The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 7 – The Lonely

The Lonely is a science fiction short story about being human.  I take a few points off because of the silliness of the set-up.  James Corry is a convicted killer who’s been sentenced to a fifty-year prison sentence but the “prison” is an asteroid nine million miles from Earth.  Let’s forget about the inaccuracies of where and how but let’s look at the silliness of the logistics of this prison.  Four times a year a ship has to come from Earth and drop off supplies to all of the asteroid prisons in use.  So apparently there are enough asteroids to keep each prisoner in solitary confinement.  Next, according to the supply ship personnel, they have to spend eight months out of every year performing their supply circuit.  So in effect, they too are virtual prisoners of their jobs.  The whole things is completely absurd and pointless since a prison on Earth would be infinitely cheaper, easier and equally effective.  Okay, rant off.

Corry is in year four of his sentence when a sympathetic supply ship captain, Allenby brings him a present.  Believing Corry to be an innocent man and knowing that Corry is close to despair, he gives him a crate that he tells him to open after the ship leaves because it is contraband which the Captain would be punished for giving to Corry.

Corry opens up the crate and finds a robot that looks and acts like a living woman.  Alicia, as she calls herself, tries to befriend Corry but at first he rejects her because he feels she is a mockery of life and worse than being alone.  But when he treats her roughly she feels pain and her tears touch his heart and he grows to accept her as a human and love her as a real woman.  The scene of the two of them sitting out in the desert night while he points out the familiar constellations is very touching.

Then Allenby’s ship returns unexpectedly with the best news he could possibly hope for.  Corry has been pardoned and can now return to Earth immediately.  In fact he has only minutes to leave and can only bring fifteen pounds of belongings.  He is overjoyed and states that he doesn’t have fifteen pounds of possessions, just a notebook and a pencil.  He tells Allenby that he’ll call Alicia and they can go right away.

But Allenby breaks the news to him that Alicia cannot come.  There is no allowance for her weight and she is a criminal possession anyway.  Corry becomes agitated and angry and tells Allenby and his men that Alicia is a real woman and she must go along with them.  Allenby realizes the harm he has caused by his gift to Corry but sees the only possible resolution to the dilemma.  He shoots Alicia in the face and thereby destroys her.  Corry goes into a shocked silence seeing the mechanical components behind her face and Allenby assures him that leaving the asteroid will mean waking up from a nightmare and the only thing he’ll be leaving behind is loneliness.  To which Corry mechanically replies, “I must remember that, I must remember to keep that in mind,” as he’s lead back to the relief ship.

Jack Warden who played Corry was a pretty familiar face to television viewers of the era.  He seemed to play a lot of cops from what I remember of him.  He does a good job playing the part.  Allenby is played by John Dehner who is not as well known but played in several Twilight Zone episodes and is actually one of my favorites for western sheriffs and space ship captains.  He also did a good job.

I like this episode.  It’s far-fetched and a little bit contrived but fits my tastes for a half-hour drama.  It gets a B.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 6 – Escape Clause

At last, the first season has an episode I can applaud.  Escape Clause is the story of Walter Bedeker a hypochondriac in a high rise who says that it’s unfair that he can only live such a very short span.  Along comes Cadwallader a portly fellow who says he can provide Walter with virtual immortality and indestructability in exchange for his insignificant soul.  After just a little bit of haggling the bargain is struck and Cadwallader even throws in an escape clause just in case the day ever comes when Walter tires of life and wants an easy way out.

Mr. Bedeker strides forward into his new life by hurling himself in front of every subway train and bus he can find.  He makes a few thousand dollars of liability insurance but finds himself bored to tears.  After drinking a glass of poison in front of his horrified wife, the jaded Methuselah informs his better half that he’s going to the roof and jump the whole fourteen stories just to see how it feels.  When she follows him to the roof and tries to block his way, she accidentally falls over the edge to her death.

Walter calls the police and claims he murdered his wife in order to try out the electric chair.  But the trial ends with him sentenced to life in prison without parole (damn Democrats).  Faced with the endless boredom of a perpetual prison sentence he agrees to the escape clause and Mr. Cadwallader gives him an immediate heart attack exit.

Now that’s my idea of a Twilight Zone.  Walter is a cranky egomaniac and Cadwallader is a friendly if oily ambassador for hell.  It’s an obvious match made in heaven?  There aren’t any big stars but it’s filled with character actors that you’ll recognize from any number of shows and series of the time.  The most notable for me is Joe Flynn playing one of the insurance agents paying off on his accident cases.  Flynn played Captain Binghamton (Old Leadbottom) on the McHale’s Navy sit-com opposite star Ernest Borgnine as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale.

Finally a Twilight Zone that deserves a solid B+.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 5 – Walking Distance

Gig Young plays Martin Sloane a Manhattan  advertising VP burned out from modern life.  Driving his sports convertible through a rural area he realizes he’s at his home town (of course named Homewood).  He wanders around and realizes he’s back 25 years ago when he was an 11-year old.  He of course, meets himself and his parents.  And he causes trouble.  He accidentally causes his 11-year old self to fall off the carousel and hurts his leg.  Finally, his father realizes that Martin is who he says he is but that retreating into the past is wrong.  So some how or other he finds himself back in the present and although he is wiser he doesn’t appear any happier.

One small detail, a very young Ron Howard is a little boy playing marbles in the street near Martin’s boyhood home.

It’s a slight tale and not particularly poignant but I’ll give it a solid C.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 4 – The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine

This is the homage to Sunset Boulevard.  Ida Lupino is playing an over the hill actress named Barbara Jean Trenton.  Martin Balsam plays her manager Danny Weiss who wants her to stop living in the past and rejoin the world.  But Barbara Jean wants it to be 1934 forever, back when she was a beautiful young star.  So basically, this is Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard except instead of murder we get urban fantasy.  So, no surprise, after she realizes she was too old for the movies the world no longer had any appeal.  So, of course, she ends up entering into the 16 millimeter film of the title.  She is seen walking off camera with all of her old friends from twenty five years ago.

Obviously, there are no surprises here.  It’s a straight forward wish fulfillment plot.  It’s a good story and I’ll give it a B.  Not bad.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 3 – Mr Denton on Doomsday

This is a morality play dressed up in Western trappings.  Denton is a former gun hand turned town drunk.  He turned to drink because he had to shoot a sixteen-year old kid who came gunning for his reputation as the fastest gun.  One day while Denton is lying on the ground after being humiliated by the local bully he finds a Colt pistol and picks it up.  When the bully tries to use the gun as an excuse to murder Denton in a shootout Denton accidentally fires off a few shots that each time hit a target that saves his life.  Inspired by his change of luck, he walks away from the saloon and tries to restart his life.  But his success with the gun reignites his reputation and a gunfighter challenges him to a duel.  While preparing to sneak out of town before the fight Denton runs into a travelling peddler named Henry J. Fate.  We’ve been seeing Mr. Fate in every scene where Denton had his amazing luck with the gun and so we already know he’s the source of the gun and Denton’s success.  He’s peddling a “potion” that makes anyone who takes it a dead shot for exactly ten seconds.  Denton accepts the potion and shows up to the duel.  When his opponent also drinks a potion before the gunfight it is of course not shocking that both shooters end up hitting their opponents in the gun hand.  And a conveniently present doctor informs each man that he will never be fast with a gun again.  Mr. Denton tells his young opponent that they are both blessed with being free of the gunfighter’s fate.  Denton is played by Dan Duryea who was a fairly well-known character actor of the Hollywood golden age and the town bully was played by Martin Landeau who was a well known television actor especially from the long running, Mission Impossible series.  Landau shows up in several other episodes of the Twilight Zone.  I would rate this episode as fair.  The storyline is mildly entertaining but hardly original or surprising.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 2 – One for the Angels

A sidewalk pitchman (the guy with the foldable suitcase/table full of cheap junk) named Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn) is visited by Death.  Not wanting to die he negotiates a delay until he can “Make a Pitch for the Angels.”  Death agrees to this but once the agreement is made Bookman gloats that he’ll stop making pitches forever.  But the consequences involve the death in his place of a small child that Bookman knows.  The little girl is struck by a truck and will die at midnight when Bookman was scheduled to die.  Bookman awaits Death and delays him by distracting him with his most persuasive sales pitch and succeeds in saving the girl’s life.  And of course, that pitch was the “One for the Angels.”  And at that point Mr. Bookman is ready for his journey with Death who really isn’t a bad guy.

Wynn was a comic actor of the vaudeville era.  My only other memory of him was a small part in the original Mary Poppins movie from the 1960s.  The whole teleplay is highly sentimental and affected but it works.  It’s a gentle fantasy that tugs at the heartstrings and appeals to our sympathy for the little guy who also happens to be a nice guy.  For myself, being a rank sentimentalist, it appeals to my childhood view of how the world should be.  So, it feels comfortably familiar.  In other words, it’s nostalgic escapism and sometimes that’s exactly what I want.  You have to decide for yourself if this type of story is acceptable entertainment for you.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 1 – Where is Everybody?

I am embarking on a long voyage of discovery.  And like most long voyages it will be a combination of rare moments of pleasure immersed in long stretches of boredom.  That’s right, I intend to review the whole Twilight Zone series in its original order.  You will benefit from my suffering and will thereby know which episodes to skip, which to give a chance and which to view without fear of boredom.  Greater love hath no blogger than this,  that he lay down his sanity for his readers.

 

Season 1

Episode 1 – Where is Everybody?

Earl Holliman (the guy who played the cook on Forbidden Planet) is a man wandering around a town that seems to have had people in it immediately before but now is completely empty.  He finds fresh coffee, lit cigarettes and running machines but no people.  I guess it’s supposed to be mysterious and claustrophobic but mostly it’s just boring and annoying.  At the end we find out he’s an astronaut in an isolation chamber hallucinating.  This is preparation for a future moon mission.  Granted this was made in 1959 and Sputnik launched in 1957.  That means the Space Race was all the rage.  So maybe this seemed more interesting back then.  But honestly, it’s really dull.  This was the first episode of the whole series.  The fact that they would lead with this should have been a warning to viewers of what was to come.  Not a very auspicious beginning.

The Twilight Zone Revisited

My hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Last July I posted a review of the Twilight Zone in which I stated unequivocally that all but a handful of the episodes are unwatchable.  Once again, the SyFy Channel featured a marathon the episodes around the holidays and once again, I found myself watching way too many of them.  I recorded about fifteen of them on the cable box and proceeded to replay them almost obsessively over the last few weeks.  I did find a couple more that I had forgotten were pretty good and kept re-watching the few that I do enjoy.  But what became intolerable was having to deal with the commercials from the SyFy Channel each time I watched.  Even fast forwarding through became so painful I finally deleted all the episodes in disgust.

The one episode that I had forgotten I liked was “Two.”  Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery are soldiers from opposing armies that wander into a deserted city five years after a war has depopulated the world.  Surprisingly, the sparse dialog and minimal action work remarkably well and create a genuinely affecting moment.

Anyway, I buckled under the pressure.  I went on Amazon and bought the whole series on blu-ray, all one hundred and sixty odd, mostly awful shows.  I guess this proves I’m a hopeless addict to bad television.

It showed up tonight and I put on “To Serve Man.”  Oh well, at least there are no SyFy Channel commercials.  That’s one nightmare I won’t have to face again.  That’s at least an improvement.

“Mr. Chambers, don’t get on that ship!  “To Serve Man,” it’s a cookbook!”  Ahhhh, ain’t it grand!

The Flash – A Science Fiction TV Review

Yesterday, as I mentioned in my review of Aquaman, I had the some of the grandsons over.  After we got home from the movies we played some games and had dinner but later on they got bored and not having much in the way of TV that they were interested in we let them use their parents’ Netflix account to stream a show they liked, “The Flash.”  Wow.  Now, I know that the WB is one of the worst networks for quality and the low budgets they work with mean that things like special effects and scripts and acting skill are brought down to a sad minimum, but I wasn’t prepared for just how bad it would be.  In retrospect I’m a little ashamed at how much ranting I did while they were watching the show.  As much as they share my love of mockery, I’m sure I must have been annoying to them.  But to some extent it was justified.

The plot, such as it was, revolved around the Flash character and his friends and relatives protecting the inhabitants of Central City from the depredations of various random metahumans of which the Flash is one.  Apparently, they were formed by some kind of nuclear incident involving a particle accelerator mishap.  The particular episode involved an unfortunate individual called King Shark.  He has a shark’s head but wears pants.  He’s also about twenty feet tall so it’s not apparent where he shops for pants.  He’s a really bad guy and sometimes eats people he doesn’t like but does it in such a slow fashion it’s not clear why they can’t just walk away from him.  And despite his obvious evil nature, by the end of the show he is captured alive and once again incarcerated in an Olympic sized containment pool apparently being fed chum and awaiting medical treatment to turn his head human again.  Most of the interaction with King Shark is the Flash running around him in circles while the shark head heaps verbal abuse on him.

By the above description you have probably identified the limited dramatic value of the action adventure available in the Flash series.  However, these limitations pale in comparison to the real problem with the series, namely, the personal problems of the characters.  Probably eighty percent of the air time consists of the various actors whining about their emotional problems.  One character is sad about some dead spouse, another about the alienation of not being able to reveal his secret identity, another has feelings of inferiority because he has no super powers, another is worried that a character that doesn’t have super powers might develop them and become evil.  The cast behaves like a whole high school full of neurotic teenagers which I assume is their target audience.  If I’m being objective, the plots are no worse than what passed for story lines in the old Superman tv show from the 1950s that I watched as a kid.  But the emotional immaturity and obnoxious insecurity of all the “good guys” in the stories is appalling.  It may be a generational problem but to me this isn’t science fiction it’s a soap opera.

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.