Just finished up the third season… amazing. One of the most brilliantly written shows ever to air. I can’t wait for season four.
A wise man once asked: “Why do we need heroes?” It’s a valid question. The most honest answer is simply this; It’s because we’re less than perfect. This question and its subsequent answer is as true in sports as it is anywhere in life.
As I write this piece, I’m watching the ESPN 30 for 30 entry about Bo Jackson, one of the most mythical figures in the history of athletics. It occurred to me the other day that sports really can bring out the best in us. Our sweat, blood, and tears are spilled on whatever sporting surface we happen to be playing on as we dedicate our life to the games we love. Sportsmanship and comradery are alive in their truest forms. It’s an inherent truth that we all know, and nowhere is this more apparent than in ESPN’s groundbreaking 30 for 30 series.
Wayne Gretzy, Michael Jordan, the 1984 SMU team – men and groups such as this have had their unique stories showcased in these segments, as ESPN delves into topics of the sports greats.
But more importantly, this series shows us how those who are imperfect can achieve greatness in the face of such adversity. Individuals like Terry Fox and Dewey Bozella – ordinary people who did extraordinary things – now have a venue for their stories to be told.
Sports film and documentaries will never be the same because of 30 for 30, and that’s a good thing. Every time I watch one of these entries, I’m inspired to be a better athlete, regardless of my level of play, and I hope everyone else feels the same way after watching just one of these brilliant productions from ESPN.
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.
**Though this might technically not be a movie, it sure is one hell of a production, and had I more time, I would have watched all 13 hours of it straight through – so no complaints, I’m counting it.
In an age where lies, sex, and money sell television, political dramas are a dime a dozen. You can’t turn on the tube without running into some scandalous TV show about a lawyer who cheats on his wife with her sister, or the jealous employee that murders his boss because of the abuse he suffered at his hands. I’m not saying House of Cards doesn’t exploit these themes: actually, it’s quite the opposite – it relies on them. You won’t watch a show about a guy that punches in a 9 to 5 and comes home to dinner, watches the game, and goes to bed, and this Netflix exclusive series realizes that in its first year of existence.
The difference is that under “genre,” House of Cards is listed as three things: a drama, a political thriller, and a tragedy. That last description is what makes this show one of the more enthralling options available for immediate viewing; this series introduces you to a long list of characters that demand sympathy at one moment, but disdain the next. Each is flawed, but each can have his or her moment in the sun and can gather up support from the audience as the episodes progress. Like a chess piece, every one of the characters is complete with a unique set of benefits and drawbacks, and when played off of each other, they create marvelously disastrous, unique situations.
If each character is represented by a piece on a chess board, then House Majority Whip Francis “Frank” J. Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is undoubtedly its king. After being denied the promised position of Secretary of State by his party after ensuring their candidate’s election, Frank begins a vendetta to systematically eliminate those who wronged him. He makes calculated, precision moves as he works his way through each square, playing both sides of board to his advantage.
The series still explores the themes of sex, power, and influence, but it simplifies the drama and over excess that similar HBO shows thrive on, and that’s why it is so universally accessible. It defies conventions that many of its contemporaries still adhere to, especially the breaking of the fourth wall by Frank.
That’s always a gamble when the writer has the main character speak to the audience directly, but Frank’s soliloquies flow into and further the narrative so naturally that instead of bringing to the viewer’s attention that he or she is watching a production, they actually help to draw them deeper into the twisted political landscape inhabited by each character.
Journalism and its relationship with politics is also a key component in House of Cards, and Zoe (Kate Mara) is an aspiring, cutthroat reporter that will stop at nothing to be the next big beat writer on Capital Hill. She begins an affair with Frank, and the two create a mutually beneficial relationship that helps define some of the main storylines that House of Cards follows. Just the presence of journalism as a primary narrative is exciting, not only because it is underutilized in the entertainment industry today, but because it is so believable as a tool by which politicians use and get used.
Frank’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright) is also a key figure in the first season of House of Cards, and is one of the more complex characters to be explored. Her choices, her passion, her love, her duty; all of these are studied from several angles over the course of the first 13 episodes. Wright does a bang-up job as the steely Congressman’s wife, and is one of the more intriguing and fascinating pieces on the board, so to speak. As there is such a strong ensemble cast, I could delve into each one at length, but it’s probably best that you just see for yourself – I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you, would I?
With Kevin Spacey and David Fincher on as just two of the many executive producers, it’s no wonder that House of Cards is a hit with just about everyone who takes the time to check it out – It was definitely worth the two days I devoted to it. And though we can’t yet be sure whether Francis J. Underwood is the white or the black king, we can be sure that House of Cards’ second season is built on a strong foundation.
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)