The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 28 – Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

This is, I suppose, a science fiction episode but I always look at it as a comedy.

Two state police officers are investigating a flying saucer sighting somewhere in the snow-covered New England countryside.  They observe a hole in the ice on a small pond and also footprints coming out of the water.  They follow the prints back to a diner where they find that a bus is stopped and its passengers are waiting for a small bridge to be declared safe.  The troopers begin interrogating the diner patrons to determine who was on the bus and who entered separately.  In addition to the cook, there is a bus driver and seven people who claim to be bus passengers.  Unfortunately, the bus driver is absolutely adamant that there were only six passengers.  The alleged passengers include a businessman heading for a Boston business meeting, a blonde exotic dancer, a crazy old man played by character actor Jack Elam and two married couples, one older and one younger.

The Boston businessman and the old coot start accusing each other of being the intruder and even the two couples start looking suspiciously at their mates.  The only one who the driver remembers is the good looking blonde for obvious reasons.  While the interrogation is stalled out with bickering the juke box mysteriously starts on its own and everyone panics thinking the hidden Martian is messing with them.  As the businessman continues to complain about missing his meeting the bus driver warns him that he doesn’t trust that bridge and unless the state inspector gives it the all clear the bus won’t be crossing on it.  Once again, the juke box flares up and then all the sugar dispensers on the tables explode.  Eventually, a call comes in from the inspector certifying that the bridge is safe.  The troopers decide to give the bus an escort over the bridge and all the patrons settle their restaurant bills and depart.

In the next scene, the businessman walks back into the diner and asks the cook for a cup of black coffee.  The cook asks the businessman what happened after he left.  The businessman says that both the bus and police cruiser were on the bridge when it collapsed and no one got out.  The cook said, “no one but you.”  But then he notes, “but you’re not even wet.”  The businessman asks, “What’s wet.”  After they sort that out the businessman explains that his dry appearance is an illusion.  And then he makes the juke box start and the phone ring.  Now we see that the businessman has three arms and he tells the cook with great satisfaction that he’s the Martian and he’s waiting for his fellow colonists to invade Earth.

Well, the cook tells the businessman that there are colonists coming but they’re not Martians but Venusians (or Venerians if you like Latin) who had the same idea a few years earlier and have intercepted the businessman’s friends.  Then the cook takes off his cap and we see he has a third eye.  Now the cook is laughing but the businessman is not.

I love this episode.  Jack Elam is great as a crazy coot and each of the passengers and the cook and the troopers do a great job of providing the atmosphere for this goofy sci-fi tale.  I love how Elam analyzes the mystery and declares, “It’s a regular Ray Bradbury.  That’s what it is!”  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.