The Syfy channel held their annual 4th of July ‘Twilight Zone’ marathon, so when I was asked to write about my favorite episodes of ‘the series, I felt like a musician being asked about his influences. It’s hard to answer because too many examples flood into your head at once, and you wouldn’t know where to begin.
Like so many people, I grew up with ‘The Twilight Zone‘ in re-runs, and I still have fond memories of the strong moral lessons of the show, the skillful storytelling, the zappers at the end, the wonderful, moody cinematography, Rod Serling’s speeches that bookended every episode, and so much more. This story would seem timely because of the passing of Richard Matheson, and Anne Serling’s memoir, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, but ‘The Twilight Zone’ has never gone away, and any time is a great time to celebrate it.
‘The Twilight Zone’ debuted on October 2, 1959, and ended on June 19, 1964, witTwih 156 episodes in all. Not every episode was a winner, and there were varying degrees of greatness for many TZ installments, but here is a list of the episodes that really did it for me as a ‘Twilight Zone’ fan. I’ll start with the first ever Twilight Zone episode, “Where Is Everybody,” where Earl Holliman finds himself completely alone in the world, but he’s really training to be an astronaut and is cracking up from being in an isolation chamber for three weeks.
Both “Walking Distance,” and “A Stop at Willoughby” centered around one of Serling’s favorite themes, the wish to go back to your childhood. “Time Enough At Last,” where Burgess Meredith plays a bookworm who survives a nuclear holocaust, has a heartbreaking twist ending, one of the best of the series, while “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is another great sci-fi allegory for prejudice and post-McCarthy paranoia.
“It’s a Good Life,” starring Bill Mumy from ‘Lost In Space’ is another good episode and it was brilliantly parodied on ‘The Simpsons’ with Bart playing the powerful evil kid who turns Homer into a jack-in-the-box. “The Dummy,” starring Cliff Robertson, is one of the freakiest ventriloquist horror stories ever. The dummy’s voice as he torments Robertson is especially chilling, as is June Foray’s sweet Talky Tina voice in another all time TZ classic, “Living Doll.” (“My name is Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you…”)
“Eye of the Beholder” makes a great statement about physical beauty and conformity that still rings true today, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is one of the all time greats, written by Matheson. I loved the irony of Robert Redford playing death in “Nothing in the Dark,” an episode written by George Clayton Johnson, who co-wrote ‘Logan’s Run’ with William F. Nolan. I also loved Mickey Rooney’s tortured performance in “Last Night of a Jockey,” which like many ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes warned you to be careful what you wish for.
Other Zone favorites include: “To Serve Man,” which had another delicious twist (pun intended), “The Hitch-Hiker,” a scary story conceit that’s been copied many times, “Long Live Walter Jameson,” which had another favorite Serling theme, the fear of aging and death, “The Fever,” a great metaphor for gambling addiction, “A Nice Place to Visit,” one of the best be careful what you wish for episodes, “A Kind of Stopwatch,” which deals with a timepiece that can freeze-frame the world, “Nick of Time,” which has a good message about believing in superstition, and many more.
Growing up, I often caught the afternoon re-runs of ‘The Twilight Zone’ on a local independent station, KTLA, and they would also run ‘Twilight Zone’ marathons every year, usually during Thanksgiving. Now it’s become a yearly Fourth of July event on the Syfy channel. But who needs an occasion to watch and enjoy ‘The Twilight Zone’? Anytime, anywhere, Serling’s great creation is like Jello: There’s always room.