Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Twilight Zone

Everytime I sit down and bingewatch Rod Serling's masterpiece series, I catch new and interesting aspects. both in individual episodes and across the entire series.  The first theme that I never noticed before, is how the threat of nuclear war hangs over so many episodes: the one with the bookworm (Burgess Meredith) surviving a complete destruction of civilization in the bank's underground vault and several other episodes.  Were I to teach second semester U.S. history, I would probably show that episode to show how the 1950-1970 period was dominated by this fear.

The Holocaust and totalitarianism is also a dominant theme, both directly (the camp commandant who returns to the scene of his crimes) and indirectly ("The Obsolete Man") and probably the most disturbing ("It's A Good Life").  Sometimes totalitarianism and nuclear war ("Third from the Sun").

I just finished watching "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street") which is most obviously about McCarthyism, but more generally about mob mentality and paranoia.  The aliens at the end might as well have been speaking with Russian accents.  (For a little paranoia recursion:  Was Sen. McCarthy a Soviet agent trying to discredit concern about Communist influence, and provoking irrational fear?)

While many of themes and even plot lines reappear (the World War II lieutenant who can see which of his soldiers will die the next day, and later in the series, he is a Civil War soldier with the same skill); there are some themes that show Serling's concerns were not just 1950s liberalism but also gambling addiction ("The Fever").  How sad he never tackled smoking; he might have lived many more years.

It is also fun to watch for actors (often so bit that you have to look to see them) who later went on to larger careers: William Shatner ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "Nick of Time"); Leonard Nimoy ("A Quality of Mercy"); Robert Redford ("Nothing in the Dark"); Inger Stevens ("The Hitch-Hiker"); George Takei ("The Encounter")>

Special effects are dreadful but the series was about ideas and drama (although sometimes comic)  If you are too young to have grown up with this brilliant piece of Golden Age TV, do so..


  1. The Twilight Zone movie had a recreation of the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode, this one starring John Lithgow in the William Shatner role.

    This led to this delightful exchange on the later show starring Lithgow, Third Rock From The Sun.
    William Shatner is in a guest appearance playing the Big Giant Head. Shatner has just arrived. The dialog is roughly the following:

    JL: How was your flight?
    WS: It was awful. There was this horrible thing on the wing.
    JL: The same thing happened to me!

  2. I keep it in my queue all the time. I watched so many episodes in reruns late Saturday nights.

  3. McCarthy turned out to be correct. IIRC, virtually everyone he was looking at was later proven to be a communist, directly or indirectly working at the behest of the Russians. The problem is that so many people in our .gov were in that category, that accomplishing anything was near impossible.
    The US, and other allies, supported the Soviets from day one. Our Progressives trained them in defeating the Czars and others. Without our support, they would have never lasted. Our State Dept were Soviet cheerleaders for 70 years. Probably still are.

  4. Definitely a classic. I was born in the 60's and watched this show avidly in the 70's especially during the summers when school was out. I think it was KTLA Ch 5. in Los Angeles that was the station which played many hours of it during the summer back then (but then that was ~40 years ago so my memory is hazy).

    ME TV (Boise 9.2 shows 2 half hour episodes every weekday). I scored the entire 1st season for a few dollars...would like to get the entire disk set as opposed to watching it via streaming but I will wait till when I can get it for no more than $1-$2 per disk.

    For one season the shows were hour long and those are rarely shown. Every now and then I catch one of those I haven't yet seen or a half hour show that I don't remember. James Doohan (Scotty) is in one of those hour shows as a gas station attendant.

    Don't forget the Outer Limits as well. Another great anthology series. MeTV is also now showing that Sundays from 12AM to 2AM (MST--for you hard core insomniacs and night owls).

  5. w: I was watching it at the same time in LA. Can't remember the station.

    Outer Limits had some very good episodes, but quality varied a lot. But that opening sequence, "We control the vertical. We control the horizontal," is as good as it gets.