October 3, 2010

A Testimonial: I Heart "The Twilight Zone"


Try to find an anthology series on television nowadays. You can't do it, can ya? Oh sure, you can find the reruns of the classics, but I'm talking about new, original content being put out on a weekly basis. If it's out there, I'm ignorant of it. The last time I saw one was a couple years back when NBC had a mini-series called Fear Itself during the summer that got tepid reviews and worse ratings. Just like variety shows such as The Carol Burnett Show and The Smothers Brothers Show have wound up as epitaphs for a bygone era, so have shows like The Ray Bradbury Theater or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Of all the anthologies in TV history, however, The Twilight Zone stands head and shoulders above the others as my favorite. I've certainly seen more episodes of it than any of the others. I even watched a couple of the episodes from the short-lived 2002 reincarnation hosted by Forest Whitaker.

I wasn't quite so enamored with the anthology shows as a kid, mainly because I grew up in the sticks and the ol' rabbit ears on the TV only picked up two stations. But even if one did happen to air, I didn't appreciate it as much as I did a Star Trek episode or something along those lines. A one-and-done type of broadcast didn't appeal to me back then. I wanted recurring characters. As I got older though, I really came to appreciate the stories being told. I went from watching Star Trek reruns to cheesy sci-fi movies on cable, and from there to seeing the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling perform their opening monologues.

One of the things that always intrigued me about the show (as well as Star Trek) was how it became fabled as a boundary-pushing show. Topical subject matter simply wasn't tolerated on television in those days, yet Serling managed to disguise his messages in science-fiction and horror. To watch the episodes now, it's a wonder how such blatant moralistic tales got by censors who were looking to quell dissent against xenophobia and McCarthyism and other ugly aspects of humanity. The shows provide as much a history lesson of pop culture from the sixties as they are simply entertainment.

Nowadays, when a show gets aired with a morality tale, if it isn't done with the utmost subtlety it's derided as schlocky and on-the-nose --at least on network television. Well, maybe that's not the case. It may simply be that television has abandoned any semblance of sophistication and style, surrendered itself to the almighty advertising dollar, and diminished itself to airing the most puerile and shallow-minded shows in history, no matter what the genre.

Rod Serling managed to create a real gem with The Twilight Zone, and it's a testament to the show that it came back from being canceled not once but twice. Granted, there are people who would argue that the show was never quite the same when it returned from those cancellations, but even those so-called inferior fourth and fifth seasons are better than no seasons at all.

The Twilight Zone was a zeitgeist from the sixties--exemplified the spirit of the sixties in a way--and likely the most enduring one from television. But that's hardly an unbiased opinion.

4 comments:

  1. I bought the original Twilight Zone series on DVD last year - loved it. We so need a similar type program to come back.

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  2. Good show, well worth catching on DVD.

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  3. I love this post so much it makes me angry that I've never posted about The Twilight Zone myself.

    I love this show, can you tell?

    I thought about buying the DVD collections many times, but I feel like it would somehow sap away the magic of the NYE marathon every year.

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  4. Cate - Amen.

    Kent - I'm lucky enough to have reruns air every Saturday night, which I tape--on my dusty ol' VCR no less--and watch during breakfast Sunday morning. :)

    onipar - Yeah, the convenience factor of having those eps on the shelf would probably sap some magic away.

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