Jordan Peele has long been known as a comedian with his TV series “Key and Peele” and his appearances in other comedic roles. But with his feature films “Get Out” and “Us” he is proving himself a master of horror and suspense. So when we heard that he was going to be a part of a reboot of the classic anthology series “The Twilight Zone” we were very intrigued. He is producer and creator of the show and serves as the opening and closing narrator filling the shoes of Rod Serling from the original series.
The original “The Twilight Zone” ran 156 episodes from 1959 – 1964 and is considered a classic and often voted one of the best series in television history. A second version of “The Twilight Zone” ran for three seasons from 1985-1989. A third version of “The Twilight Zone” ran 44 episodes from September 2002 through May 2013. However neither of these achieved the status or following of the original. There was also a feature film “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in 1983. It consisted of a collection of three independent stories.
All versions have been anthology series with different casts and individual stories each episode. Typically the stories are cautionary tales that are a mixture of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and mystery. Plot twists and irony are an important part of most episodes.
This new incarnation of the series follows well in the footsteps of the original. Two episodes have been shown on CBS All Access streaming platform with a total of 10 episodes scheduled for release in the weeks ahead.
The first episode titled “The Comedian” holds with the traditions of the original series. A mediocre standup comic makes a Faustian deal to forward his career. Without spoiling the plot and telling you the gimmick, the consequences of his deal are quite costly. It draws on themes from other Twilight Zone episodes although it is not a rewrite of any particular episode. My biggest problem with the first episode is that it was way too long at 55 minutes. All but 18 of the original Twilight Zone episodes were a half-hour long. That was just enough time to set up the premise, pull off the plot twist, and show you the consequences. About 20 minutes through this episode I found myself saying “Okay we get the point. Let’s move on.” We will have to wait and see how the other episodes fare for length and pacing.
The second episode “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is a reimagining of the classic episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“. That classic episode starred William Shatner as a nervous man who believes that he sees a strange creature out the window of an airplane. That same story was remade as one of the segments of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” this time starring John Lithgow. Unlike the movie version which was pretty much exactly the same story, this one does not involve a creature but does involve a paranoid man who believes that he and the passengers on the plane are in danger. He stumbles across an MP3 player containing a podcast from the future that talks about the disappearance of the flight he is currently on. This episode coming in at 37 minutes is much more tightly written and directed and has deliciously surprising multiple plot twists highly reminiscent of the classic series.
For fans of the original series there are Easter Eggs galore. I found only two or three but this YouTube video claims to have found 20 of them in the first two episodes.
As mentioned, Peele serves the same role that Serling had in the original series appearing in a scene at the start and end of each episode to introduce and wrap up the story. Of course the conclusion always is that the protagonist of the story has taken a journey into The Twilight Zone. The classic opening and closing theme music are present which adds to the familiarity of the episode. Peele’s delivery is just as mysterious and stoic as was Serling’s. He is a worthy successor.
It remains to be seen if the other episodes are up to the quality of these first two. I sincerely hope they stick with the shorter format. I think had we only had the first episode to review we might not have been as optimistic about this series.
One of the main problems with the series is its limited availability. It is only available on CBS All Access streaming platform. A subscription with limited commercials is $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year. A commercial free option is available at $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. When the service was first launched, the only original programming was the new “Star Trek: Discovery” this was followed by “The Good Fight” which is a spinoff of the CBS series “The Good Wife” and stars Christine Baranski. She reprises her role as Diane Lockhart now working in a predominantly African-American law firm. There are four other original series on the platform and I’ve only seen one episode of “Tell Me a Story” and was not impressed. I may write a review of it later. I’ve not yet seen the other three series “No Activity“, “One Dollar“, and “Strange Angel“.
“The Good Fight” like its predecessor is one of the most entertaining and cleverly written shows on television. I’ve loved every minute of it as it is currently into its third season. “Star Trek: Discovery” has disappointed many fans of classic Star Trek because it allegedly set in the universe of the original Star Trek series but it breaks so many rules and premises of that series that many people claimed it isn’t really Star Trek. I’m not bothered by the changes and tend to judge it on its own merits. The stories are compelling. The special effects rivals what you would see in a feature film.
The bottom line is that I think that with the addition of “The Twilight Zone” along with “The Good Fight” and “Star Trek: Discovery” this streaming platform now may actually be worth the money. In addition to the exclusive original content you also get access to current and past CBS shows on demand as well as some CBS sports. So if you want to catch up on any other CBS favorites via streaming you can do so. Also available are episodes of Star Trek original series.
I’m giving “The Twilight Zone” a rating of “I’m watching“.
Both Discovery and Good Fight get strong “I really like it” ratings bordering on my ultimate rating of “Must-See”.
CBS All Access has a two-week free trial so perhaps you should check out a couple of episodes of each of the above and see if you think it’s worth the money.