The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 8 – It’s a Good Life

Okay, so this is it, this is the payoff.  This is the quintessential Twilight Zone episode.  Not even I dare to dispute the primacy of this one.  This is the A+ by which all other episodes are measured against and found wanting.

Rod Serling is standing in front of a map of the United States when the whole thing goes dark except for one dot on the map that he tells us is Peaksville, Ohio.  He tells us that the people there don’t know if the rest of the world was destroyed or if they have been removed from the rest of reality but either way, they are cut off from everything else.  And he tells us that this was done by a monster and that the monster rules this little world through fear and intimidation.  He has eliminated electric power, automobiles, radio and television and all other modern conveniences.  Then Mr. Serling shows us the monster.  It’s a cute little six-year-old boy named Anthony Fremont.  He can read thoughts and he can create or destroy anything he wants to just by thinking it.

Next, we see life in Peaksville.  A grocery store bicycle delivery man shows up at the Fremont farm and says some polite things about the three headed gophers that Anthony is playing with just in time for Anthony to get tired of it and kill it with his mind.  And then he sends it into the cornfield which means it disappears.

The deliveryman talks to Mrs. Fremont about the things that have run out in the store and about the tomato soup that he found because he knows Anthony likes it.  And we meet Aunt Amy who has been crack brained since Anthony stopped her from singing a while ago.  Anthony likes music but not singing.  And then we see Mr. Fremont in his room getting ready for a party that night and talking to Anthony about his day.  Anthony says that no children came to play with him and he wanted them to.  His father reminds Anthony that last time children visited him he sent them to the cornfield and if he keeps doing that eventually there won’t be anybody left.  Just then a collie dog starts barking outside and we find out that Anthony doesn’t like dogs, so soon we hear a yelp of pain and the dog joins the three headed gopher in the cornfield.

That night is a dual celebration.  Anthony will present one of his occasional television shows and it is also Dan Hollis’s birthday.  The television show is a vicious battle between two triceratopses jabbing each other with their horns and attempting to throw each other off a cliff.  When one dinosaur is victorious the television goes blank and Anthony declares, “that’s all the television there is.”  Ethel presents her husband Dan with two birthday presents, a bottle of brandy and a Perry Como record album.  Dan speculates that maybe they could listen to the instrumental introduction before the singing.  But Mr Fremont declares that it would be too risky.

While the rest of the party gathers around while Anthony listens to Pat Riley play the piano Dan Hollis starts getting drunk on his brandy.  Initially he just becomes maudlin about the dwindling supply of whiskey but eventually he starts railing against Anthony and blaming his parents for bringing him into the world.  When Anthony becomes angry with him, Dan tells Anthony, “that’s right you think those bad thoughts about me and maybe some man whose had enough of this will take some something hard across your skull and end this.”  For a second it looks like Aunt Amy is reaching for a fireplace poker but then she backs off.  Anthony says to Dan, “You’re a bad man, a very bad man and you keep thinking bad thoughts about me.”  Then he points his finger at Dan and as a shadow on the wall we see Dan turn into a jack in the box.  Then we see Dan’s face bobbing as if on the jack in the box.  Mr. Fremont begs his son, “please son, send it to the cornfield.”  And he does.  Then he warns Ethel Hollis that she better not think bad thoughts or he’ll do the same to her too.

While everyone tries to put a happy face on what has happened, they notice that it’s snowing (in the summer).  Mr. Fremont starts to say that that will destroy half the crop but then he squelches his thought and finishes off by saying it’s a good thing that Anthony made it snow.  And finally, he says with all the sincerity of a man with a gun to his head that tomorrow is gonna be a real good day.

This is the best Twilight Zone episode.  It’s the vision of hell on earth.  It’s a petulant child with the powers of life and death.  The story is original, creepy and fun.  A+

The Original Twilight Zone TV Series – An SF&F TV Review

Every summer the SyFy Channel features an enormous number of Twilight Zone episodes for no apparent reason.  And every year I watch way too many of these episodes.  It’s a moral failing of mine.  I think it’s because the show was on too late for me to watch when I was young so I felt deprived and therefore overvalued what I couldn’t get.  And watching these episodes every year drives home one fact, that most Twilight Zone episodes are stunningly bad.

To be fair, there is a small number of actually good episodes.  A debate can be had as to whether there are five or ten good episodes.  Opinions and tastes differ but it’s somewhere in that range.  Then there are another twenty or so that are watchable.  The plots are predictable and the acting is mediocre at best but watchable.  That leaves well over a hundred episodes that are actually painful to watch.  Let me give an example.

In the episode “King Nine Will Not Return” a man regains consciousness next to his crashed bomber aircraft somewhere in the North African desert during World War II.  By the end of the episode you find out this is a dream this man has as a result of his feelings of guilt for missing the mission where the bomber was shot down.  So far so good.  Psychological pain, some kind of manifestation where he physically visits this time and place and is allowed to heal.  Sure, why not.  Now what is the scene?  You have the protagonist standing around in what must be the California desert yelling and emoting about his anguish for his missing crew mates.  It’s like some unscripted improvisational method acting workshop.  Five minutes in you’re heading to the kitchen to get some snack or drink just to avoid the whole embarrassing spectacle.  I found myself pitying the actor doing the scene and wondering if the experience of performing this drivel might have driven him out of acting and into some honest profession like loan sharking or leg breaking.  But every time I returned my attention to the tv screen there he was yelling and grimacing and crying.  Mercifully it finally ended and I have sworn a mighty oath to never watch that episode again while there remains any hope at all for intelligent human life to continue on this planet.

Admittedly, not all bad episodes are that horrible.  Some are just stupid and annoying.  These usually involve mannequins or robots that think they are human.  They even did this to Anne Francis in an episode called “The After Hours.”  She’s in a department store and by the end of the episode she remembers that she’s an escaped mannequin.  I think we’re supposed to be glad she’s found her way back to where she belongs.  But it’s all so pointless that you really can’t be sure.

So, most of the episodes stink, but which ones do I admit liking?  Here they are:

  1. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
  2. Nick of Time
  3. To Serve Man
  4. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?
  5. It’s a Good Life

And now I’ll tell you what I like about them.  The first four episodes I find comical.  The first two have William Shatner starring.  You can’t go wrong with Shatner.  He was born to act on the Twilight Zone.  The terrible dialog and nonexistent direction actually seem to jibe with Shatner’s bizarre overacting tics.  “Nick of Time” can’t compete with “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” for over the top hilarity but even in the lesser vessels the Shatnerian touch is still a force to be reckoned with.

“To Serve Man” and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” are surprise ending stories that I can only think of as jokes.  For each, the whole episode is the set up for the reveal.  I find them amusing.  Let’s say personal preference.

And that brings us to the best and maybe the only truly original story in the whole series, “It’s a Good Life.”  The short story is even better than the teleplay but both are very effective.  Definitely worth viewing.

So that’s it.  If you’re a Burgess Meredith or a Jack Klugman fan there are a couple of episodes you can add and if you’re sentimental there is Christmas episode with Art Carney as Santa Claus that’s kind of cute.  But I’d be kidding myself if I said I watched them out of anything other than force of habit.  Your mileage may vary but this is my take.