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Night Gallery’s “Class of ’99”: Serling’s Chilling Examination of Prejudice

You don’t have to be the world’s greatest writer to pen an effective script about the evils of prejudice. But to do it in a witty, inventive way? To create a story that really makes you think, that stays with you long after it’s over?

Leave that to Rod Serling. Exhibit A: Night Gallery’s “Class of ‘99”. It’s a shame this story isn’t better known, because it’s one of his best works. And I don’t say that lightly.

If you haven’t seen it before, I’d fix that ASAP. It’s not long — only about 18 minutes. If you have the Season 2 DVDs, it’s the third segment of the second episode. Or you can click this link and watch it on NBC.com (with a couple of ad breaks, but at least it’s uncut). Spoilers ahead, as always.

The story begins simply enough. We see college students filing into a classroom — a rather Spartan, amphitheater-type setting, rather than the usual desks — to take their final exam. The professor (Vincent Price, in the first of two Night Gallery roles) cordially wishes them good luck as they field oral questions from him.

The first few deal with the physical sciences. The students are right on top of it, supplying names and formulas with no hesitation. Then a student named Johnson is asked to name four leading experts in the last 300 years in the field of propulsion. He falters, though, on the fourth name. The professor is clearly unimpressed, but before he can ask another student for the answer, Johnson objects. Read the rest of this entry