So many memorable stories begin in a writer’s mind with a simple question: “What if … ?”
Ideas can come from anywhere — something you read, something you hear, or something you experience. The difference between the writer and the rest of us is pushing beyond the moment and asking that crucial question.
Richard Matheson, for example, did it with “Little Girl Lost” when his young daughter rolled out of bed in the middle of the night. And Rod Serling did it with “The Fever”. (Spoilers ahead, naturally.)
Twilight Zone fans often call Earl Hamner’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” the ultimate ad against drunken driving. Well, “The Fever” does the same thing for unchecked gambling.
If you’ve seen “A Traveler”, the fourth episode of the new Twilight Zone series on CBS All-Access, there’s a good chance your head was spinning a bit while it was on.
Even fans who liked this episode seemed at least a bit confused by the story. But as I explained in a podcast with Tom Elliot, that appears to be the point. The episode (written, tellingly enough, by X-Files scribe Glenn Morgan) plays quite freely with the whole idea of what’s true and what’s not — and whether, in the end, it even matters.
“You believe what you want to believe”, the title character says at one point. “Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?” The main gifts here aren’t packages that come wrapped with bows, but claims that, depending on your state of mind, are either acceptable or not.
If you’re interested in delving into the episode a bit more, check out the podcast. It’s a bit long (Tom was too gracious a host to cut me off mid-ramble!), but if you’re trying to figure out what was going on, and why, it might answer some questions for you.
I recently started to write a conventional review of “Replay”, the third episode of the new Twilight Zone on CBS All-Access. But I soon got bogged down in a lengthy synopsis, and it just wasn’t clicking for me.
Besides, if you’re interested enough to read an article about a particular episode, you’ve likely seen that episode. No recap is needed. So let’s try something that, I hope, will work whether you’ve seen “Replay” or not. Let’s talk about … messages.
If there’s one piece of conventional wisdom we’ve all absorbed about The Twilight Zone, it’s this: It was a “message” show. TV censorship was notoriously strict in the late 1950s and early 1960s, so Serling cleverly snuck his viewpoints in via allegory.
Instead of doing a show about, say, Senator Joseph McCarthy — whose investigations into charges of Communist infiltration in the U.S. government helped fuel the notorious “red scare” of the early 1950s — Serling would write “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”. That way, he could show us the corrosive effect of suspicion and betrayal on ordinary Americans without saying one direct word about politics.
But while there is no question that Serling wove messages into the original TZ, people seem to forget that he didn’t do it all the time. Yes, some episodes had direct, pointed messages — like “He’s Alive” and “Deaths-Head Revisited”. And the Fidel Castro look-alike in “The Mirror” left little doubt he thought the Cuban leader might soon meet a violent end.
Other episodes functioned as modern-day fables. There are indirect messages that can be detected and appreciated if you’re looking for them, but they’re not essential to a “surface” enjoyment of the story. Examples include “People are Alike All Over”, “Eye of the Beholder”, “The Old Man in the Cave”, and “The Obsolete Man”, to name just a few.
I’m used to writing “spoiler alert” on some of my articles about the original Twilight Zone, but it’s practically a joke. I mean, we’re talking about a series that debuted almost 60 years ago. And yet here I am, reviewing a new TZ, so it actually makes sense to warn people who may not have seen the initial episodes — or who are withholding judgment until they learn more about them.
So let me give you my impressions of “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”. I’ll try to keep them, yes, spoiler-free.
WHAT I LIKE:
First off, this is a really handsome production. That’s not much of a surprise, of course, given the involvement of producer Jordan Peele, but for anyone familiar with the previous two reboots, it’s nice to see. CBS is finally giving TZ the respect it deserves. Gone is the cheap look of the TZ that ran from 1985-1989, and again in 2002. The cinematography and direction are feature-film-worthy.
And as you’ve probably heard, the show seems loaded with Easter eggs. For example, sharp-eyed viewers will spot Willie from “The Dummy” lounging in a scene from “The Comedian”. There are also in-jokes, such as the pilot’s name in “Nightmare”: Captain Donner. The director of the original episode? Richard Donner. (Here’s a spoiler-filled list of every Easter egg, courtesy of TV Guide.) Read the rest of this entry
Every now and then, I’ll see an argument erupt on one of Facebook’s many Twilight Zone fan pages. Not about which episode is best — though feelings can run strong about that, too — but about politics.
Someone will post a meme about something that’s in the news, and the sparks start flying. Because getting political violates the ground rules for these pages, the admins soon delete it. Some people even end up getting thrown out if they’ve been especially rude.
One thing almost always occurs before the dust settles, though. Most people approve of the no-politics rule, but someone will say something like, “Well, Serling was political!” Or “The Twilight Zone was about politics!”
And you know what? They’re right. But when we look at how Serling handled politics on TZ, we see a window into why he was so clever, and why the show’s popularity endures to this day. Read the rest of this entry
We’ve been hearing about the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot for quite a while, and now we have a premiere date: April 1, 2019.
If you’re like most TZ fans, your reaction falls into one of two camps: enthusiasm or dread. I see it almost every time the reboot comes up: Someone either can’t wait, or is sure it’ll be a complete mess — a stain on Rod Serling’s legacy.
I have to admit, I fall somewhere in between. Basically, I’m cautiously optimistic.
I get the enthusiasm of the “pro” crowd. They’re TZ fans, so it’s only natural that the prospect of new episodes excites them. Who wouldn’t want a return trip to the fifth dimension? I like these kinds of stories myself, obviously, and I enjoy other anthologies, so the thought of having new episodes sounds like fun.
But I also sympathize with the “anti” crowd. Look at the first two reboots, they say. Sure, the ’80s one had some good stories, but by and large, it didn’t measure up — and the 2002 TZ was worse. Why should this one work? And come on, there’s only one Rod Serling!
Look, I understand. The challenge of rebooting one of the most beloved TV series of all time — of filling the shoes of the incredibly talented Mr. Serling — should give any sane person pause. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been poring over the list of episodes for the upcoming Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy (I can tell you’re shocked) and, well, some random thoughts occurred to me:
- If you’re a fan of Season 4, you’re out of luck. Syfy won’t be showing any of its 18 hour-long episodes. Now, I think we can all agree that TZ is best suited to the half-hour format, so I suppose their decision is a practical one, but in the past, they’ve nearly always worked in a couple of them here and there.
- If you’re fan of Seasons 3 and 5, you’re definitely in luck. Syfy will be running every episode from both of those seasons.
- As for Seasons 1 and 2, it’s not bad: They’re showing about half of S2 (15 of its 29 episodes) and roughly two-thirds of S1 (23 of its 36 episodes). Unfortunately, a lot of them (at least when it comes to S1) are clumped up toward the end, in the wee hours of January 2, when viewership is sure to have dropped off.
- I realize they can’t include every episode (except the one time they did, back when we rang in 2016), but honestly, no “The Howling Man”? No “Mirror Image”? No “A World of His Own”? Heck, no “Night of the Meek”? It’s the Christmas season! Especially when we’re getting “Young Man’s Fancy”, “Showdown with Rance McGrew”, and “Cavender is Coming”, all of which make my list of least-favorite episodes.
I have to admit, being a fan of the Syfy Channel’s biannual Twilight Zone marathon has been a bit nerve-wracking lately.
Every New Year’s and Fourth of July, there they were, serving up a generous helping of our favorite show. The only question was what episodes they’d show and when it would start. When, not if.
Some line-ups were better than others (the every-episode-in-order one that ushered in 2016 was particularly well-received). And yes, in 2011 they celebrated the Fourth of July with a slate of “Greatest American Hero” episodes. But for the next few years, they didn’t miss.
Until last Fourth of July rolled around, and Syfy delivered a roster of “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Um, fireworks and Freddy Krueger? At least the “Greatest American Hero” made thematic sense!
True, a station named “Decades” stepped into the breach with an all-day Zone-a-thon. Much appreciated, to be sure, but — for now, at least — they don’t have the reach of Syfy. Most fans couldn’t tune in.
So when Syfy announced earlier this month that they were indeed hosting a New Year’s marathon, it was welcome news to a lot of Zone fanatics. Um, Zone-y-acs? Read the rest of this entry