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TV Series Review

Music: Da-da-da-da da-da-da-da …

Narrator: Welcome to a world in which the past never dies. A place where television shows that have come and gone do not just live on in our memories, but live again on our screens. It is a land of reboots and reimaginings, of bankrupt creativity, unadulterated cash grabs and, sometimes, well-crafted entertainment. These new old shows do not just reside in some fifth dimension beyond what is known to man, but here. And now. And it’s only appropriate that one such show to crawl out of its tomb to walk again is … The Twilight Zone.

Music: BA-ta-ba-ta-ba-bum!

Dimension of Imagination

CBS aired very first episode of the original Twilight Zone on Oct. 2, 1959. For five seasons, its creator, host and primary writer, Rod Serling, took viewers on tours of the impossible—from deep space to back in time to, sometimes, into the bowels of hell itself.

The anthology program was breathtaking in its ambition and variety: One episode might be good for a laugh, the next could render you sleepless for weeks. Few actors would appear twice on the show, even if Serling himself returned to some themes again and again. He loved political and social allegory. He was fascinated by the nature of time. He couldn’t resist old-fashioned Faustian bargains. And almost every episode offered a moral.

The Twilight Zone was never one of its era's most popular shows. But Serling's singular vision made it one of the best, as its pile of Emmys and its file of contemporary critical praise can attest. In fact, the show's influence is perhaps unparalleled. Even people who’ve never watched an episode know its theme music and Serling’s clipped, characteristic intro. Contemporary series ranging from Star Trek to The X-Files to Black Mirror have tried to bottle some Twilight Zone lightning, and everyone from J.J. Abrams, Tim Burton, Stephen King and M. Night Shyamalan have pointed to the show as an influence.

But despite (or perhaps because of) the footprint it's left in modern culture, The Twilight Zone’s shoes have been mighty hard to fill. Two Twilight Zone reboots have come and gone with nary a whisper. A 1983 movie was widely panned.

Now comes a third television attempt to recapture Serling’s magic. And this one may be the best—and worst—yet.

Eye of the Beholder

Jordan Peele, the one-time comedian now better known for his own brand of socially conscious sci-fi/horror fables (Us, Get Out), takes the helm for the latest reboot. For its first season, Peele marshalled a cadre of well-known talent to appear, including Adam Scott, Kumail Nanjiani and Seth Rogen.

And CBS, instead of pushing The Twilight Zone to its broadcast channel, airs the program on its streaming service, CBS All Access. It’s a strange move, given the show’s buzzy bona fides. But for this strange show, perhaps it makes sense. CBS is better known these days, after all, as a home for reliable, predictable, cookie-cutter crime procedurals and inoffensive, forgettable comedies. Perhaps this online locale gives the show more opportunity to be, like its forerunner, original and cutting edge and flat-out weird.

And that it is … sort of.

If the new Twilight Zone isn’t original, that's because it imitates its predecessor so effectively: its freaky storylines, its socio-political allegories, and yes, even its morals. This is a show that has something to say.

But it also says it problematically, too.

The new Twilight Zone captures the original’s vibe while making it more germane to a 21st-century audience But the anthology also dives into content that would’ve never flown in Serling’s day—nor even today on CBS proper, for that matter. While we don’t see any nudity (at least at this early juncture), we hear plenty of sexually explicit conversation, depending on the episode. And the show embraces the worst possible language, littering episodes with f- and s-words and richly earning its TV-M rating.

That’s incredibly disappointing, given the show’s earnest reverence for its predecessor. And, frankly, it's a wholly unnecessary inclusion: Serling proved you could make a first-class, thought-provoking and deeply unsettling show without a whiff of content. This Twilight Zone has no such confidence.

The Twilight Zone doesn’t seem interested in grotesque levels of violence so far, but that’s small comfort. To include so many profanities in its stories makes this a no-go zone for many. It’s a nightmare, even at 20,000 feet.

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Episode Reviews

April 1, 2019: "The Comedian"



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Jordan Peele as the Narrator






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Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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