The Twilight Zone (2019) logo/Image: Wikipedia Commons
Image: Wikipedia Commons

What went wrong with The Twilight Zone’s latest revival?

Is there anyone who doesn’t know of The Twilight Zone, its iconic theme music or its use of twists? Rod Serling’s creativity back in the 1960s resulted in a show that remains as engaging now as it did back then. Well, now that a new series has aired, with Get Out and Us director Jordan Peele at the helm, it could be the perfect time to reintroduce the show to a new generation. But the whole series is incredibly underwhelming, a misfire that spits in the face of the original. So what went wrong with The Twilight Zone?

There isn’t enough there to justify such an extended runtime, making the episodes feel flabby as a result

There are certain basic issues, such as the episode length – the original Twilight Zone fit everything into 25 minutes, resulting in narratives that were necessarily focused and insightful as a result. They sped through their runtime, but felt like a whole story, without a scene or a word wasted. The shortest episode this series is 40 minutes, and they run to as much as an hour, but there isn’t enough there to justify such an extended runtime, making the episodes feel flabby as a result. This is before we even start talking about politics.

The original Twilight Zone was so successful because it was universal in its themes and its morals. It featured morality tales set in fantasy situations – take the incredible ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street’, which dealt with prejudice, suspicion and mob mentality using the trappings of an alien invasion. Serling used sci-fi to push boundaries at a time when there were actual boundaries – it was a decade when TV didn’t like to show married couples sleeping in the same bed, and African-American people had trouble attending schools. Occasionally, the show touched on real politics (‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ follows a former SS officer revisiting Dachau; original pilot ‘The Time Element’ took place immediately prior to Pearl Harbour), but its focus was its universality. Anyone could tune in and engage with the moral lessons – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, for example, or be careful what you wish for.

Serling used sci-fi to push boundaries at a time when there were actual boundaries

However, the creators of this new series have been very quick to politicise it. Executive producer Simon Kinberg said that “the world we live in 2019 is clamouring socially, politically, morally for a new Twilight Zone. Our politics are so upside down, and because the divisions are getting wider, it’s time for a show that can be entertaining but also provide moral and social parables.” So, does the show bridge the divide and offer universal lessons? No, it certainly does not.

The opening episode begins with a comedian ranting about the president being ‘a fascist dickhead’, and in ‘The Wunderkind’, a petulant spoiled brat child is elected president. In ‘Replay’, a racist cop attacks a black man, but his mother has a video camera that rewinds time – the twist is seemingly that racist cops like to attack black people. In ‘Point of Origin’, a tale about illegal immigrants, we are told that ‘we are all immigrants from somewhere’. ‘The Blue Scorpion’ is almost a bizarre parody that pushes an anti-gun agenda. However, that doesn’t compare to the worst episode of the lot, ‘Not All Men’, in which men start behaving erratically and violently after a meteor shower. The twist – there was never anything wrong, and all men just act like animals given any excuse.

They’re very much pushing a left-wing point of view, to an extent that it becomes preachy and an almost unbearable watch

I’m not suggesting that these lessons are necessarily bad, but they’re certainly not universal morals – they’re very much pushing a left-wing point of view, to an extent that it becomes preachy and an almost unbearable watch. Far from helping to heal the divisions as Kinberg suggests, this new Twilight Zone will likely only exacerbate them before it is so painfully partisan. There’s a place for political satire and pushing left-wing politics, but that place is not The Twilight Zone.

In a world with both Inside No. 9 and Black Mirror, spiritual successors to the show, is there still a place for The Twilight Zone? It has been revived three times, but none of the revivals managed to capture the magic of the original series. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle scenario, and it was the visionary genius of Serling that made it so powerful back in the 1960s, and still resonant nowadays. If you want to enjoy the show, the original series is still the only way to do it – I don’t know what Jordan Peele has produced, but calling it The Twilight Zone is an insult to perhaps the greatest TV show of all time.

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