THE TWILIGHT ZONE
The Twilight Zone regularly featured a who's who of established and soon to be established character actors such William Shatner, Dennis Hopper, Carol Burnett, James Coburn, Burgess Meredith and Buster Keaton.
The series was re-made in the latte 1980's to mixed results and reviews, as was the much vaunted movie adaptation in 1983 produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis. But it's the inventive and often daring original series that originally blew my mind and in many respects still does today.
So here, in no particular order, are my top 5 episodes of this classic television series
1) Nightmare at 20,000 feet. (Season 5)
Ok, so i fibbed a little - this my all time number one favourite TZ episode….
It features a terrific performance from William Shatner ( who just MAY pop up in the odd future blog or two). He plays a man who has just been released from a mental hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown and is flying home with his wife. Things begin normally enough on the flight but he but soon discovers that there’s some thing on the wing of the plane, and it seems to be trying to bring the flight down!. A beautifully played episode shows how fragile sanity can be, especially in those moments when you're trying to convince everybody that you're in the right and instead they think you're going coo coo ( not a strict psychological term I may add….).
2) Time enough at last. (Season 1)
This story is an absolute classic personification of loneliness and heartbreak with another stand-out leading performance, this time from that great character actor, Burgess Meredith). A twist near the ending of this episode means that you have no choice in watching it for yourself.
3) Nick of Time. (Season 2)
This is the 2nd second episode to feature a pre-Star Trek William Shatner. This time he appears as one half of a newly-wed couple, who are on their way by car to the city of New York. Their car breaks down, and while waiting at a local diner, they find a small fortune telling device on their table that will bestow predictions for a penny. This being the Twilight Zone, the predictions come true, and the couple must battle with the temptations of knowing the future, and how that knowledge can impact on their own future choices . The two eventually leave, defying the will of the fortune teller, while another couple takes their place, and seemingly at its will until the end of time.
Its a another excellent story dealing with the notion of freewill, obsession and our never ending quest for answers about the meaning of life. (the answer to which is 42, but more about that in a future blog!).
4) It's a good life. (Season 3)
A monster has laid siege to a small town, cutting it off from the outside world. Residents are so petrified that they do nothing but feign happiness in an attempt to please the monster, who can read their every thought and emotion. If the monster is displeased, he grotesquely disfigures the residents or sends them into the cornfield, where their fate is unclear….but terrible.
Soon we meet this monster, who turns out to be he is a blue-eyed, angelic looking young boy called Anthony. On a personal level, this episode is a close to a horror story that TZ ever produced. A near perfect example in how to scare a viewer with things simply left unseen, or unsaid. We never learn what is in the terrifying cornfield or what exactly the boy Anthony has done to make the entire population of the town fearful of his mere presence. Rather, it’s the look of horror on the faces of the townspeople at the prospect of someone upsetting Anthony that tells the entire story. A classic analogy of the power that real life figures of authority can induce.
5) A stop at Willoughby. (Season 1)
Gart Williams, a 38 year old businessman, is distressed by his job pressured by his wife. In short, he is on the edge of complete despair.. His only time of calm takes place on his daily train ride home, where he wakes up one day with the carriage transformed into one from the 1800s, pulled up at Willoughby. This is not a town with which he's familiar. It's certainly not a stop on his commuter trip from hell to hell each day. But one look out the window mesmerises him, softens him, appeals to him. A band concert is playing in the town oval. People are enjoying leisurely strolls. Boys are carrying fishing poles on the way to the local pond. It's idyllic.
As things progressively worsen at home and at work, his stops become longer, tempting him to step off the train and into a more peaceful era. Eventually after having a meltdown at the office and irreconcilable differences with his wife, he takes the final step, and climbs out of the train at Willoughby, dropping his briefcase and being embraced by the inhabitants. The scene then cuts to a train conductor standing over his body on the side of the rails, saying that he yelled something about Willoughby before jumping from the cart. With that, his body is loaded into a stretcher, and taken to Willoughby & Son Funeral Home.
As in the best of the TZ episodes, it both taps into all our dreams from time to time of a more idyllic place to live, while also providing us a moment of revelation in the end with a dash of ambiguity that some might call tragic while others might see it as hopeful.
The Twilight Zone" brought a complexity and maturity to television that had never existed before and probably hasn't been seen since. The stories were nearly always ironic, inventive, and fascinating, and they often came with a moral lesson without ever preaching to the audience.The writers, Rod Sterling, Beaumont, and Matheson, were the best of their ( and many other) era.