13 Juni 2008

JTS for The Twilight Zone

Never jumped; perhaps some of the videotaped episodes, which don't look as classic or elegant, and some of the hour-long episodes, which were often good but suffered from padding, constituted a stray fin or two poking out briefly, but no worse.

Since this was an anthology series, meaning that there was no single theme or cast of characters, some episodes were relative clunkers. Even those, however, were vastly more literate and engaging than most of the drivel produced today. Certainly, the bulk of the best episodes came in the first two or three seasons. The show was negatively affected [in 21st century "AmericaNinglish": "impacted"] by Serling's gradually declining interest, Beaumont's untimely death, and the usual network politics.

But even the last seasons produced some gems, including the famous final episode, "The Bewitching Pool" which depicted, so rare for this era, a bickering, unhappily married affluent couple who did not care for or even like their own children--a serious critique of consumerism and treacly notions of family values. When I look at TZ episodes today, I am amazed to see actors and actresses who, compared to the plastic supermodels who dominate today's screen, resemble real people, with imperfect teeth, baldness, pot bellies, small (i.e., normal) breasts, etc. Ironic, isn't it--this was a science fiction series, yet those who people its universe were not superheroes, glamorous, or James Bond figures, but rather ordinary people, clerks, housewives, the retired, children, eccentrics, small-time hoods ("Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room"), and so on. Instead of flattened-out California/Valley Girl accents, TZ featured the rich argot of many American regions and even countries.

It dealt seriously with war (both hot and Cold), fear, loneliness, technological advancement, death, hatred, racism (brilliantly, on several occasions), conformity ("Number Twelve Looks Just Like You"), religion, greed (think of "What You Need" and "The Rip van Winkle Caper")...the list is formidable.

Kudos to the 20-something poster who has discovered TZ. I'm a 42-year-old college instructor, and I'll never forget the dismay a couple of my contemporaries and I felt back in the 90's when we discovered that most people no longer knew of TZ, which had been a rerun staple while we early Gen-X folks were growing up.