The Twilight Zone

Sometimes you have to come back to something to properly appreciate it. I've watched The Twilight Zone a few times in my life, starting when I was very young and too frightened to appreciate it and moving on to my twenties when I thought it was cute but outdated, but I've never really appreciated it the way I do now. I recently set my DVR to record the show whenever it's on and I'm unfailingly delighted by the consistent high quality of the show. Actors, writing, direction, light, sound and even quirky little musical effects all work together to create a gorgeous groundbreaking series that still holds up after nearly fifty years.

The Twilight Zone gave quite a few actors and writers their start. One of my favorite writers for the show is Richard Matheson who wrote the novels that later became the recent Will Smith vehicle I am Legend and the Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes. Mr. Matheson wrote one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, a story that I think of every time I fly. The original episode starred William Shatner and is the story of a man who sees a creature on the wing of the plane; a creature that nobody else sees. This is classic Matheson; a character trapped in a nightmare world, knowing that something awful is going to happen but unable to do anything effective to stop it. In this particular story there's an added element of claustrophobia as Shatner is stuck in such a small place. There is nowhere on the plane that is safe and even if he could get out of the cabin where can you go when you're thousands of meters up in the sky? At least in your classic haunted house story there's the possibility of hope and normalcy if you can just get out of the house.

We get another look at the same theme in Mute, the story of a little girl called Ilse whose parents are part of an experiment designed to enhance innate telepathic powers. Ilse, played by Ann Jillian, communicates solely with her mind and is therefore that much more isolated and bereft when a fire kills her parents, leaving her alone in the world with nobody left alive to hear her thoughts. She tries to "speak" to Cora, her foster mother, but gets nowhere as Cora lacks the ability to hear her.

Every time I watch this show I'm impressed by the acting. Barbara Baxley, who played Cora in Mute, mentioned above, portrays a woman who has been given a second chance at happiness after a terrible tragedy. But she knows that Ilse is only supposed to be her foster daughter for a short time and is tormented by the incipient loss even during her time of happiness. Ms. Baxley is wonderful in this role, playing it subtly and conveying tremendous emotion mostly with her huge eyes. There is a scene where some people arrive to take Ilse away to another country and when Ms. Baxley opens the door to them we see a stunning array of complex emotions in just a second or two. We see her realize what this couple means to her and to Ilse, we see her imagine her lonely future and then we see her mask of politeness as she welcomes these interlopers into her home. Like many of The Twilight Zone episodes, this one can break your heart, even if just for a moment.

And that is the only real problem I have with this show. I have to be in the right frame of mind because some of the episodes are rather grim. Not all of course, some are uplifting and some have a sense of poetic justice that is satisfying and entertaining but since some of the stories are horror stories they, by definition, are going to contain horrible things happening randomly. But if the biggest problem I have with a series is that it's too emotionally moving then that's not a real problem at all, is it?

The Twilight Zone originally ran for five seasons on CBS. Today you can stream the first three seasons on the CBS website, using this link. If you haven’t got the patience to watch on your computer screen you'll be happy to know the series is also running on the SciFi channel, with more information found here. Even better, if you've got a couple of hundred bucks that you aren't using you can buy the Twilight Zone: The Complete Definitive Collection available on DVD. Clocking in at a whopping 4524 minutes, it encompasses all five seasons from 1959 through 1963 as well as a host of extras including the series unaired pilot. It sounds deluxe.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Nashom, who has some comments about Pixar's new offering, saying, "'Wall-E' is a romantic tale of two robots, Wall-E and Eve, who happen to fall in love. The two lovers travel across the universe as they attempt to save humanity from the most unlike enemy, themselves. 'Wall-E' shows the consequences of mankind's disregard for the environment while at the same time providing a unique experience. The digital quality is spectacular, from the emotions on Wall-E's face to the digital voices of the robots. 'Wall-E' is a must see by all age groups as it provides something for everyone. The over analytical movie freaks can bite their teeth into the complex story while the kids can simply laugh at the many wild events that take place throughout the entire movie." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.