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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Twilight Zone Episodes

You don't need me to tell you how important and how incredible The Twilight Zone is. And I'm talking about Rod Serling's original here, not that decidedly average 1980s incarnation, or the recent abortion hosted by Forrest Whittaker. The original 1950s/1960s program is arguably the finest science fiction series of all time, rivaled in my opinion only by the original Star Trek and the new Battlestar Galactica. Yet it was also a horror-themed show, and in that category, nothing EVER touched The Twilight Zone.

During its run of only five years, the show produced one unforgettable episode after another, and pinning down ten faves is no mean feat. But here are the ten I most look forward to during the much-anticipated Fourth of July marathons on TV. You might agree, you might disagree, but remember, these are only my personal favorites, amongst a sea of classic eps...

10. Kick the Can (2/19/62)
In an episode recreated in inferior syrupy Speilberg fashion for the 1986 movie, a man in an old folks' home discovers a way for he and his friends to be young again. Their one bitter and cynical comrade ridicules them, and only realizes the error of his way when it's too late and he is left behind as an old man.

9. Living Doll (11/1/63)
How can I forget the great Telly Savalas, as an insecure stepfather being tortured by a vindictive, evil little doll? Legendary Looney Tunes/Jay Ward voice actress June Foray provides the creepy voice of "Talky Tina".

8. It's a Good Life (11/3/61)
Taken from an original short story by renowned sci-fi author Jerome Bixby, this is another one adapted in lesser fashion for the movie. Lost in Space's Billy Mumy plays the omnipotent little boy who wreaks havoc in a rural town. Has the distinction of being the only episode with a sequel, which appeared in the recent reboot series. Bixby also wrote several Star Trek eps, including "Mirror, Mirror".

7. To Serve Man (3/2/62)
Pulp sci-fi workhorse Damon Knight penned this one, a classic that's still grim, despite being parodied to great effect in the movie Airplane. Aliens come to Earth with a book entitled "To Serve Man"--but unfortunately, "IT'S A COOKBOOK!!"

6. The Midnight Sun (11/17/61)
Al Gore's worst nightmare, as the Earth begins to boil under the heat of an enlarging sun, moving closer in its orbit. The sense of claustrophobia is so palpable. And of course, we have one of the all-time classic twist endings, as our main character discovers she was only dreaming--in fact, the Earth is getting colder. Doh!

5. A World of Difference (3/11/60)
I always had a soft spot for this installment, about a man who really believes he is the character he plays on a TV show. In one of the classic openers, we approach it from his perspective, as his normal daily life is interrupted by a film crew yelling, "CUT!" Great stuff, and definitely pre-figured things like The Truman Show.

4. The Hitch-Hiker (1/22/60)
Adapted from a radio play originally performed by Orson Welles, this one always had a kind of Hitchcock feel to it for me. After a nasty car accident, a woman begins spotting the same mysterious hitch-hiker everywhere she drives. Turns out the hitcher is really Death, and the woman never survived the accident.

3. Eye of the Beholder (11/11/60)
For many, the most iconic episode of the series. A beautiful woman turns out to actually be disfigured in a world in which everyone appears as what we would consider to be hideous monsters. Such a classic summation of what The Twilight Zone was all about. Have to love this one.

2. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (10/11/63)
Bill Shatner plays a terrified passenger who discovers a monstrous gremlin on the wing of an airplane in this, maybe the series' most famous episode. It was adapted from Richard Matheson's first published horror story, and probably the only episode that was actually improved in adaptation for the 1986 Twilight Zone movie.

1. Time Enough at Last (11/20/59)
Maybe it's because I have such a love for Burgess Meredith, or the fact that I always related to his character, being an avid reader mysef. This one will always be my favorite. Meredith's character is so sympathetic, and the horror of losing the one thing that would make the apocalypse bearable for him is truly gut-wrenching. There's something about the sad cruelty of it all that makes this episode stand out for me above all the others.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful selection. The Twilight Zone is my favorite TV series of all-time. Even today (50 years removed), the stories are as timeless & provocative as ever.

"Time Enough At Last" is my favorite as well. And you're right, picking 10 is nearly impossible.

Other stand-out episodes (IMO) would be:

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (3/4/1960). I find this one to incredibly relevant in today's world where we are still suspicious/superstitious of anything "different"

"Five Characters In Search of An Exit" (12/22/1961) is classic TZ--the character study followed by the twist ending.

"Walking Distance" (10/30/1959). Man from the future meets himself as a child & must make a choice. A fine example of the powerfully emotional aspects so prevalent in the series.

KT Grant said...

One of my absolute favorite episodes has to be the one where the old woman hides from death and Death comes knocking on her door as Robert Redford.

Such a beautifully written episode and one of Redford's first acting gigs.

Tracy M. said...

It's very difficult to pick just ten episodes as "favorites", but here goes (in no particular order):

"The After Hours": "Marcia...Marcia"!

"To Serve Man": All of us are indeed on the menu!

"The Eye of the Beholder": Can't figure out why they didn't just use Donna Douglas' body, too.

"Living Doll": We'd better be nice to her!

"Jess-Belle": As corny as the Hamner stories can be (complete with stock harmonica music), I just love this one.

"Miniature": Robert Duvall in love with a wooden doll, baby!

"The Masks": I always wondered what my mask would look like. Hopefully not like a butt.

"Time Enough At Last": Poor Burgess. Poor humanity.

"It's a Good Life": I usually spend a good hour or so after watching this trying to decide how they could have taken the kid out.

"The Howling Man": Really cheesy devil makeup (and he acts rather like a deviled ham), but I still love this one. Ah, we humans are so gullible.

Now, some dislikes:

1. The two dummy episodes. They creep me out big time. Get out the woodchipper.

2. The episodes with Buster Keaton and Carol Burnett. What a waste of talent.

3. "Mr. Dingle the Strong". Yet another waste of talent. And a good water heater.

Thanks for the post - TZ is my all-time favorite show, and I'll discuss it anytime, anywhere with anyone.

RayRay said...

Great list, B-Sol. And I agree with Time Enough At Last as the best. I was thinking to myself as I read the post that it should be #1. Very tragic in that Rod Serling way.

Wings1295 said...

Great episodes! I also like "The Queen of the Nile" and "The Lateness of the Hour".

GREAT post!!!

Sam G said...

Good choices. Nightmare at 20,000 feet scared the crap out of me when I saw it as a kid. Also loved the re-do from the movie with John Lithgow. Oh - The Twilight Zone movie came out in 1983.

the jaded viewer said...

Just stellar episodes. Great list.

grouchomarxist said...

I thought the "Nightmare" sequence in the TZ film was the only one that even approached the original. Maybe because Miller didn't fiddle with the story.

I don't if I could pick a top 10 out of so many great episodes, including all the ones mentioned so far.

A few more:

"The Lonely" -- Ok, so I'm a sucker for a doomed romance, especially when it stars a young and very lovely Jean Marsh, and it's backed by a Bernard Herrmann score.

"Shadow Play" -- Nightmarish in the literal sense, with Dennis Weaver as a man who every night dreams the same dream: of his own execution.

"The Invaders" -- Agnes Moorehead as a lonely old woman living in a really rustic cabin, who one night gets some terrifying visitors. Talk about a one-woman show, and not a single line of dialogue, either.

"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" -- A nice slice of paranoia, served up by Serling in fine claustrophobic style. Loved that double-reverse-twist ending between John Hoyt and Barney Phillips.

B-Sol said...

Thanks, guys. Seems everyone loves the Twilight Zone! And Katie, I JUST saw that Redford episode last week on SyFy.

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