Have you watched Black Mirror? Heard it described as a modern-day Twilight Zone?
For reasons I explained in a previous blog post, I can’t quite agree. Yes, they’re both trippy anthology series that take a hard look at the human condition. But there are some basic differences that — for me, at least — make the comparison ring hollow.
But I’ve said my piece. I’m bringing up Black Mirror today for a different reason. I’m writing this not so much for my fellow Serling fans as I am for anyone who’s watched Black Mirror, but not The Twilight Zone (or perhaps watched it a long time ago) and who’s wondering if some black-and-white series from the 1960s is worth checking out.
So my purpose here is simple: to recommend a few episodes that I think you, as a fan of Black Mirror, will enjoy — or at least find interesting. So without further ado … Read the rest of this entry
Twist endings, of course, are a Twilight Zone staple, but not every episode concluded with a bang. Sometimes we experienced a slow-burn reveal — more of a dawning realization than a sudden shock.
That’s certainly the case with “The Passersby”, the first of two Civil War-themed episodes that aired in TZ’s third season (prompted, no doubt, by the war’s centennial that year). Well before the final scene, we know that the hundreds of soldiers shuffling past Lavinia Godwin’s dilapidated house are no longer among the living.
But far from detracting from our enjoyment of this episode, the lack of a final-curtain surprise actually adds to it. It enhances the tone of Rod Serling’s story perfectly. (Spoilers ahead; if you haven’t seen this episode, or it’s been a while, you can watch it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.)
I realize that my love of history probably causes me to rate this episode more highly than others might. But I’m convinced that much of my admiration for it flows from the elegiac beauty of Serling’s reminder that, when the guns fall silent, acceptance and healing must follow — or true peace is impossible. Read the rest of this entry
To millions of Twilight Zone fans, Billy Mumy will forever be Anthony Fremont, the freckle-faced, pint-sized monster sending people to – gulp – the cornfield.
Many also recall him as the little boy whose grandmother phones from beyond the grave in “Long Distance Call”, or as “that kid from Lost in Space”. And I don’t blame them. Mumy certainly left his mark on some legendary roles.
It’s a shame, though, that they tend to overshadow his work on Serling’s “In Praise of Pip”, which first aired on September 27, 1963. The Season 5 opener is a sad but quietly beautiful portrait of love, regret, and second chances. Read the rest of this entry
An airplane taxis down the runway, pulls up to its marker, and stops. Perfect landing.
Well, it would have been perfect if anyone, including a pilot, had been on board. The plane is completely empty. You see, this is The Twilight Zone, and you’re watching Rod Serling’s “The Arrival”.
Things look very odd. And they’re about to get a whole lot odder.
Opinions vary widely on Serling’s first episode of Season 3. Some people like it a lot. Others find it a mish-mash of strangeness, more mystified than mystifying. Read the rest of this entry
As someone who runs a Twitter page that quotes The Twilight Zone daily, I shouldn’t be a fan of “Two”, should I? The Season 3 opener, after all, is largely silent.
On the contrary. I may not place it in my top 25, but I actually rate it quite highly. For an episode that doesn’t have much to say, “Two” says a lot.
It’s anti-war, but not in a preachy, haranguing way. It’s a quiet look at the futility of engaging in an all-out nuclear holocaust with people who, in the end, are a lot like us. And by not shouting, it conveys that idea more powerfully. Writer-director Montgomery Pittman, who also did “The Grave” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”, deserves a lot of credit.
“Two” is a marvel of set design. True, TZ crew members had the good fortune to film it at the Hal Roach Studio (home of the Little Rascals), which was already abandoned and decaying. But they still needed to create the illusion of years of neglect, and they did it perfectly. Read the rest of this entry
If the Devil were trapped and asked you to set him free, would you do it? Of course not, you reply.
We all like to think we would. But if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, and you’ve watched the classic episode “The Howling Man,” you may not be so sure. Get too cocky, and you could wind up sprawled on the floor, watching him escape through the nearest window.
That was Mr. Ellington’s fate. He didn’t believe Brother Jerome, who insisted that the prisoner was a liar. He probably thought, like any of us would, that he was too smart to be deceived.
So what did he do wrong? Having watched the episode
more than a dozen times once or twice, I think I know. And I have Marc Scott Zicree to thank for it. Read the rest of this entry
If someone asked you to describe The Twilight Zone, what would you say?
Rod Serling was asked that many times over the years, and he gave many interesting answers. Here’s one from a five-minute sales pitch that he filmed when The Twilight Zone was set to debut there:
To give you a very specific kind of working idea of what we mean by “Twilight Zone”, you might say that a man is on top of a burning building. Now there are certain ways he can get off that building — he can use a fire escape, a ladder, he might even be picked up by a helicopter. But in the Twilight Zone, he flies.
This is the so-called dimension of imagination, a literary device known by the English writer Coleridge as the “willing suspension of disbelief”. The things you see, you know may not happen. But at the time you see them on this program, you’ll believe that they do happen. This is the Twilight Zone.
What would The Twilight Zone be without its twist endings? Still one of the most well-written, thoughtful series that ever aired, of course! But Rod Serling and company obviously made their points more effectively by using irony and surprise.
So I always try to give spoiler warnings when I write about the endings to certain episodes. I know — it’s a legendary series that debuted over 50 years ago, so who doesn’t know how they end?
Actually, a lot of people. Think about it — new fans are born all the time. I came along well after “Psycho” was a new movie, but I would have enjoyed seeing it without the ending spoiled. It must have been fun to see it when you didn’t know.
All of which is a slightly long-winded way of saying “spoiler alert”! Especially because I want to discuss, briefly, the ending to “The New Exhibit”, which aired during TZ’s lesser-known 4th season (the one with the hour-long episodes) — and ask you to vote on it. Read the rest of this entry
Ever been asked to name a famous individual from history that you’d want to have dinner with? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Rod Serling tops my list.
You can imagine the questions I’d have for him. I doubt one meal would give us enough time to cover everything I want to know.
Somewhere on the list of topics would be his opinion of what I do on social media to spotlight his work. Does he like it? Am I presenting it well? What can I do to improve it?
Sadly, of course, I can’t know what he thinks. He’s been gone for over 40 years. But I have something that’s almost as good — a special book with an inscription that always makes me smile. Read the rest of this entry
How could I not have started my series of posts reviewing Serling’s Twilight Zone adaptations with “Time Enough at Last”?
We’re talking about a huge fan favorite — one that is arguably the most well-known episode. It’s also the first non-Serling tale that aired, after seven originals opened the series in the fall of 1959.
I guess I was too intrigued to chronicle what Serling had done to stories by such legendary TZ scribes as Richard Matheson and George Clayton Johnson. His changes there amounted to a complete overhaul. And it was fun to examine the remarkable work he did to bring Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man” to the screen.
But before he turned to those scripts, he choose to adapt Lynn Venable’s short story about a poor man who … well, as she put it: Read the rest of this entry