Do You Love Black Mirror? Why Not Enter the Twilight Zone?
A few friends of mine recommended Black Mirror to me a month or so back. There’s so much available to watch, that it’s been tough to get to it, but I have managed to watch a few episodes. It’s a decent enough show, but I probably need a slightly larger sample size to give it the ol’ Commodus thumbs up or thumbs down.
However, one thing I can do is provide a recommendation to all of you folks that love yourselves some Black Mirror. There’s a quite a bit of debate about how similar these shows are and if one is better than the other, but I’m not here to stoke that fire. I think that if you love Black Mirror and you’ve watched every episode, you should do yourself a favor and watch some episodes of Black Mirror’s great great granddaddy…The Twilight Zone.
Before I continue with this article, let me explain a little bit. First, I’m not talking about the TZ reboots from 1985 or 2002. No, I’m talking about the OG TZ from 1959, five seasons of beautiful black and white bliss. I stumbled across the series on Amazon Prime and I started watching them on my lunch break. They’re only around 25 minutes or so (except for season four, which opted for a 50-minute runtime), so you can usually knock out two in an hour. I’ve probably watched 50 or so episodes and I’ve certainly enjoyed more than I’ve hated.
So, with 50-plus episodes under my belt, I figured I could give you a quick rundown of 13 of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and let you be the judge. If you have Amazon Prime, these episodes will be easy to come by. If you don’t…well, I’m sure with the Interwebs and everything, these episodes will still be easy to come by.
So, without further ado, let’s take a trip to a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. Let’s move into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. Let’s cross over into…The Twilight Zone. (Cue creepy music.)
Oh, wait, before we go into the Twilight Zone, I will say that there are some minor spoilers in these synopses/reviews.
Now, as I was saying…let’s cross over into…The Twilight Zone. (Cue creepy music…again.)
Time Enough to Last (Season 1, Episode 8)
As an avid reader, I totally bought into the story of poor Henry Bemis, a beat-down nerd who just wants to be left alone with his books. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that something happens that gives ol’ Henry gets plenty of time to read. Unfortunately, fate can be a cruel bitch.
Oh yeah, an interesting tidbit about this episode is that Henry is played by Burgess Meredith, who played the original Penguin on the Batman television show and Mickey (Rocky’s trainer) in the Rocky movies.
People Are Alike All Over (Season 1, Episode 25)
Sam Conrad (played by ape-to-be in Planet of the Apes, Roddy McDowall) crash lands on Mars. All of the Martians seem super nice! Um…yeah, you can guess how that goes.
This episode, while good, is really a lot of build up for a great payoff. If you want to skip like 10 minutes in the middle, you can hop to the end for the, “Bazinga,” moment and save yourself a little time.
A Nice Place to Visit (Season 1, Episode 28)
When Rocky Valentine, a small-time criminal gets shot up by da’ fuzz, he wakes up…well, in a not-so-good place. However, he’s soon joined by the jovial Mr. Pip, his new “guide.” When Rocky learns that he can everything he wants, he thinks it’s too good to be true. Is it?
This episode is one of those that makes me think a little afterward. If you were put in the position Rocky Valentine is, would you love it or hate it?
A Most Unusual Camera (Season 2, Episode 10)
When three slow-witted criminals steal a camera that takes pictures of things that happen in the future, they actually figure out a smart way to use it. Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and things take a turn for the worse.
This episode isn’t as clever as most, but it’s funny simply for the classic, old-school dumb criminal stereotypes played by the three leads.
A Hundred Yards Over the Rim (Season 2, Episode 23)
Christian Horn (Hey, it’s Uncle Ben from Spider-Man circa 2002, Cliff Robertson!) is a pioneer whose wagon train is just about on its last wooden wheel. When his son gets sick, it’s up to Christian to find medicine. He finds it in a very odd place.
I liked this episode because it didn’t end as morosely as some TZ episodes end. I think Rod Serling was a pretty salty dude, but when he wrote this episode, he must’ve been having a good day.
The Silence (Season 2, Episode 25)
Jamie Tennyson is a douchebag. Everyone at his club thinks he’s a douchebag. One day, one of the other members of his club can’t stand his douchebaggery and call him on it. A bet is made that Jamie can’t keep his mouth shut for one year. Hijinks ensue.
I love this episode. The ending actually took me for a bit of a loop, which is odd for TZ. I can usually see the ending coming from a mile away, but this one was something special.
On a completely random-as-all-get-out note, the star of this episode, Liam Sullivan, also starred in The Magic Sword, which was skewered on one of my three favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Look at that…a BONUS recommendation!
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up (Season 2, Episode 28)
Two police officers answer a call about a UFO and actually find evidence that it crashed. They travel to a nearby diner and find a busload of people waiting for the snow to clear enough that they can continue their journey. Is anyone in the diner the pilot of the UFO?
This was another really well-written episode that translates well to modern times. That’s something I’ll stop and say now; some episodes of this show do not translate well to modern times. Serling liked to write about “modern day” technology that seems foolish now and “current events” that are now 50-plus years old. When he stuck to small-scale, character-driven stories like this one, he had some real gems. This episode was one of those gems.
Five Characters in Search of an Exit (Season 3, Episode 14)
An army major wakes in a room with no memory. In the room, he’s joined by a clown, a ballerina, a hobo, and a bagpiper. It sounds like the punchline to a bad joke, but it’s no joke when the major figures out there are no windows or doors. Where are they? What are they? WHO ARE THEY?!?!
This is another episode that you can really skip half of. The ending has a nice payoff, which is really better if you watch the entire thing and start to feel sorta’ claustrophobic like the five prisoners. You know what? Forget that I told you to skip the middle; watch the whole episode.
One More Pallbearer (Season 3, Episode 17)
Paul Radin is a rich a-hole. He’s so rich that he has the money to build himself a swank bomb shelter in case the worst happens. He’s such an a-hole that he invites three people that he thinks did him wrong (but who really tried to help him) to the bomb shelter and pretends that the world ends. See what I was saying about him being an a-hole? Anyway, the episode is, essentially, all about whether you would maintain your values in the face of imminent death. Ol’ Paulie is betting that his three guests won’t. Did I mention he was an a-hole?
I really liked this episode, again, because it was character-driven and has aged pretty well. I also liked it because it’s a discussion starter. If your worst enemy invited you into a bomb shelter and told you to beg for forgiveness to stay, would you do it?
To Serve Mankind (Season 3, Episode 24)
A race of giant aliens (who look amazingly like Jaws from Moonraker…or Happy Gilmore’s boss) come to Earth. They seem really pleasant. They seem willing to share their technology and help us make Earth a better place. By this point in the Twilight Zone series, you should be ready for the swerve.
This is a pretty iconic episode of TZ, and with good reason. Despite the fact that the aliens look like they have crack-less butts for heads, this episode has one of the greatest, and amazingly simplistic swerves of the entire series. As an English major, it made me smile.
Living Doll (Season 5, Episode 6)
When Erich Streator’s stepdaughter brings home a doll that he dislikes, for some wacky reason, the doll starts taking offense…by threatening him. It’s Kojak vs. Talky Tina in this battle for the ages!
For those of you who aren’t old like me, Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, plays the stepdad in this cautionary tale about badmouthing your kids’ toys. I don’t know about any of you, but if a doll tells me it’s going to kill me, I’m going to be reeeeeeally nice to that doll. Seriously, after this episode of TZ, Child’s Play, and Annabelle, there’s really no excuse to not be proactive when it comes to doll attacks.
Living Doll (Season 5, Episode 30)
A drunk couple wakes up in a strange house, in a strange town. Things only get stranger from there. Strange.
This episode wasn’t nearly as deep as the others, and the ending is kind of obvious if you’ve already watched a few episodes of TZ already. I did, however, laugh out loud when the big reveal happens…it’s so corny you can’t help but chuckle. The conclusion of this episode, where Rod Serling gives you his PSA like the old GI Joe cartoons, is a pretty choice:
“The moral of what you’ve just seen is clear. If you drink, don’t drive. And if your wife has had a couple, she shouldn’t drive, either. You might both just wake up with a whale of a headache in a deserted village – in The Twilight Zone.”
Well, I’ve taken you through a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity…the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. Hopefully, you enjoyed the trip. If you’ve watched any episodes of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror that you think other folks should check out, don’t be afraid to share them. It’s always good to have company…in the Twilight Zone!