Rod Serling created the anthology series of a lifetime with his 1959 debut television series, The Twilight Zone. Still considered one of the greatest shows even today after it’s five season run ended in 1964, The Twilight Zone was an amazing mixed bag of fantasy horror that had a fresh new experience to offer every episode, with Rod Serling himself offering a monologue at the beginning and end of every episode to encapsulate what each story was about; a moral to the story and a cautionary tale of the surreal experience the ever changing cast faced in whatever episode you watched. This was The Twilight Zone.
Fast forward to 2019. After a somewhat unsuccessful film adaptation of the series as well as two other series revivals that were greeted with lukewarm reception, we have a new revival series brought to us by CBS on their streaming platform CBS All Access. Poetically, CBS was also the original network that ran Serling’s original show. This time around, creative team Jordan Peele, Simon Kinberg, and Marco Ramirez take the reins on the anthology show, with Jordan Peele taking the role of narrator.
With horror hits under his belt like the now classic Get Out and his most recent hit Us, Peele is more than deserving and qualified to take on such a classic show. With Peele’s socio-political themes hidden under horror, much like most of Rod Serling’s episodes of the Twilight Zone (Serling, wrote 92 of the 156 episodes) it makes sense why a creative such as himself would want to reinvent The Twilight Zone.
My fascination with the show would never cease as I grew up watching this show, with equal unsettlement at some of the more disturbing episodes. Needless to say, the creative team behind this new revival excited me, and a CBS All Access subscription was purchased. With these first two episodes, the 2019 Twilight Zone shows amazing promise with bold new storytelling in what is sure to be the best anthology show of 2019 if the rest of the episodes keep up the same level of quality as the first two.
The first episode, ‘The Comedian’ directed by Owen Harris (who has also directed an episode of a similar anthology, Black Mirror) and written by Alex Rubens (Community, Rick an Morty, Key & Peele) was a strong series premiere that has all the marks of a quality episode of the Twilight Zone; A struggling standup comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) meets a Veteran comic (Tracy Morgan) who gives him advice on standup that changes his personal life and career forever.
The acting by the cast, which also includes the likes of Amara Karan and Ryan Robbins, is what makes the episode and story so great. Kumail’s portrayal of a comedian who is struggling and discovers a new found skill makes for an interesting and morally ambiguous situation, and Kumail shows that ambiguity perfectly in his performance and interaction with the rest of the characters in the story. The editing also shines in this episode, with the pace and transitions getting more frantic as the episode carries on, and the intensity increasing as well. The episode, clocking in at around an hour, justifies every single minute leading up to its exacting yet predictable and classic Twilight Zone conclusion. Overall, if anything, this episode showed me that the Twilight Zone was back and in full force.
The second episode, just as strong as the first, is a rendition of the classic Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, instead titled Nightmare at 30,000 Feet. Written by Peele, Kinberg, and Ramirez, this episode stars Adam Scott as Justin Sanderson, a reporter with PTSD who finds an mp3 player on his transnational flight that forebodes something terrible to happen to the flight he is on. This episode has not as strong of a supporting cast as the first episode did, mainly because of its focus of Adam Scott’s character, but still has a great side character played by Chris Diamantopoulos.
The tension in the enclosed airplane is palpable, with most of the episode taking place there. The best part of the episode is that it is not an exact remake of the 1960 episode it is based on but still maintains the core message of it, albeit in a modernized way. The paranoia is understood and not just uneasiness for the sake of making the viewer uncomfortable.
The horror and thrills serve the story and make for a tragic and intense conclusion, making another strong episode and has The Twilight Zone two for two in great episodes. It would be amiss to not mention Jordan Peele’s performance as the Narrator; he is as Stoic as Rod Serling and delivers his chilling warnings and messages with ease before and after each episode and seeing him talk on the show harkens back to the original show in the best way possible.
Overall, the first two episodes The Twilight Zone show great promise for this new anthology series. The bold and intense themes it tackles a well as the execution and high quality of the episodes make me think this revival will be the one to really stick. This is a fantastic new series that Jordan Peele and co. have brought and is absolutely worth the subscription price. If you get the chance, take the leap and experience a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A land of both shadows and substances, of things and ideas. Cross over into, The Twilight Zone. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Score – 9/10