series a bit harder to relate to than TZ. As TZ scribe Richard Matheson once said, “To me, fantasy at its best [is] one drop of fantasy into a mixture which is otherwise completely realistic.”
Fortunately, in the end we don’t have to pick. We can enjoy the Beatles AND the Rolling Stones. And we can thrill to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Especially now that we know which series really IS better. ;D
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 03/31/2018, in Twilight Zone and tagged Nerdist, Nick of Time, Outer Limits, Richard Matheson, Robert Culp, The Invaders, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.