Twilight Zone 2019 Review

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I was excited to see a new version on CBS All Access. I’m a fan of the original and watch all the marathons. But it was very dated and in some ways limited. So here’s my Twilight Zone 2019 review.

As much as I loved the original, sometimes it was painfully obvious the show was made in the 60s. The stilted, wordy dialogue, the comically bad special effects. A colleague once told me that was because, “Back then, they had to rely on things like writing and acting.” And some episodes do that brilliantly, while others…not so much. The good news is the new show seems to have improved on the old one.

The first episode, The Comedian, is about a standup comic, Samir, who is really, really terrible at standup comedy. Despite spending years doing it, he has never, apparently, studied other people’s acts and tried to figure out what they were doing right that he wasn’t. Whatever, he’s about to enter the Twilight Zone and get his fucking wish anyway, thanks to the ghost of a dead famous comic who randomly shows up, tells him the secret to comedy is to use his own personal life, then warns him he will be giving away these things to his audience.

Assuming this is just a metaphor, Samir goes ahead and tells a joke about his dog, which gets lots of laughs. Then he goes home and discovers his dog is gone and his girlfriend swears they never had one. He can’t even find a picture of his dog to put up flyers. Yet despite this ominous turn of events that’s quite literally what the ghost guy warned him about, Samir proceeds to tell jokes about his nephew, who also, shockingly, disappears. Then he gets the brilliant idea to just start joking about people he hates, including everyone who’s ever pissed him off. (Gotta be honest, I’d do that too.) Although the ending was predictable, the dialogue was clever and the whole thing was so entertaining it didn’t really matter. The show also made some interesting points about how comedians and other creatives often do find their best material in their own lives—to the detriment of their relationships.

Nightmare at 30,000 Feet is a remake of an original TZ episode—you might recall the famous one where William Shatner is haunted by someone wearing the world’s worst Bigfoot costume and pancake makeup hanging out on the wing of an airplane. I was looking forward to seeing this done with modern special effects…and a lead who could act his way out of a paper bag. It did not disappoint.

Twilight Zone Nightmare at 30,0000 Feet
Nightmare at 30,0000 Feet

In this version, the protagonist is a journalist who gets on the plane and finds an MP3 player with a documentary about…his flight. Flight 1053. As if it already happened. Hey, that’s not creepy at all! The journalist keeps thinking various people are going to cause the plane to crash as he continues listening to the ominous podcast. But no one listens to him—not the flight attendants, not most of the other passengers, not the air marshal.

I’m going to be honest here, this episode gave me the perverse desire to record a doom-and-gloom story about a downed flight and leave it on a plane for the next unsuspecting passenger. Oh wait, I can’t do that because I can’t afford to fly anywhere in the first place. Okay, one of my loyal readers please do it for me.

This episode is fleshed out much better than the original version, and has an added twist at the end. The acting was good and nobody in a hairy Bigfoot costume made a cameo on the wing.

Both episodes lost a lot of things I put up with in the original series. The lengthy monologues in which the protagonist details the main plot conflict, for starters. These were apparently popular in the sixties. Just have the protagonist explain the problem, the history of the problem, their childhood neuroses, blah blah, like they’re having a therapy session. Today you don’t see that. It’s 2019, if a viewer can’t figure out what the main conflict of the show is, they can go fucking ask someone in an online fan group. Subtlety is possible because the internet.

Which reminds me, the new version has profanity, because it’s on a streaming channel where the Puritanical pricks at the FCC don’t get a say. This adds to the show’s gritty realism—of course people are going to fucking swear when things go wrong! You see Bigfoot twerking on the wing of your airplane in real life, you’re dropping an F bomb or two, right?

Jordan Peele steps into the role of Rod Serling, the guy who shows up at the beginning and end to sum up the lesson the protagonist was supposed to learn…a little too late. (And it’s always too late in the Twilight Zone. ALWAYS.) He really has the delivery down and closes out each episode with that classic TZ ending.

As a writer, I’m always thinking about how to refine a story I’m trying to tell. I don’t always do it well, but I do try. Sometimes you can have an okay idea, but if you don’t take the time to refine the idea, to chip away at the rough edges and really bring what you’re trying to say into focus, it may just stay an okay idea. If you do take the time to sharpen it up—cut unnecessary words, shape up the plot, raise the stakes of the plot, better define the characters—you end up with a better product. The early TZ was a good show, but the new version takes everything that was good about it and just…makes it better.

My main complaint is that we only got two episodes, then waited ten days for the third, and presumably will get one a week in the future. Of course those asshats at CBS can’t just give us the whole season at once like Netflix. They want to force people to keep paying six bucks a month, the greedy bastards. And of course they release this show close to the end of the second season of Discovery, so I won’t be able to cancel my subscription when that’s over. (And yes, I pay every month for Netflix too, but it has TONS of stuff I want to watch, not just two shows.) It’s a diabolical plot to keep collecting my six bucks a month.

***

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, a science fiction book series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans abandoned Earth—and we’re what’s left? She is also the author of the political satire, Fail to the Chief, in which she envisioned the presidential election as a reality show… more of a reality show?

 

This is Why The Twilight Zone is Still Relevant Today

Mr. Frisby loves to make up stories about how great he is, how smart he is, how he invented things and solved problems he couldn’t possibly have solved. Fortunately, Frisby is a poor guy living in a small town, not a famous billionaire, so nobody is stupid enough to believe his bullshit.

Why The Twilight Zone is Awesome

I don’t watch a lot of old black-and-white TV shows. I like some classic shows, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I have a hard time enjoying anything made earlier than the eighties. For one thing, the writing is so stilted and not-conversational (or at least, not-conversational by today’s standards). Often the pacing is slower than shows today too.

But I always watch the Twilight Zone  #TwilightZoneMarathon, every New Year’s and Fourth of July when it airs on Syfy. Keep in mind, for someone who loves scifi, I don’t actually watch that channel very often because most of their programming consists of wrestling, ads for male enhancement products, and made-for-TV movies about monsters chasing people. I prefer shows with something resembling a plot—which is why I’m still pissed they canceled Incorporated, probably the best original show they’ve had since Battlestar Galactica—so I always enjoy the #TwilightZoneMarathon. Here are some reasons why the Twilight Zone is awesome (still):

Although some of the Twilight Zone full episodes do suffer from old-fashioned dialogue, and the special effects are, well, barely existent, I’m always struck by how relevant some of the plots are today. Some are only personally relevant—”The Bewitchin’ Pool” is an episode that will always speak to every kid who wished they could escape their parents’ constant fighting, but never got their own bewitching pool. (Even if you haven’t been a kid in years.)

But others are socially relevant. Last night’s marathon started with “Hocus Pocus and Frisby,” an episode whose main character immediately reminded me of someone we all know. Watching the first episode in the Syfy Twilight Zone Marathon 2017 reminded me of how, despite being more than fifty years old, an episode can seem like it was made yesterday. Mr. Frisby loves to make up stories about how great he is, how smart he is, how he invented things and solved problems he couldn’t possibly have solved. Fortunately, Frisby is a poor guy living in a small town, not a famous billionaire, so nobody is stupid enough to believe his bullshit.

Well, except the aliens. They take everything literally and decide to kidnap Frisby because he’s clearly the most intelligent and accomplished human being ever. After escaping the aliens, he tries to tell the story to his friends, who naturally assume it’s just another one of his lies.

file971283744684

Why is this episode relevant today? Because in a world full of fake news, we should all be more skeptical of everyone and everything. If your neighbor or coworker or the guy who checks you out at the grocery store started spouting about how he was the best at everything, did every important thing in the world, and could fix every problem around, would you believe him? Most likely, you’d use WebMD to diagnose him with a personality disorder, or just tell him to shut up. So if you wouldn’t believe bizarre claims of superiority from the average person, why would you believe some rich, famous person who says the same thing?

There are other recurrent themes that keep popping up on the show, also still relevant today. One thing that always impressed me was how, in spite of the technology or aliens or magical beings that popped up on a show, the plot usually revolved around the main character’s fight with his or her own demons. Sometimes these played out in a fight with a magical item, like a talking doll or a ventriloquist’s dummy. But those objects were only echoing the protagonist’s own fears. The brilliant thing about The Twilight Zone was it did such a good job of showing how we’re all the most vulnerable to our own insecurities.

This played out in groups, as well. In episodes like “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” aliens arrive, but humans are still the architects of their own destruction. The humans quickly descend into bickering and paranoia, accusing each other of being aliens, while the actual aliens just sit back and watch.

file000347090881.jpg

But maybe the most relevant episode of all today is “It’s a Good Life,” in which an innocent-looking little boy terrorizes a small town. Everyone has to stand around and smile and nod and act like everything is awesome no matter what stupid thing he’s done—like making it snow on the crops they need for food. Of course, if anyone says anything bad to him, he can wish them into the cornfield, where they turn into a jack-in-the-box-like toy or something. Yeah, okay, that really sucks and all, but what everyone in this nightmarish town misses is that the little brat’s power doesn’t really come from his ability to wish people into the cornfield. Sure, it’s a scary thing, but what if they all stood up to him? Could he wish them all into the cornfield? Maybe, but then what would he do? Who would he play with? Who would he terrorize? Without his frightened subjects, what power would he have? Ultimately, he would have to wish them all back out of the cornfield.

Which episodes do you think are most relevant today?

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?” 

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

cropped-13415580_104394519988656_2583887152578921324_o.jpg