This show endured 3 separate network runs and countless attempts at censorship. It’s the subject of a movie, several novels, a thrill ride, and even a pinball game. It explored topics and tackled issues, many of which were swept under the rug of open conversation, in an unabashed and head-on manner. It revolutionized its genre, and came from the mind of an individual that fought for years to keep it alive and in production. It could even be argued that this classic has been referenced and parodied more than any series ever produced. And yet, the majority of you reading this still have no idea what I’m referring to.
Perhaps this will help:
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…
the Twilight Zone.”
Series creator Rod Serling uttered those words before almost every episode of the first season of his masterpiece anthology. In a universe that includes two half-witted revivals and a disappointing Spielberg movie adaptation, the original run from 1959-1964 is by far the crown jewel of these oft-forgotten sci-fi fables. Those of you who know just how revolutionary this series is, you’re a lucky few; an endangered species, if you will. For those of you who haven’t had the fortune of discovering this gem, take a vacation from normal with me… and enter the Twilight Zone.
Rod Serling was a regular name in television screen writing by the 1950’s, and contributed to several shows, but censorship and advertising kept Serling from achieving his unhindered vision on screen. After his successful teleplay “Patterns,” Serling was afforded the freedom to pitch a pilot named The Time Element, in which a man travels back to Honolulu in 1941 to convince (unsuccessfully, I might add) them of the impending Pearl Harbor attack. It found great success, and Serling was finally able to get to work on his new show, The Twilight Zone.
This fantasy/sci-fi anthology series consists of unrelated episodes that center on stories of the bizarre, intriguing, and often terrifying. The show is most notable for the tales of morality and twist endings, many of which deal with pressing social issues and existential questions. The Zone was not an actual place, but a metaphor for the strange reality presented in this unique spectacle. The first season opened to rave reviews – but lower-than-expected audiences. Despite critically acclaimed episodes such as “Walking Distance,” “Time Enough at Last,” “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” and “The After Hours,” Serling was constantly doing battle with CBS over creative control, let alone just keeping his baby alive and on air. By the time it was through with its original run, The Twilight Zone had broken ground in terms of narrative, visuals, and subject matter.
It has aged aesthetically, but its spirit is as undaunted as ever. No television show on air today has half the truth to its voice, nor the creativity and originality that this classic exuded. Our generation settles for watching Teen Mom and American Idol, and we set mindlessly for hours in front of our widescreen TVs. Even the most exciting and thought-provoking contemporary series pales in comparison to The Twilight Zone. Countless episodes changed the sci-fi landscape, and even more have been remembered and celebrated long after its first venture was over.
Currently, I’m halfway through the second season, and have seen most of the staples that any Zoner would consider necessary viewing. Seasons 1-3 and 5 are available instantly on Netflix (the fourth season is not, because CBS forced Serling to expand it his show to an hour run time and a new night, and the results were less than stellar – and the Netflix traffic significantly lower). So if you haven’t given this mind-bending classic a try, there’s no time like the present. I’m in the process of watching every episode in order – an ambitious task, and one that will take some time. But it’s a task I’m glad to undertake, as there has not been a series that has ever demanded my undivided attention, nor deserved it, as much as the Twilight Zone.
(*As a quick aside, I’ve got to share this little tidbit of parody. I mentioned in the article that no show had been referenced quite like The Twilight Zone, and this is one of the best. Futurama fans, enjoy. **Another nice little touch is the ending, which while completely unrelated, is ironic – William Shatner appeared in The Twilight Zone two times early in his career, the latter of which considered one of the best of episodes of the series)