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:
- Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
- Nick of Time
- To Serve Man
- Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?
- 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.