by Blake Chapman
There has not been a program so evocative, captivating, and down right memorable as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Since premiering 60 years ago, it has carved a legacy into television history with its massive influence on the genre of science fiction. Throughout the years following its debut on CBS, there have been novels, a TV film, a radio series, two theme park attractions, and two failed revivals. All of which bring into question if we would ever enter the dimension of light and sound once more.
CBS has not given up on the property just yet. With the popularity of other anthology series like Black Mirror and taking chances on additional exclusive content for All Access like Star Trek: Discovery, the television titan has taken another shot at reviving this drama of fantasy and horror. Instead of Serling at the helm, we have Jordan Peele, executive producer and narrator, walking us through two harrowing episodes that act as a fantastic launchpad for this series, but regrettably include noticeable gaps in storytelling prowess.
The price of fame is a bargain that not many people are willing to consider at the start of a fledgling career in the entertainment industry. For mediocre comic Samir Wassan, it takes the harsh advice of a stand-up legend and a new found supernatural ability to change his mind in the blink of an eye. This advice comes from J.C. Wheeler, a former funny man who passes on the ability to make people disappear once their name is spoken on stage to a crowd of hungry audience members.
At this point in the episode, the level of drama and pacing are just slightly thrown off. Even with the impressive performance of Tracy Morgan as Wheeler, which we only get to witness a few times within the hour, the slow burn of action drags on very early and does not begin to pick up until more than 30 minutes into the program. Once we reach that point though, each element quickens its pace and heats up incredibly. After Samir begins to take advantage of his new power, you can slowly see him turn face as his devilish greed begins to manifest itself. Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Wassan, takes a while to get comfortable in his part, but expresses submissive dread quite well as his character begins this balancing act between comedic timing and terror.
After he heads too far down the rabbit hole caused by a slew of butterfly effects, he suddenly goes manic in his final moments on stage. He names off dozens of people left and right before being pulled out and coming to his senses. At this moment Samir decides that having it all is not worth seeing the people he loves disappear and chooses to sacrifice himself to the animalistic crowd of judges sitting before him.
By the end of “The Comedian,” the message of the first episode of the third revival of The Twilight Zone becomes clear. It is a warning to all up-and-coming artists that validation requires the sometimes literal subtraction of those that mean the most to you in the fight for the top. Overall, this introduction to the series has some amazing acting from some unlikely cameos that beautifully evoke dread on screen, Tracy Morgan’s cameo in particular. The production and direction inspires unique qualities at every corner with the change in shooting angles, use of color, and depth of field. Combine this with an excellent message on the current state of entertainment, and you have a program set to make monumental waves.
Be that as it may, the episode still suffers from dreadful pacing before the first commercial break, possibly brought on by the unnecessary runtime. The story does not seem that different from much more impressive shows like Death Note either. The biggest issue the show has is the fact it reveals the twist within the first act, which does not follow the typical formula of The Twilight Zone. Though there are many things that this new edition does to stand out, this has to be the only aspect that should not have changed in the update. This creative decision does not allow the audience to guess what the real ending will be, which was one of the most exciting aspects of the original show, sometimes not being revealed until the last minute before the credits.
Nightmare at 30,000 Feet
Alongside the premiere of an original episode for the new anthology series, a remake of the classic “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” was available to stream as well. This time taking place on a transatlantic flight to Tel Aviv, and, instead of budding actor William Shatner at the helm, we have Adam Scott playing the titular character, Justin Sanderson. Sanderson just so happens to be returning from a journalism venture in Yemen, where he witnessed atrocities that drove him to abject madness. As he is faced with the nagging anxiety of a 13-hour flight, he finds a cruel omen in the form of a podcast detailing the tragic story of the exact flight he is on, which will dissipate from radar signals in as little as one hour.
From the first minute of “Nightmare at 30,000 feet,” you can feel the reimagining of one of the best episodes from the original series done in excellent fashion. The full 37 minutes are crafted so beautifully that it truly stands on its own much better than the actual original episode. Adam Scott also does an excellent job introducing Justin’s character in a respectful and entertaining fashion. The audience witnesses him in multiple scenarios trying to accurately differentiate if what is happening is real or just his paranoia clouding his eyes.
Throughout the episode, Justin becomes addicted to this new source of information and takes on the impossible task of explaining to anyone on this plane how to prevent such a disaster. Predictably, he goes to the extreme with this claim, rummaging through other passengers’ bags and exploring the main cabin as if he was a flight attendant himself. While picking up a friendship with a shady former pilot, his insane tactics get him in subsequent trouble with the crew, the pilot, and, finally, the air marshal. The major issue with this plot segment is that it all seems unrealistic, and any real passenger would abandon these practices the moment it began to get so outrageous.
While handcuffed in his seat by the air marshal, his ex-pilot buddy comes around to convince Justin that he believes the story. In that same act, he says that if he can make his way into the cockpit, he should be able to turn the flight around and save everyone. Unfortunately, it is revealed that this false pilot was truly a hijacker the entire time, playing off of Justin’s paranoia, so he could crash the plane straight into the middle of the ocean. After waking up on the rocky shores of a small island, Justin finds out that everyone on the flight survives, except him. As the music builds, we see the onslaught of vengeful passengers maliciously coming to finish off the man responsible.
“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” stands solid as great example of repackaging an old tale for a new age, which is what fans of the original Twilight Zone need to see in order to support this new release. In just a short half hour, Peele and his writers reimagine this fantastic episode with respect and a heavy dose of originality. Adam Scott’s performance as Justin Sanderson is remarkable. The story packs a punch, and the ending is impressive and satisfying. Yet, this episode also includes forgetful performances by the rest of the cast and plenty of unrealistic scenarios for critics to point out.
Featured Image: ScreenRant
‘The Twilight Zone’ Episode 1 & 2: “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”
For our first journey into this new iteration of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ the experience is satisfying but not void of missteps and failed opportunities. The acting was on-point the majority of the time, and the stories told had great narrative weight and purpose. However, the major improvement to make going forward is solving how an anthology program jumping up to the hour mark is going to effectively pace these tales of terror and intrigue. For the moment, it seems that subscribers to CBS All Access are going to enjoy this delightful turn about the realm of light and sound once more.
Blake is a Journalism major who loves everything Byte covers: video games, music, movies and animation. He hopes to gain real-world experience writing for Byte and all the other news organizations at Ball State. Blake is also an honors student and has a passion for learning new and interesting aspects of the world around him.