My latest Netflix binge is The Twilight Zone, which I think is the best TV show ever. Here I’m talking about the original; I haven’t seen enough of the revivals to form an opinion on them. Rod Serling says in the introduction, “You are about to enter another dimension: a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.” He isn’t kidding; almost every episode has something to make you think.
A frequent theme is second chances. If you could go back to your own past, could you recover something you’ve lost or avoid the mistakes you made? In some stories the characters end up no better than before, but in others they learn something. Other episodes are about the consequences of getting what you wish for.
The episodes tell us something about the times. People are smoking everywhere. A genie grants a couple’s wish for a million dollars, but the IRS promptly takes over $900,000 of it. Some episodes reflect the belief that the primitive computers of circa 1960 were capable of superhuman knowledge or soon would be. “From Agnes, with Love” is intentionally humorous in its portrayal of a programmer’s relationship with a computer, but it’s become unintentionally funnier over the decades.
Some of my favorite episodes:
“The Invaders” pits a woman, played by Agnes Moorehead, against tiny aliens who have landed on her roof. Never mind that they look as if the prop department bought them at a toy store. The tension doesn’t let up, and the courage which she shows is impressive. There is no dialogue until near the end, when … If you’ve seen it, you know, and if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you.
“The Quality of Mercy” is set on a Pacific island near the end of World War II, and it makes a bold anti-war statement.
“The Last Night of a Jockey” is an impressive one-man, one-room play starring Mickey Rooney, and an example of the “be careful what you wish for” episodes.
A small number of episodes are clunkers. I’ll be happy never to see certain other episodes again, such as “It’s a Good Life” and “Queen of the Nile,” not because they’re badly done in any way, but because I just don’t like nightmares.
For some reason, Netflix has seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5, but not 4.