Sunday, December 25, 2011

Things & Ideas

"How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper? No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut from an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these so called gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form." Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone. A show that has always held an important place for me. I'd always remember the marathons on Sci-Fi channel around this time of the year. So in honor of that & in honor of Mr. Serling's 87th birthday, I decided to create a special list to some of my favorite episodes.

TZ is the kind of show that permeates the culture. Long before Laura Palmer and even longer before a smoke monster, viewers tuned into to see different kind of mystery unravel. Only these mysteries were packaged within a 30 minute timeframe. Given that amount of time, the self contained stories lent itself to the imagination. I'm willing to believe that Lynch took a gander at the show and dug the hell out. Damon Lindelof of Lost is among the shows ardent supporters.

Stepping back, the inspiration the series had on movies can be both good (Jacob's Ladder) and bad (The Box). Which in itself is an example of why the writing team of Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Buck Houghton and George Clayton Johnson performed best when given a small amount of time to flesh out their scripts.

One of the key strengths beyond the writing was being endowed with an astounding cast (Buster Keaton, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jack Klugman, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Charles Bronson, etc.) They brought with it a sense of nostalgia for that time. These cats have been around the block movie wise.

Peaking in excellence with the 2nd season, the show had its share of forgettable episodes. (Does anyone really care for The Hunt?) The hour long shows for the fourth season indicate that beyond the occasional misses of previous seasons (The Gift, Young Man's Fancy, The Lateness of the Hour, etc.), the show was losing steam. By the time the fifth season rolled around, the misses were becoming more and more apparent. It eventually concluded it's run in 1964. Serling would go onto Night Gallery while the show's legacy would go onto spawn a mass of imitators.

There's a futility in creating an anthology show dealing with the supernatural and science fiction in the wake of Twilight Zone. The only show that came close was ironically a show created around the same time period, The Outer Limits. Yet there's still something Zone has that the rest lack. The willingness to take us out of our mundane lives and help us understand ourselves a little bit better.

20. Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
Just what the hell was that thing on the wing of the airplane? We'll never know. A prime example of how some of the most terrifying aspects of the show lay in the unexplained.

19. The Midnight Sun
A real scorcher. The kind of scorcher that would make Do the Right Thing's Mookie give a double take.

18. Five Characters In Search of An Exit
One of the episodes that took place in one location and made the best of it through dialogue with five characters looking for a way out.

17. One For the Angels
A heartwarming episode as it is heartbreaking.

16. Where Is Everybody?
The pilot that paved the way for what several episodes that preceeded would share- the themes of isolation and loneliness.

15. The Silence
A bet that has seriously damaging repercussions on the two main characters. One physically the other in terms of honor & integrity.

14. Night Call
At first a terrifying call from a telephone to an old woman. Only to turn into a heartbreaking moment for Gladys Cooper. A potent mix of terror and tragedy.

13. A Stop At Willoughy
Serling taps into a universal desire. Who wouldn't want to escape to a place where you don't have to meet demands or have pressures put upon you?

12. The Howling Man
The transformation scene in this episode always stuck with me.

11. The Obsolete Man
Burgess Meredith is a part of a world where aging has become forbidden. One of the handful of episodes they could have actually made a good movie out of. Oh wait, they made a shitty one instead called In Time. Woops.

10. Shadow Play
A Charles Beaumont penned episode that explores the nature of reality via a man being locked in a time continuum. Imagine if Groundhog Day was played as a nightmare instead of for laughs.

9. The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
Paranoia run rampant. Rationality gets thrown out the window all due to the fact that a couple lights flicker on and off.

8. To Serve Man
Don't ya love double meanings?

7. Time Enough At Last
If a nuclear blast ever occurs, I'm taping my glasses to my head.

6. And When the Sky Was Opened
Thinking about being in the situation of those pilots still induces anxiety in me when I watch this one. Imagine if you knew you were about to be erased from existence and there was nothing you could do about it. Truly frightening.

5. A Game of Pool
Crackling dialogue between Klugman and Winters highlight this tale about the ramifications of winning and losing. Add to that a good amount of tension and you got a classic.

4. It's A Good Life

A small town imprisoned in fear of a little boy. In Serling's world, even little kids are capable of ruling people under their thumb.

3. Walking Distance
To the casual fan, TZ is a sci-fi show packaged with a nifty twist at the end. To the die hard, this show and its creator Rod Serling, defined a culture and laced some of its best episodes with commentary on the human condition. This episode proves that sentiment. Bernard Hermann's score seals the deal.

2. Eye of the Beholder
Effective lighting and camera work highlight this episode about deformity and the meaning of real beauty.

1. The Invaders
This to me defines what Twilight Zone was all about. If I were to show someone an episode of the show who has never seen one, this would be it. Invaders combines two themes and utilizes them to their full potential- isolation and fear.

A list on Lost .

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