Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Twilight Zone

You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. That’s the signpost up ahead! Your next stop, one of the greatest shows in the history of television.

Submitted for your approval: The first episode of “Twilight Zone” that I recall was “What’s in the box,” about the guy who watches himself kill his wife on television. SCARY! I stayed away from that show for years, until I was old enough to handle scary. Then I began to really enjoy what I saw. But I won’t tell you which episode I still refuse to watch all the way through! It’s an incredibly creative and often moving show. Fans should pick up “The Twilight Zone companion,” easily the best book about the TV series. And if you look hard, you might find “From the Twilight Zone,” a series of short stories by Rod Serling (pictured, the narrator of the classic series) based on some of the classic episodes.

Some of you might have watched the Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi channel on July 4. Just to clarify, it was KTLA here in SoCal that began the tradition! (Well, as far as I know, anyway). The local station would run several episodes of the series every July 4. I got to peek at some of the episodes at work this year (no, that‘s not all I do), and saw many familiar faces (Burgess Meredith, Billy Mummy, etc.) and heard many familiar lines (“It’s a cook book!” “Where is everybody?”) and reflected on the show. I was delighted to realize that I wasn’t the only one who knew several episodes well. Several of my co-workers would chime in whenever a “good one” came on. It was quite a testament to the popularity of the show, even after all these years. But on reflection, I also realized why I grew out of the show. Thinking about show for the past few days, I’ve realized something very significant.

For a bit of a preview, you might like to read about my “comic book” years and why I no longer actively collect or read them. Then you can come back here and we’ll talk Twilight Zone again.

Have you ever noticed how many episodes of “The Twilight Zone” have unhappy endings? Think about it! With some notable exceptions, the show almost always ends with the main character in a bad situation. Folks, that’s hard to take! It’s hard to sit there and watch someone suffer and say that you’ve had a good time. That’s true even if the person deserves to suffer.

Thinking back, I felt the same way watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when I was a child. I didn’t like seeing those kids nearly drown or burn or shrink or whatever the case may be! Yes, I know they deserved it. But I didn’t want to watch it! It’s kind of like watching a serial killer be put to death. Yes, he deserved it. But I don’t take pleasure watching it. I’m not going to yell out “yay!” when he dies.

I’m thinking of the character that Telly Savalas played in the classic “Talky Tina” episode. He certainly was a jerk. Yet for a reason I can’t completely understand, you just don’t enjoy seeing him suffer either. You don’t yell out "hooray" when he dies. And watch what happens after he dies. “Talky Tina” threatens the guy’s wife! What the h**l did she do to deserve that?! Why can’t things just go back to normal now?

Just as comic books began to lose their appeal because they weren’t “being true”, the same was true for “Twilight Zone.” Now I know the Twilight Zone isn’t a place where reality has much credence. But is it unreasonable to ask that once in a while, cruel fate might allow for some happy endings? That’s the way it happens in real life sometimes. Just like the horror and crime comics of the past, the Twilight Zone seems to focus on the bad more than the good, to the point that any adult reading it has to tell themselves, “all right, prepare for another weird tragedy.” Sometimes that’s fine, but you’d think the Twilight Zone would have a bit more variety.

None of this is meant to take away from the classic series. Indeed, the focus on tragedy is probably part of its appeal. My only point is to demonstrate how even a classic show can lose its appeal as we grow. Yeah, I know, “who are you to talk, muppet fan?” I guess I’ve learned to enjoy the limitations of everything I enjoy. That may be the key to keeping them going.

FAVORITE EPISODES: Where is everybody?; Monsters are due on Maple Street; Obsolete Man; Time Enough at Last; One for the angels; Miniature; The Incredible World of Horace Ford; The Eye of the Beholder; A Game of Pool; Back There; A Most Unusual Camera; Old Man in the Cave; A stop at Willoughby; A World of his own; An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; Nick of Time

BONUS: There have been a few revivals of “Twilight Zone” on TV, and here are my favorite segments from the late 1980s CBS revival: To see the invisible man; Children’s Zoo; the one with Danny Kaye and the stopwatch (that’s not its title, but. . . Well, you know. This blogging cuts down on your time, man.)


NAME THAT TUNE: Speaking of the “Twilight Zone,” I had a rather interesting experience as the “Weather Channel” was playing in the background recently. They play some background music during the “Local on the 8’s” segment, and this time they happened to play the Smiths’ “Oscillate Wildly”. The Smiths on the Weather Channel? A quick Internet search confirmed that I was not hearing things. Here’s a posting from NoPhoneNoPoolNoPets from

Interesting tunes this month accompanying the "Local On The 8's".June's music has featured "Blue Sky" (such an obvious choice ) by The Allman Brothers, the instrumental latter portion of The Stones' "Cant You Hear Me Knocking", "Oscillate Wildly" by The Smiths, and even some Clash and Devo !! I know that I've heard some Pink Floyd recently as well (from "Wish You Were Here", IIRC)

The Weather Channel shows the local forecast for the area on the 8's of most every hour (e.g. 10:08, 10:18, 10:28, etc), and uses an eclectic mix of background music.

Way cool. I may find myself checking out that link once in a while if I hear something on the Weather Channel that I want for my collection! I can see it now. “The Weather Channel’s Greatest hits. . .”


MISSING LINKS: If you’re able to see that list of links on the right at the top of this Web page, consider yourself one of the lucky few! For some reason, the latest version of Internet Explorer puts the link list at the BOTTOM of the page rather than the top. Why? I don’t know. If I can solve this dilemma I will. In the meantime, please scroll to the bottom of the page to see the links.