Even if you’re the biggest Twilight Zone fan in the world, there’s a good chance you’d give me a blank look if I asked you about Jan Handzlik.
But once I said, “He played Tommy in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, I’ll bet a light bulb would immediately go on.
Of course, few Zone fans are fond of his character. He did get the paranoia flowing with his comic-book talk about aliens, after all!
But hey, Tommy meant well. He was only 12. And he was just making some innocent observations. Besides, it’s not as if the adults around him needed much prodding to turn on each other.
I bring up Jan because I recently read a 2018 interview with him on a pop-culture website called Noblemania. Although he had some other acting credits in his short career (most notably in the Broadway production of Auntie Mame), the interview focuses quite a bit on his Twilight Zone experience. Here are the highlights:
How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?
Any funny anecdotes about the experience?
All I can remember [is] that Jack Weston was hilarious on stage and off. He’s a terrific actor. As I recall, he kept things pretty light. Read the rest of this entry
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: Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.
Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.
The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.
In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them. Read the rest of this entry
Polarization in politics — is it the norm these days? It certainly appears to be.
I say “appears to be” because I think this phenomenon is mainly one of perception. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle, but the loudest voices from both ends of the spectrum get the most press. Conflict = eyeballs, so the media have every reason to play up the extremes.
But if, in fact, Americans are becoming less moderate, it’s worth recalling something that Rod Serling said in the November 28, 1961 issue of Show Business Illustrated:
There’s a propensity in our country to polarize things in black-and-white concepts. A man is either this or he is that.
He’s either a Communist or he’s on our side, and I think the reverse is true amongst liberals. If a man happens to be militantly and vehemently anti-Communist, this guy is suspect among the liberals. Read the rest of this entry
There’s a pithy piece of writing advice that goes: “Show me, don’t tell me.” Don’t simply say that something is wonderful or horrible, interesting or boring — give examples. Make your case.
So let’s apply that to Rod Serling. Why is he still so famous more than 35 years after his death? Because he was (cue the adjectives) so imaginative and creative. But so are other writers. What makes Serling unique? Let me show you, using one of his most famous Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
This is, of course, the legendary story about a nice, suburban American neighborhood hit by a mysterious power outage shortly after seeing what they assume is a meteor pass overhead. It isn’t long before the residents get suspicious and start turning on one another. Soon they’re convinced that an alien invasion is underway. No one can be trusted, they think. Chaos and death ensues.
At the end, we learn that aliens are, in fact, invading. Yet — and here’s where Serling’s uniqueness comes in — they’re not the titular monsters. The neighbors are. It’s you and me.
Think about the set-up — power outage, weird sights and sounds — and then put yourself about five minutes into the story. It could go anywhere at this point. And in the hands of a different writer, it may very well have. For example: Read the rest of this entry