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, The Twilight Zone had a fresh new experience to offer every episode. In addition, Rod Serling himself offered a monologue for every episode to encapsulate what each story was about.
Fast forward to 2019. After a somewhat unsuccessful film adaptation and two series revivals, we have a new revival series brought to us through the streaming platform CBS All Access. Poetically, CBS was also the original network that ran Serling’s original show. This time around, Jordan Peele, Simon Kinberg, and Marco Ramirez take the reins on the anthology show, with Peele taking the role of narrator.
With horror hits under his belt like Get Out and Us, Peele is more than deserving to take on such a classic show. With Peele’s socio-political themes hidden under horror, it makes sense why he would want to reinvent The Twilight Zone. After all, most of Serling’s episodes of the original series did that exact thing.
My fascination with the show would never cease as I grew up watching it, 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. If the rest of the episodes maintain the same level of quality, we are in for 2019’s finest anthology show.
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, was a strong series premiere that has all the marks of a strong Twilight Zone story. 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 cast, which also includes Amara Karan and Ryan Robbins, is what makes the episode so great. Nanjiani’s portrayal of a comedian who discovers a newfound skill makes for an interesting and morally ambiguous situation. In addition, he shows that ambiguity perfectly in his performance and interaction with the rest of the characters. The editing also shines in this episode, with the pace and transitions getting more frantic as the episode carries on. At around an hour, the episode justifies every single minute leading up to its exacting yet classic Twilight Zone conclusion. Overall, 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, this episode is titled Nightmare at 30,000 Feet. Written by the series creators, this episode follows Justin Sanderson (Adam Scott), a reporter who finds an MP3 player on his transnational flight that forebodes something terrible. As it centers around Justin, this episode has a less impressive supporting cast than the first episode. Nevertheless, this 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 iconic episode. Instead, it 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 quite well, making The Twilight Zone go two for two in great episodes. It would be amiss to not mention Peele’s performance as the Narrator. He is as stoic as Rod Serling and delivers his chilling warnings and messages with ease for each episode. In fact, seeing him talk on the show harkens back to the original show in the best way possible.
Overall, the first two episodes of The Twilight Zone show great promise for this new anthology series. The bold and intense themes as well as the 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