The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 24 – To Serve Man

Ah, one of my favorites!

The opening scene is of a disheveled man named Michael Chambers apparently an unhappy passenger in his cabin on a space ship, refusing a meal being offered to him over the ship’s intercom system.  He tells this story.

On a sunny April day in New York City a flying saucer lands and a nine-foot alien belonging to a race called the Kanamits speaks before the UN General Assembly.  He informs the humans that his people want to solve all of Earth’s problems and for completely altruistic reasons.  They will provide technological solutions to food and power scarcity and they will provide every country with an impenetrable force field that will render warfare obsolete.  When the Kanamit leaves the building, he leaves behind a book in the Kanamit language.  The American intelligence agencies pass the book over to their code cracking (cryptography) team, led by Michael Chambers and including his associate Patty.  After a while they are able to translate the title.  It reads, “To Serve Man.”  But the rest of the book evades their efforts to translate.

Meanwhile the Kanamits make good on their promises and provide the humans with technological wonders that make Earth a veritable paradise.  During a polygraph (lie detector) test the Kanamit reveals that as part of their new relations with Earth, the Kanamits were encouraging large numbers of humans to visit the Kanamit planet as a means of mutual cultural exchange.

In a scene at the Cryptography Department we see Michael Chambers and Patty talking about how their jobs have become obsolete with the disappearance of war and they note somewhat skeptically about how every day thousands of humans take the tourist trip to the Kanamit world while more and more Kanamits take up residence on Earth.  But then Chambers admits sheepishly that he has accepted an invitation to spend a lengthy sabbatical there in the near future.  Patty admits that she is still working to translate the Kanamit book even though no one now cares about the answers there.

In the next scene Michael Chambers is in line to go aboard the Kanamit space ship for his trip when Patty rushes up to the ship and calls to him.  A Kanamit restrains her but Chambers stops on the ramp and hears Patty say that immortal line, “Mr. Chambers, don’t get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it’s… it’s a cookbook!”

And of course, the other Kanamit at the ramp forces Chambers up the ramp and seals the ship for take-off.

In the last scene, on the space ship, Chambers finally relents and eats a meal when one of the Kanamits jokes that he wouldn’t want Chambers to lose weight.  Then Chambers summarizes the situation and speaking to the viewing audience he tells us that even if we are hearing this back on Earth, we’ll all be on the menu eventually, all of us.

The only cast item of note is that the Kanamits are all played by exceedingly tall actor, Richard Kiel who played Jaws in some of the James Bond movies.

What can I say?  I love this episode.  The title pun, the goofy looking Kanamits, the surprise ending.  It’s marvelous.  Oh sure, it’s all kinds of dopey.  A race that has intergalactic space travel capability and impenetrable force fields needs or wants to fool lesser beings into travelling halfway across the universe to be made into soup.  And the explanation for why the code breakers could translate the title of the book but not the text, because the title is in capital letters but the rest is lower case?  That’s nonsense.

But I don’t care.  How can you not love the payoff, the horrified woman trying to save her boss from the cannibal’s pot stuttering out the ultimate irony?  The Kanamits thought so little of our intelligence that they left behind the truth of their contempt for us in plain sight.  Marvelous.  A+

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 of 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 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.