Many fans of the classic Twilight Zone series were excited about the reboot. In large part because it was helmed by Jordan Peele. His recent films Get Out and Us became modern classics by balancing horror tropes with social commentary. Likewise, his work on the sketch show Key and Peele demonstrated an ability to blend satire with sketch comedy.
The rebooted Twilight Zone, however, turned out to be a mixed bag. Some episodes were good (“Replay”), others too on-the-nose (“The Wunderkind”), and some confusing (“A Traveler”). Most were just mediocre, suffering from being too long. (This is something even the original series learned when it began stretching their episodes from 30 minutes to close to an hour).
In this spirit, here are ten episodes of the classic Twilight Zone to watch if you liked, or were disappointed by the new series. The episodes explore similar themes to those from the newer series.
1. “The Comedian” Is Similar To “A World of His Own”
In both episodes, we see creative people struggling. In “The Comedian,” he’s a stand-up comedian who hasn’t perfected his routine. “A World Of His Own” has a famous playwright stuck in a rut. What happens when these people are given the opportunity to determine who can populate their world? In the new episode, we see the consequences play out when our Comedian is given the ability to make his enemies disappear.
There are, of course, reverberations for those he cares about. In “A World Of His Own,” the playwright can create people by describing them like a tape recorder. He uses this ability to punish a single person – his wife. Ultimately, she makes herself disappear when she destroys his tape of herself. He creates a new wife who is more in-line with his changed values and priorities. In the end, both episodes meditate on the issue of power. What happens when an unlikely person is suddenly given the power to control who is in your life and who isn’t?
2. Twilight Zone: “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” Is Similar To “Nick of Time”
It would be obvious to choose the original version of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” I feel, however, that a closer parallel is that other William Shatner episode. While the original “Nightmare” looks at paranoia and fear, the newer one takes the plot in a slightly different direction. The newer episode looks at the role of fate in our lives. Our protagonist begins listening to a podcast that suggests that the plane he is on is going to disappear. As he listens further, he thinks that he can stop the fate of the plane. “Nick of Time” concerns a couple who have car trouble on their vacation.
While their car is being fixed, they visit a small-town diner. At their table is a fortune-telling machine – simply put in a penny and get a fortune. When the first few turn out to be true, the couple puzzle how much pull the machine could potentially have on their lives. Both of these episodes examine the consequences of putting too much stock into fate. What happens when you let it control your life, instead of living in the moment?
3. “Replay” Is Similar To “The Hitch-Hiker”
Like “Nightmare” there is an episode of the classic series that deals with an enchanted camera, similar to the one seen in “Replay.” However, a more subtle connection is with the episode “The Hitch-Hiker.” Both of these episodes see our protagonists followed by someone no matter which route they take on their drive. It is inescapable. In the older episode, the man turns out to be Death after a woman crashed her car.
However, “Replay” uses the premise to make a powerful statement about race relations, when a mother is unable to stop a cop from pulling her over while driving her son to college. She is able to rewind the tape of her camcorder to go back in time but was never able to escape the outcome. This episode uses the premise to address systemic racism. How it can feel like a specter that follows some people around.
4. Twilight Zone: “A Traveler” Is Similar To “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up”
What happens when a mysterious person enters your world unexpectedly? Both of these episodes deal with the fear of the Other and involve secrets being exposed when people are stranded in close quarters. I’ll be honest, I was a little confused about what exactly the newer episode was trying to say. Or whether it was just trying to be a fun romp.
“Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up” puts people in a small diner, stranded by the snow. Though a bit of a talky episode, it looks at the inherent prejudices many of us hold. There is one more pair of footprints than there were people on their bus – so who is the mysterious stranger? Stay tuned, though, because both episodes have an unexpected supernatural twist ending.
5. “The Wunderkind” Is Similar To “It’s A Good Life”
The episode sidesteps the Constitutional requirement that a candidate be 35 years old by making a child president. If this premise sounds a little too obvious to you, I have bad news about the rest of the episode. It plays out just as heavy-handed as you might expect. The premise of both “The Wunderkind” and “It’s A Good Life” is pretty simple: What happens when you give a child too much power or control? While “The Wunderkind” sometimes comes off as a too-obvious take on the current state of our politics, “It’s A Good Life” examines the issue with a little bit more nuance.
In the classic episode, a child wreaks havoc on a small town with his ability to change things just by thinking about them. What happens when, for example, he objects to the warm weather and makes it snow, not knowing that it will kill all the crops? In any case, the message is clear in both episodes: spoiled children are bad for society. Parents be warned: bring your kids up right or rue the consequences.
6. Twilight Zone: “Six Degrees of Freedom” Is Similar To “And When The Sky Was Opened”
It feels like just about every other episode of the classic Twilight Zone featured astronauts in some way. This makes sense, of course, as we were in the middle of the Cold War, and deep in the throws of the Space Race. Space still mystifies us as we see it here in the episode “Six Degrees Of Freedom,” in which Earth rages over a nuclear war just as it sends a spaceship to Mars. In the end, both memory and trust are tested when the crew begins to turn on one another.
Even the title “Six Degrees of Freedom” questions how much we should trust the powers at be. Rod Serling played with this idea a lot in the original series. The closest in theme to this newer episode, however, is probably “And When The Sky Was Opened.”
On the surface, this episode appears to simply involve astronauts who disappear after a crash landing involving a new type of spacecraft. On a deeper level, however, the episode is a commentary on how the government has a way of making things disappear that they don’t want to be known. Both episodes then, ask us to question whether those in charge have our best interests in mind after all.
7. “Not All Men” Is Similar To “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”
What happens when one small thing changes in your small town that causes a mass frenzy? How easy is it for neighbors to turn on one another? “Not All Men” explores this issue through the modern lens of toxic masculinity. Are the men in our lives just looking for an excuse to lash out and act in a primal way? It’s a clever take on an old theme, and the twist at the end works fairly well.
The original example exploring this theme, of course, is, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”
This episode is a classic Cold War fable. It deconstructs the idea of the perfect American small town by demonstrating how easy it is for neighbors to turn on one another when their electricity starts acting strange. The twist here arguably doesn’t hold up that well, but the rest of the episode plays out almost perfectly. Both of these episodes question just how fragile our constructed societies are by putting them to the test.
8. Twilight Zone: “Point of Origin” Is Similar To “Eye Of The Beholder”
At a time when our immigration policy in this country is almost too horrific to seem real, you could do a lot worse than “Point of Origin” as a commentary on it. Instead of illegal aliens from other countries, this story uses aliens from another planet. This episode tries to put the audience in the shoes of those suffering from our recent policy decisions by locking up a seemingly perfect suburban wife. Her world spirals when the people she previously trusted turn on her.
“Eye Of The Beholder” also uses this question as a jumping-off point, although we don’t initially realize it. The premise of this episode involves a woman in for surgery, and I won’t spoil the amazing twist. But in this world people who are alike must live together, and those who are different must cope with their reality. Both of these episodes question what it means to be “othered” by society. How we cope with those decisions society has made for us.
9. “The Blue Scorpion” Is Similar To “Enough Time At Last”
Objects that are fetishized. “The Blue Scorpion” is a gun that a college professor inherits against his will after his father commits suicide. He soon becomes entranced by it and imagines that the bullets have his name on them (literally). It takes over his life and he begins acting unusually aggressive. Ultimately he redeems himself, but the object is thrown away and simply picked up by another. Presumably, this new owner will suffer the same fate as the previous owner.
“Enough Time At Last” sees a man whose life has similarly been taken over by objects. This time, however, they are books. He hides them in every possible personal space he has because there is never enough time to read everything that he wants to. The consequences for the classic episode are much dire than in the newer episode. But the message is loud and clear: don’t value your objects more than the people around you.
10. Twilight Zone: “Blurryman” Is Similar To “The Big Tall Wish”
This last episode of the new series was a tough one to match because the themes felt all over the place. In a meta take, the episode follows a writer for the new Twilight Zone who takes her job too seriously. She is suddenly haunted by a mysterious “Blurryman.” In a somewhat confusing twist, this mysterious figure turns out to be the image of the original creator of The Twilight Zone Rod Serling. The episode examines the power of pop culture in our lives, the idea that we shouldn’t take our pop culture too seriously, and the power of myths that we create.
I’ve decided to take on that last theme with one of my favorite episodes of the classic series: “The Big Tall Wish.” In this episode, a washed-up boxer magically switches places with his opponent in his comeback fight. His girlfriend’s son claims that this happened because he wished it. Unable to believe, the boxer is sent back into the ring and once again loses. Now he believes in the power of wishes but is resigned that there simply aren’t enough other people in the world who do.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The original is available to stream on both Hulu and Netflix. Slated to come out in 2020 the new series has reportedly been renewed by CBS All Access. What is promising about the reboot is that it was able to find ways to update the series in a way that feels modern and relevant.
Even if all the episodes didn’t hit. It still does what The Twilight Zone does best: examine our societal fears through the lens of an alternate world. Hopefully, the show will continue to grow and will improve next season. And it’s good that it got the chance to do so.
I know I’m ready for another trip into The Twilight Zone.