Classic TV, Science Fiction

The Twilight Zone(1959-1964): Come And Take A Trip With Me…

I love this series! Scary, sad, fascinating, shocking and most of all imaginative. Growing up I had heard and read a lot about this series, but had only ever seen a handful of episodes. That all changed a couple of years ago, when I treated myself to the complete series on Blu-ray(the episodes are beautifully cleaned up). It is now one of my favourite series.

I think this is the most human series I have watched. What I mean by that is it so perfectly captures what it means to be human, our weaknesses, strengths etc.

The series shows the best and worst of humanity. Wouldn’t we all love to offer advice/support to our younger selves? By watching Walking Distance we feel like we have, wouldn’t we like to try and change world history for the better?

By watching No Time Like The Past, we can see that such good intentions may not be possible or even advisable. Sometimes our desire for self preservation gets the better of us, watch The Shelter for a prime example of this.

Created by Rod Serling, the series first came into being with a script written by Serling, called The Time Element. This unofficial pilot episode was aired on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in November 1958. Martin Balsam(who would also feature in the official series)and William Bendix were the stars. This story of a man who claims to be able to time travel back to Pearl Harbor just before the infamous attack, sets the tone for the series we all know today.

The official series aired a year later and would continue until 1964. The series is primarily classed as Science Fiction, featuring many stories of time travel, alien invaders and alien worlds. I like many of those episodes, but my personal favourites are the creepy ones; episodes such as The Grave, Thirty- Fathom Grave, The Hitch-Hiker(the first episode I ever saw),Deaths-head Revisited and The Howling Man are personal favourites.

The powerful performances and different weekly settings ensured the series was popular, but its real claim to fame was the twist ending to each episode. These endings are the series trademark, we are left often reassessing the previous 25 minutes we have watched once the twists are revealed. I love that no matter how many times I watch an episode the twist still retains the shock factor, even when I know full well what’s coming next.

It is a credit to Serling and his superb writing staff that the series is still as powerful today as it was when it first aired. I also like how you never know where you’ll end up next; one episode could be set on an alien world, another set in the old west, and another in the present(50’s and 60’s). Serling’s series also tackled the big issues of his day, particularly racism, fear of nuclear war and fear of people/places unknown to another set of people; the morality tales still stand up well today.

I can also think of no other series where the creator became such an integral part of their own series(not even Alfred Hitchcock on his anthology series.) Serling provides voice over narration for all episodes and filmed intros and outros to the episodes. The face of Serling is as much a part of the series as the music and twists. In the Blu-ray boxset, Serling’s intros/outros are included in all the episodes.

I consider the first three seasons to be the best. I’m in the minority of fans who actually like season 4(locks self in sealed vault to escape onslaught of season 4 hate.) While I will agree with the main critics that the hour long format here was a mistake; I strongly disagree that the episodes found here are the weakest.

Some of my favourites from this season are The Thirty-Fathom Grave, On Thursday We Leave For Home, Miniature(one of the most moving of all Twilight Zone episodes, featuring a young Robert Duvall),The New Exhibit, Jess-Belle and Printer’s Devil.

I actually think season 5 is the worst, many of the episodes are terrible(what went wrong with the writing here?)There are a few gems to be found though: In Praise of Pip, Nightmare at 20,000 feet(perhaps the best known of all the episodes),An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, Living Doll, Night Call and Stopover in a Quiet Town.

Throughout the series there are fan favourites including: Time Enough At Last, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street(although I think this would have worked better as a paranoia story, without the alien involvement), Nightmare at 20,000 feet, Walking Distance, A Stop At Willoughby and The Odyssey of Flight 33; there are somewhat lesser appreciated gems too, including: The Last Flight, Nick of Time, People Are Alike All Over, One For The Angels, Printer’s Devil, The Hunt, The Passersby, I Shot An Arrrow Into The Air(surely the origins of Serling’s film The Planet of the Apes?),Judgement Night, The Silence, Passage For Trumpet and Mirror Image.

I love how many big film stars feature in this series, I envy classic era audiences who got to tune in weekly not knowing who would appear next. A handful of stars made more than one appearance: Jack Klugman(superb in several deeply moving episodes), Burgess Meredith, William Shatner, Martin Balsam etc. I think the quality of the work is evident given the amount of film stars who agreed to guest star in these episodes.

The series also features one of the most instantly recognisable themes in TV history. Chances are if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ll have heard that intro tune at some point in your life.

I suppose there is also the big question as to just what exactly The Twilight Zone is or means? I take it that it is a phrase that perfectly sums up a the weird and unexplainable events in life. I have often found myself saying “I can’t believe this, it’s like I’m in The Twilight Zone”, when faced with bizarre or horrible situations.

My ten favourite episodes are the following: The Passersby, Walking Distance, The Last Flight, The Grave, Printer’s Devil, The Odyssey of Flight 33, The Changing of the Guard, In Praise of Pip, The Howling Man and One For The Angels.

Similar series which I like include: One Step Beyond and Thriller.

Please share your thoughts on the series. What are your favourite episodes? Never seen an episode? What are you waiting for? The Zone awaits you, just make sure you get a return ticket though, because you wouldn’t want to get stuck there, now would you?

 

 

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