I love the Twilight ZonePoppaScotch
Every New Years Eve, the
Sci Fi SyFy channel puts on a marathon lasting over 30 hours that shows nothing but the classic series The Twilight Zone. When I was but a child, my two sisters and I would plant ourselves in front of the TV and watch the marathon until the ball dropped, and then we would pass out on the couches as we tried to pack in as many episodes as possible. Of course, they weren’t all amazing, in fact some of them were flat out duds, but the classic episodes, the ones that made me sleep uneasy at night left a lasting impression on me that will be there for the rest of my life. There really isn’t much analytic texts happening in this editorial, I just wanted to express my love and appreciation for a show that finished its run almost 40 years before I was born.
The brain child of Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone was a serialized horror anthology which meant that every week there was a mriad of different people involved. This gave opportunities to actors and scribes such as William Shatner, Mickey Rooney, Martin Landau, Burgess Merideth, Dick York, Lee Marvin, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton, Peter Falk, Cloris Leachman, Donald Pleasance, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Reginald Rose, and Harlan Ellison, just to name a few. These actors and writers would all go on to bigger things, but their inclusion into the Twilight Zone goes to show you the absolute quality of the product. For many people writing, directing, and acting in horror for the next 50 years and on, this show was their inspiration. This is the show that they all watched as kids that spawned the ideas in their young minds to pursue entertainment in this genre as a career. With as many limitations on television at the time, including the McCarthy era, it’s amazing that the viewers got something of this caliber.
My mom and dad never even batted an eye when I was an eight year old kid watching the Twilight Zone. They had seen it in their youth and knew that while the subject matter may be a bit scary, it wouldn’t showcase anything that would be truly inappropriate. Interestingly, but no surprisingly for the time of television, there was no gore whatsoever. People would get shot and magically fall to the ground without spewing blood all over the place and you know what, that never even mattered. Gunshot = death is all we had to know. However, it was rare that the Twilight Zone even used weapons considering some of the most classic episodes ever had no violence in them at all.
One of my favorite episodes titled “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” was not only an extremely freaky and harrowing tale, but a direct comment on the fear of a communist takeover in the United States. In this episode, a street filled with suburban homes goes through a number of terrifying and interesting developments such as lights going on and off and cars starting on their own. More importantly, the people of the street seem to be on an endless loop whereas if they trying to leave, they end up at another end of the street. They were stuck on Maple Street while paranoia literally turned them on one another. As it turns out (spoiler here… I mean the show is over 50 years old, c’mon) aliens have come down from the skies to decide if it would be smart to invade Earth. The panic that was apparent in a little bit of light flickering and common accusations caused by fear led the aliens to deduce that an invasion of Earth would be simple since humans are so easily panicked.
The underlying moral of the story is that fear and panic will lead to absolute chaos. Stephen King often writes stories about how the thin veneer of civility will be the first thing to go when people fear for their lives. Of course, not all episodes were packed with metaphors. Another one of my favorites, Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up takes place in a diner where two police try to figure out which one of the eight customers is an alien. It’s a constant game of whodunit that ends with a surprising twist. Now that I think about it, many of the Twilight Zone episodes ended with twist endings. Some worked to perfection, some were extremely stupid. Needless to say, it was a trademark of the series.
Even though you had your good episodes and your bad episodes, there was still an inherent feeling at all times that you were watching The Twilight Zone. They are stared with brief introductions to our characters that evolved into a voiceover by Rod Serling telling you a little bit about what you are going to see or giving the viewer certain important plot points to set up the stories. As the voiceover was going on, the camera moved or panned over to Rod Serling himself, with a cigarette looking as if he just stepped out of an important advertising meeting in Manhattan. Despite the very differing stories that were portrayed week after week, his lead-ins helped to make the story part of something bigger. Even though episodes have a wide variety of locations, there was still a certain tone that permeated through every episode.
The tone is always there. I’m not sure if it was the lead in by Rod Serling, or the classic openings that made everything one, but you couldn’t deny that every episode had a quality to it that unified it with the rest of the cannon. It was an inherent black and white feeling that something was off. You knew walking into the Twilight Zone that something strange was going to happen to our main character. You didn’t know what or when, but there would be either an unpredictable life event, or a completely supernatural item that changed the character’s world forever. While the best TV shows today provide us with sprawling storylines, complicated plot twists, and slow reveals, it’s easy to forget that back in the early 1960s, Rod Serling was able to keep your interest with new setups, new characters, and new settings 20 minutes at a time. I absolutely love everything about the show and if for some reason, you have gone your life without seeing any episodes, it’s never too late to start.