You Open This Door With the Key of Imagination: Welcome Back to… The Twilight Zone

Jordan Peele, the unlikely newly crowned king of horror, has rebooted The Twilight Zone for his next project. Myself, being a fan of the OG Twilight Zone and its 80’s revival (I missed the 2000’s reboot) couldn’t wait to see what Peele came up with.

Keeping in mind that two episodes are hardly enough to judge the merits of a new series, submitted for your approval are “The Comedian” and “Terror at 30,000 Feet.”

“The Comedian” is a Twilight Zone fable about a comedian played by real-life comedian, Kumail Nanjiani. Here, our comedian, who isn’t a very good comedian, gets some advice from a legendary comic played by Tracy Morgan. Morgan, who summons up a malevolent chill that I never knew the man was capable of, tells the comedian that he has to put himself out there to the audience to get laughs, but to be careful because anything he puts out there is gone and belongs to the audience forever.

What follows is a twisted and ever deepening ravine of classic Twilight Zone tropes that, while predictable — you can practically see where it’s going when Tracy Morgan delivers his speech, is nonetheless powerful as this poor comedian pulls on fate’s tapestries and everything comes apart around him. Nanjiani runs the gamut from sorrow to horror to psychopathy and back again and, at the end, we’re left with the cautionary life lesson that The Twilight Zone is famous for.

And then we have “Terror at 30,000 Feet.”

Yes, you remember William Shatner back in the sixties screaming about something being on the wing of the plane and then John Lithgow doing that again in the 80’s for The Twilight Zone: The Movie. It’s that story, only told with a modern twist.

This time around, there is no monster on the wing of the plane, but rather an MP3 player with a podcast that details how the plane that is currently in the air is going to disappear without a trace. A passenger played by Adam Scott finds and listens to this podcast and sets out to do something about it before he and his fellow passengers go down in flames.

While I really do appreciate the effort that went into remaking this episode into something new and different, I really have to question why it was done at all. The previous two incarnations were superior in every single way… from Shatner’s unrestrained and glorious hamminess and Lithgow’s completely bat-poopie performance as a man losing it… Adam Scott seems mostly annoyed by his predicament as though the passenger next to him wouldn’t stop farting.

The danger of this episode is never communicated nor is it ever manifested. As a matter of fact, this episode is so remarkably free of tension, you’ll be praying for a monster wearing a cheap mask and wool to land on the wing just so something interesting could happen.

It’s amazing to watch an installment this inept stumble and limp across the screen. There were, quite literally, a million things that Scott’s character could have done to at least spread the word of the impeding disaster — namely let anyone else listen to the podcast, but he never does. The situation just gets more and more ridiculous until the forehead-slappingly stupid finale.

So, there we go. One relatively good episode and one extremely terrible one. The good news is that both episodes are shot beautifully and look really slick. The production values are obviously high, and there is an Easter egg in the second episode that shows that the individual stories could be linked in some as-of-yet unknown manner which I find somewhat facinating.

I am a fan of The Twilight Zone and I will be watching with, admittedly, a somewhat muted interest in the near future, hoping that this series will find its feet and do some great things.

The Twilight Zone currently streams on CBS All Access.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: