As Syfy’s Twilight Zone New Year’s Marathon approaches, I ponder what makes this show as timeless as infinity, and The Best Show Ever.
With Syfy’s Twilight Zone New Year’s Eve Marathon approaching, let’s examine what made this show so special to myself and fans the world over.
Rod Serling wasn’t just the narrator, he was the creator and head writer. Other writers of note included Charles Beaumont, and the late sci-fi novelist Richard Matheson. Having dealt with TV censorship early in his career, he decided he could sneak in social commentary through sci-fi and fantasy. Racism, conformity, the folly of war, all were explored, but not in such an overt away as to reach public outcry (except in one case).
The fantasy element made these parables entertaining and less preachy. You learned life lessons without it feeling like homework (although some episodes are used as teaching materials, The Monsters Are Due In Maple Street in particular.)
I soaked this up like a sponge, and am the better for it. These universal truths still hold up, which is why the show is still compelling decades later.
The show’s main draw, was trying to guess how it ended. Twilight Zone finales were all about misdirection. However you thought it would wind up, it rarely did. This was mind-blowing. Poor Henry Bemis’s glasses breaking in Time Enough At Last, the world where beauty is considered hideous in Eye of The Beholder, captured the imagination and made your brain do back flips.
They also taught us to never judge anything at face value, and realize that sometimes life isn’t fair, or at least not what you expect.
Black And White:
Even though the show ended in 1964, less than 10 years before I was born, it felt light ages away. This was due to the eerie black and white cinematography. The show still looked like the 1950’s. The sparsely lit sets and stark lighting felt simultaneously cold, yet comforting. These created timeless images.
And while I love seeing the remastered episodes in HD, there was something spellbinding about watching them late at night on a crappy UHF station with my rabbit-eared TV set in the 80’s. It felt like a transmission from another dimension (one of sound, sight and mind, of course...).
This is one reason why every remake of the show has failed; Color does not suit this show, and it remains compelling for the era in which it was created.. (There are plans to make yet another series, as well as a new movie).
The Twilight Zone’s episode scores had a sophistication reserved normally only for cinema. Major film composers like Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) and Jerry Goldsmith (Alien) elevated the source material by their association. And Marius Constant’s title theme remains iconic. Listen to Herrmann’s chillingly playful score from Living Doll.
Herrmann also did the original opening and closing titles score. Check it out.
One advantage to an anthology show is the ability to get a diverse array of actors, writers, and directors. It was much easier to get an esteemed actor to do one episode vs an entire series.
It was also a breeding ground for up and comers, such as Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper and more. And it’s a testament to the show’s writing that William Shatner gave nuanced performances!(And Nightmare at 20,000 feet was directed by a young Richard Donner, of Superman and The Omen fame).
It’s all these elements that make the show an enduring classic, and proof that television can be art. Without its example, the current glut of amazing dramas on cable may have only existed in another dimension…
So that’s why The Twilight Zone IMHO, is the Best Television Show Of All Time.
Is The Twilight Zone your favorite show? Comment on what it means to you below. And make sure to check out My Top 20 Best Twilight Zone Episodes (click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2). Also take a look at 7 lost Twilight Zone episodes that are rarely shown, 5 Most Prophetic Twilight Zone Episodes and click here for my list of Richard Matheson’s Best TZ episodes.
And you can pick up the Excellent Blu-ray and DVD sets and great TZ related books from Amazon below.