Zoning Out

This Fourth of July Weekend brought with it Sci-fi (Sorry, Sy-fy; they’re still doing that.) Network’s Twilight Zone marathon. Twi-Zo, Rod Serling’s long running masterpiece, imbued fantastic tales with social commentary, hard boiled dialogue and a noir aesthetic. Watching it, you can see up and coming actors in their formative years often well before they became household names: William Shatner, Robert Redford, Jack Klugman, Ashton Kusher. It ran for forty-seven seasons, each season averaging 157 episodes. So when the marathon runs, even when you think you’ve seen them all, invariably an episode pops up you’ve never seen before. It can feel a little Twilight Zonish when these never before seen anomalies come your way.

Of course, with that daunting an output level, not every show can be “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” There’s a reason some of these episodes only pop up during the Twi-Zo marathons. Preachy themes, obvious twists, and slipshod plotlines mar a small sampling of this usually impeccable show. Here are some of the weaker efforts by Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”

“Time At Last, For Now”

Burgess Meredith stars as a misanthropic bank clerk and lover of literature who never has enough time to read all the great books he wants. When he becomes the sole survivor of a nuclear attack, it looks as though he’ll finally have time to read. Unfortunately, in a particularly bleak twist, he is eaten by giant radioactive rats.

“The Spooky Hitch-hiker”

A woman is frightened when she keeps encountering the same hitch-hiker on her cross-country journey. Finally it dawns on her that she must be dead, and that he must be death, so she finally picks him up. “Death, no not me,” says the hitch-hiker, “I am a psychotic killer though.”

“What Color is God?”

In a thinly veiled parable of the civil rights problems of midcentury America, a futuristic society is divided between orange people and yellow people. Since The Twilight Zone was a black and white show, this just produced confusion. This being the only episode written entirely in Esperanto only added to its incomprehensibility.

“The Eye of the Looker”

Doctors slowly unwrap a woman’s face of bandages after she has undergone a chancy plastic surgery operation to repair her hideous face. Only at the last minute does the audience see that the doctors and nurses are all one-eyed monsters. When the woman is unwrapped, she is a one-eyed monster as well. “Dammit!” yells the doctor, “Can’t we EVER get this operation right? We must be the worst plastic surgeons in the world!”

“The Main Character is Really Dead and Just Doesn’t Know It Yet”

The title really gives the twist away in this one.

“The Maples Are Due on Monster Street”

An alien community is turned upside down when a local farmer goes into the syrup business.

“What The Hell Is Going On?”

An amnesiac, a 15th Century Jester, a Gunslinger and a Ventriloquist with a sentient dummy find themselves trapped in a door-less, windowless room, with no explanation. They never solve the mystery of their imprisonment, and, in a particularly macabre twist, they are eaten by giant radioactive rats.

“Out of the Twilight Zone and Into The Fire”

Rod Serling drops his detached narrator pose for an episode, strapping on a gun and leading a rag-tag team of misfits to battle monsters from The Outer Limits.

–Dan Kilian

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