Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Years Twilight Zone marathons are the best

Every New Years, there is something I look forward to more than seeing a giant disco ball drop. It's the Scifi Channel's (I refuse to call it Syfy) annual marathon of Twilight Zone episodes. The series, which ran from 1954-1965 was a landmark in television. Now, thanks to Scifi, every year people can rediscover these black and white gems.

Each episode is a different look at mankind, it's virtues and it's vices. Yes it is told through a science fiction lens, but that's just to tell the story. People who write Twilight Zone off as old people television or nerdy science fiction is missing the point entirely. It was a product of it's time. A mixture of cold war paranoia and the science fiction golden age. This is the time when Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut and Isaac Asimov were being widely read and appreciated.

Asimov's vision on film.

Twilight Zone could of only existed during this time, this is evident by the fact that so many shows tried to recapture the mainstream success of Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone itself has tried to recapture it's previous success in the 80s and in 2002. Both failed where Rodger Serling succeeded. It was the charm of the series that helped give it it's classic nature. While Tales from the Darkside, The Outer Limits, and even Serling's own Night Gallery were good television shows, something about Twilight Zone was untouchable.

I first became acquainted with the show when I was little. My mom got me to watch it and I loved it. I wasn't yet able to appreciate the meaning behind the episodes, but I sure got a kick out of the weird little episodes. Shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, kiddie versions of the Twilight Zone template, helped facilitate my interest.

So much better than Goosebumps.

I assume my opinion matters because you're reading my blog. Now, since my opinion is awesome and you are interested in said opinion, here are what I consider my top five Twilight Zone episodes.

5. The Mirror

This episode doesn't get the most respect out there. It's an obvious parallel to Fidel Castro and is lacking in the subtlety department. However I enjoy it's easy message about Dictators becoming the despots they force out. It's a simple yet important message, especially during the Cuban Revolution. Even with it's borderline propaganda approach it's an underrated episode. Especially with Columbo himself, Peter Falk, and his glass eye playing the Castro stand-in.

4. A Game of Pool

The Hustler is one of my favorite films, so this episode was a treat for me. A pool shark claims to be the best pool player ever, so the best-pool-player-ever's ghost comes to the pool shark and makes a deal. If the pool shark wins he is declared the best ever, if the ghost wins then the pool shark loses his life. The pool shark wins, however he learns the responsibilities of being the best ever. It's a nice take on the old "be careful what you wish for" message that comes with a lot of Twilight Zone episodes. Also I love billiards so it was an added bonus for me. I'm not the greatest at it but if there was any game I wish I could be amazing at it's pool.

3. A Nice Place to Visit

Another case of "be careful what you wish for," a gunned down criminal finds himself in an afterlife where he is a winner. Every slot machine is a jackpot and he can have any girl he wants. In the afterlife he learns that success is empty when it is given to you, and when he finally breaks he learns that this is his own personal hell. A great message, one that I've explained to people in my life, explaining the episode's plot line as an example.

2. Number 12 Looks Just Like You

Everyone loves Eye of the Beholder. That episode is definitely a classic, and when someone mentions Twilight Zone it's one of the first they mention. I prefer Number 12 Looks Just Like You though. Number 12 doesn't have the twist ending that Beholder is famous for, but it tells a similar story of a woman who must have plastic surgery to better adapt to society. Where it edges out of Beholder is the ending. Beholder's ending is memorable but has no real message other than what can be found in the title and lesson not to live with pig-faced people. In Number 12 the woman ends up being forced to take the procedure and, in a subtle twist, loves her new appearance. Also the episode title was the inspiration for a decent band's name, The Number Twelve Looks Like You.

1. Time Enough at Last

If any one episode best summed up the Twilight Zone experience it's this one. One part Cold War fear, another part "be careful what you wish for" parable, Time Enough at Last is not only the most memorable episode but arguably the best. It also stars Twilight Zone regular Burgess Meredith (who also played the Penguin in the old Batman television show) as poor Henry Bemis, a man who only wants some time to read and enjoy a book. When the world becomes an atomic wasteland, he finally has all the time in the world to read his beloved books, until his glasses break at the end of the episode. It's heartbreaking, tragic, and kind of funny to watch.

Awesome Twilight Zone episodes aren't limited to these five. Really, every single episode has something in it worth watching. Even if it's just the always watchable Serling introducing each episode, there is no reason not to sit down and watch the show.

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