In a fit of disgust over rising costs and pathetic programming, I disconnected my cable in 1999 – no regrets. Since, I’ve physically rented and streamed media of interest. My 20s friends are the recommenders and mostly I’ve enjoyed their suggestions – Breaking Bad, The Wire, Dexter, Heroes, True Blood. But last year I became saturated with supernatural and drug themes so I started streaming some older shows free on Amazon Prime.
This led me to the show my grandparents hailed as THE ONLY SHOW on television to watch, The Twilight Zone. I never really thought much about it since it was from an era long, long gone by and typically no one takes the advice of grandparents when it comes to forms of entertainment.
I really enjoyed the first few episodes I streamed is SD, which made me want to see them in HD, so I bought the Blu Ray set for Season 1. And BTW, visual definition is extraordinary and the audio has been completely remastered. There are loads of episode commentaries on the Blu Ray.
Twilight Zone was made between 1959-1964, so FX laden effects of modern TV are completely absent. It was filmed in full-screen format and in black and white. Most episodes were shot on a set in Culver City, so there is not much in terms of natural scenery or elaborate staging. Each episode is 25 minutes.
Given these limitations, which would kill most of today’s series, the stories from Twilight Zone register a to-bone impact. Why? I think it has to do with the content; each show zooms in on some human emotion; fear, isolation and greed being the recurring themes. These are themes everyone can relate to whether the timeline was 1959 or present day. Despite some vocabulary, which would be “quaint” by today’s standards, the content of the dialogue is relevant even today, giving Twilight Zone a timeless feeling.
Close-up framing is the standard filming mode which puts more pressure on the actors to, you know, do their jobs well. Tweezing out the complexities of human emotion in situations that are often outlandish and have quite a few twists is difficult. With no crazy sets, explosions, car chases and FX to back you up, even more so. But the actors, directors and producers from that era did an amazingly convincing job.
I’ve only watched Season 1 and a few episode from Season 2 but here are the standouts for me, in case you’d like to stream one for an experiment.
- Where Is Everyone?
- Third From The Sun
- The Monsters Are Due On Maple St.
- A Stop At Willoughby
- The Hitchhiker
- The Howling Man
- Eye Of The Beholder
- Nick Of Time
I wanted to zoom in on the last episode listed, Nick Of Time, since I just watched it. The episode pits superstition against rational thought but really, superstition is just a product of fear. The episode starts with William Shatner (in his 20s) and Patricia Breslin (in her 20s) newly engaged and on a cross-country trip. Their car breaks down and they wait for repairs in a small diner with a fortune telling machine. Shatner plays casually with the machine initially but the answers he receives from the questions he asks come true. Or is that what’s really happening?
Shatner is the strong, confident type externally, however we start to see that facade crack as he becomes more and more superstitious and compulsive about taking the advice of the machine. Breslin is the pretty but plain girl-of-the-60s and seems more emotional on the outside, but really she is the rational, logical one. The dialogue between them as she tries to talk him off the superstition fence is nothing short of brilliant. Shatner’s propensity for over-acting actually works well for this episode as he’s sucked in further by what he thinks is prophetic wisdom from a card-spitting machine topped by a plastic devil head.
In the end one of them clearly wins and they wander off set resolved. But then the next couple comes.
Fear vs. Rational Thought – a topic still alive and well today.
And it always will be.