Recently I wrote a review on The Twilight Zone, and why it was one of the most sensational shows that our generation has yet to rediscover. Because not enough people have been exposed to it, I found it fitting to write a quick list of the best episodes that the program has to offer. Hopefully, this can provide a starting point for those of you who are yet to become familiar with this classic anthology series from the mind of Rod Serling.
10. Time Enough at Last
Arguably the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone, “Time Enough At Last” has been parodied more times than one can count. Emmy winner Burgess Meredith plays a bookish man who wants nothing more than to read his piles of literature in peace, though the world around him makes it impossible. When the world does indeed end, his dreams become a reality. Of course, this being The Twilight Zone, he’d be getting off too easy if he were left happily to his novels. Though not my favorite, this particular episode showcases the archetypal Serling story: a long, intriguing buildup with a 180 degree twist in the last few minutes, which leaves the viewer to ponder on what could have been, what was, and just how plausible some of these seemingly insane situations really are.
9. To Serve Man
Not only does this episode contain one of the most ironic and slap-yourself-in-the-forehead, “I should have known it” twists, but it is a chalk full of meaningful quotes that stick with you after viewing. The delivery and acting can be sub par at times, but it doesn’t keep the vast majority from looking to this entry into Serling’s hit series as one of its brighter spots.
8. The Invaders
This season two episode is unique in the fact that there is almost no dialogue throughout its run time, yet is still wholly captivating. Agnes Moorehead plays a poor, homely woman in a farmhouse, who hears a terrifying noise one night. Upon investigating, she finds a flying saucer has landed, and she is soon attacked by small figures. The twist is one that can be found in several Twilight Zone episodes, but it is strongest here, as we sympathize with this woman to the very end, and the ultimate reveal.
7. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Arguably the best episode of the fifth season, this classic has been parodied almost as much as “Time Enough At Last.” It might be that the only reason this episode has stuck with me is because it gave me (and my dad, which is a strange coincidence) nightmares as a child – how fitting, given the title. It stars a young William Shatner, who thinks he’s losing his marbles when he sees a gremlin of old German folklore tearing up the wing of the plane he is on. Is it real? Is he seeing things? That’s the question everyone’s asking as “Nightmare” reaches its final destination.
6. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
A common vein in The Twilight Zone is tongue-in-cheek social commentary, something that the liberal-minded Serling accomplished with aplomb. Nowhere in his anthology series is it more easily and well executed than in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Serling captures Cold War era America so perfectly that you can’t help but watch on as this socially-tinged short comes to a rather bleak close. The most impressive thing about this entry, however, is that it still holds up today – in post-9/11 America, and one can easily imagine an upper-middle class neighborhood whipped into a frenzy as they search for a scapegoat.
5. The Hitch-Hiker
This chilling first season episode goes down as one of the most unsettling (and enjoyable) episodes of The Twilight Zone. The beautiful Ingar Stevens stars as Nan Adams, a young women taking a cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles. After a flat tire interrupts her voyage, she begins to be plagued by visions of a most unusual sort: a hitch hiker, who rarely speaks but appears around almost every turn. As Nan begins to descend into insanity, the visions become more frequent and the tension more palpable. I won’t ruin the ending, but it’s one of the more satisfying and spine-tingling twists that Serling penned.
4. Walking Distance
While many of the episodes on this list involve the morbid, the creepy, and the downright strange, Serling’s groundbreaking series was effective not because of its frightening qualities, but because of the versatility of episodes such as this one. “Walking Distance” employs a simple premise, but one which connects with the viewer. Martin Sloan is an ad executive whose car has broken down just outside of his childhood town. The mechanic says it’s walking distance from the shop, so Sloan visits his old stomping grounds – with surprising results. This early entry from the first season is a rather touching one, and Serling proves that he doesn’t need scares to score a hit with his viewers.
3. The After Hours
My personal favorite, this early episode is one of the first entries that I show to Twilight Zone newcomers. It stars Golden Globe-winner Anne Francis as Ms. Marsha White, a department mall shopper who is taken to the ninth floor in search of a gold thimble. Waited on by an unusual saleswoman, she finds what she is looking for, though she tries to return it to the manager when she finds it is dented. While arguing with the manager she finds the woman who waited on her… though she isn’t what she seems. Watching “The After Hours” was the point at which I decided that this series was my absolute favorite, and the twist ending is still as genuinely exciting and unexpected as it was in 1959.
2. A Stop At Willoughby
Another one of my favorites, “A Stop At Willoughby is employs the archetypal “man worn down by society,” a favorite of Serlings. Gart Williams is an ad executive who’s unappreciated by his boss, by his wife, and by the world at large. One snowy evening on the train home, Gart dreams of a place called Willoughby, a town “where a man can slow down and live his life full measure.” Gart eventually decides the next time he falls asleep that he’ll get off at Willoughby, leading to what is perhaps one of the most morbid (or is it?) episodes of The Twilight Zone. Like Gart, this entry is criminally undervalued, and a must-see.
1. Eye of the Beholder
Though not my favorite, this episode best encapsulates what Serling wished to achieve with his masterpiece series. It opens with Janet Tyler, who has just undergone her eleventh surgery – the maximum allowed by the state – in order to become beautiful. The entire sequence is beautifully shot, as the hospital staff’s faces are shrouded in shadow for the entire run time. Janet’s face is hidden as well, and Serling relies heavily on the camera angles and cinematography to keep the viewer interested. Though the effects don’t quite live up to today’s make up and the twist is a little predictable, “Eye of the Beholder” still holds up as one of the finest examples of Serling’s commentary on society, insisting that our image of the “perfect person” is perhaps more relative than we believe. “Beholder” takes the top spot, and is perhaps the best example of what it means to be in… The Twilight Zone.