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.

To Serve Trump

Announcer (sounding surprisingly like Don Pardo):  Ladies and Gentlemen, and all you other less easily addressed members of the television audience, we interrupt this broadcast to bring you an important message from the President of the United States.
President Trump (PT):  Hello everyone, sorry to break into your brain dead stupor again but if the safety of the nation is of any importance to you, drop the bong and try to concentrate.  I’ve got some very disturbing news.
As you know, we’ve begun our first round of deportations.  One of the steps required is identifying the country of origin for the millions of illegals living here.  Now this is a tricky business and very careful work is needed to prove where these people come from, especially since they’re not very cooperative.  Anyway, after careful investigation it has been determined that about 11 percent of the rounded up aliens turn out to be actual aliens!  By that I mean outer space guys, you know like E.T. only smellier.  As you can imagine, this will make repatriation more difficult.  But fear not, I’ve already begun the process of contacting the home planets of these deadbeats and getting them to ferry these bums back home.  In fact I’ll have to admit that several of these governments have been more cooperative than our neighbors to the south.  The Kanamit, for instance, went so far as to offer to accept as many illegal human aliens as we could send and at no cost to us.  Their only request was that we put them on a two week bacon diet before we send them.  Huh, go figure.
So this development gave me an idea.  I have enacted an executive order which will allow any American citizen who no longer wants to live here to obtain asylum with the Kanamit.  They have described their world as a socialist paradise without war or hunger, where no one works, food is free and plentiful and people aren’t discriminated against for putting on a little extra weight.  After hearing the Kanamit offer during congressional hearings Senator Sanders, Congresswoman Pelosi and former Secretary Clinton have decided to lead a large scale emigration of democrats, federal workers and university employees to the Kanamit home planet.  Secretary Cinton’s exact words were “So long to Trump and his capitalistic bullshit.  From now on it’s gonna be mashed potatoes and gravy.  I’m throwing away this stupid pants suit and getting a moo-moo.” The Kanamit ambassador thanked me profusely and asked if I was interested in joining the group. I told him I was too busy, at which point he gave me an autographed copy of his new book, “To Serve Man” which he told me was sort of like “The Art of the Deal” on his planet. Well he was a really strange sort of a guy, reminded me of Kasich, only like 4 feet taller and with sharper teeth. Anyway they left this morning and Washington is much quieter now.
Well, they’ll be missed but we’ll have to try and soldier on.  In related news, I’ve officially opened up relations with the Lensman dimension.  They’ve agreed to take over drug interdiction on the Mexican border. I had to agree that they would be allowed to summarily execute any zwilniks they caught, whatever the hell those are. I said yeah sure.
And finally, at the request of the Predator home world I’m allowing Governor Jerry Brown to be extradited to stand trial for murder. He says it’s a mix-up involving his predecessor but I’ll let them sort it out without me.
Okay folks, you can get back to your twinkies and doritos you losers. Trump out.