The Twilight Zone has a reputation for excellence. Since its debut in the fall of 1959, the series has appeared on television sets during family gatherings and celebrations such as 4th of July and New Year’s. It has become an important television touchstone similar to watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. There’s something comforting about sitting down, hearing the indelible voice of creator and host Rod Serling, and preparing for another intriguing story about the bizarre and unknown. Some of the more memorable stories in the series have taken on a life of their own by being parodied in pop culture or having ideas from the series expanded upon in feature-length films. Twilight Zone continues to withstand the harsh realities of time and is still a seminal classic, both to those who grew up with it or those who are discovering it for the first time. Despite many attempts to reboot the franchise, nothing has really made the same impact.
It wasn’t until the wild 2016 presidential election, where a reality show host became the President of the United States, that bringing back Twilight Zone made sense. Every week we are bombarded with news that feels like it came straight out of another dimension, so it was no surprise when producers Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) decided it was time for the show to make its return.
It’s not hard to imagine why Peele would be attracted to the show as both of his movies use a horror lens for stories that center on themes such as systemic racism, the disenfranchised, and free will among other topics. Heavy stuff for sure, but similar to how Serling delivered his own messages sixty years ago the ideas behind Peele’s movies are delivered with horror and comedy for good measure. Peele might’ve even gotten inspiration from Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image” for his feature film Us as both stories feature people being terrified by their doppelganger. Peele doubles as the host for the series, and while no one can take the place of Serling part of what makes the original feel cohesive is that each week you saw a returning character in the form of a narrator/host. The host doubles as the face of the series.
Twilight Zone is one of those series that each entry feels special and these new episodes are no different. It’s a joyous occasion blasting the theme song and settling into a new story with Peele guiding the journey. The signature camera movements from the original highlight the psychosis of these characters and the dilemmas they face. Fans of the series should find comfort in the fact that this new incarnation doesn’t forget what people love about the show.
Kicking off the new series is a unique pair of episodes. The first, “The Comedian,” features Kumail Nanjiani as comedian Samir Wassan. Wassan wants to be famous, but as usual, it isn’t that easy in The Twilight Zone. The world of comedy can certainly feel cutthroat at times and success usually means surpassing your peers. The episode costars Tracy Morgan and Diarra Kilpatrick. Interestingly, it was directed by Owen Harris who is known for the Black Mirror episodes “San Junipero” and “Be Right Back.” This is certainly the strongest of the first four episodes, with an engaging and twisty story and a fantastic performance from Nanjiani. Releasing on the same day is “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” which stars Adam Scott as journalist Justin Sanderson. Sanderson has the safety of the flight in his hands and his decisions will ultimately determine its fate. The episode explores the fear of flying in 2019 and that means a lot more than an alien hanging on the wing. The shortest episode of the bunch makes it feel almost like a 1960s episode. It’s inspired by the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and these two episodes show how producers Peele and Kinberg will use the original formula to create shows that inspire conversation.
Next up is “Replay” which features Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball) as a woman who discovers her camcorder has special abilities while on a trip to bring her college-bound son Dorian (Damson Idris) to school. The journey to school is paved with complications. This episode lacks subtlety and instead hits viewers over the head repeatedly with its theme. The show should feel like a science-fiction story first and foremost, but this one feels closer to a PSA. The episode costars Glenn Fleshler and Steve Harris and is directed by Gerard McMurray (The First Purge). “A Traveler” is directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Bad Batch) and features a mysterious man (Steven Yeun) who wishes to be pardoned by a police captain (Greg Kinnear). “A Traveler” veers in the opposite direction of “Replay”, giving us a science-fiction story with little underlying meaning. The biggest issue is that this episode decides to show its card a little too early, making everything else feel rudimentary. These two episodes vary wildly in quality, sometimes feeling like they were overstaying their welcome, and they make the argument that Twilight Zone eps don’t need to run almost an hour. Tedium sets in early after the euphoric high of the premier fades.
In an age where it seems we are living in the Twilight Zone every day, it is fitting that the series has returned to television. Peele and Kinberg have laid out an intriguing start for how their new interpretation will function with these four stories. While two of the episodes are more of a mixed bag, the two-episode premiere should excite new and old audiences alike. I can’t wait for future episodes to witness the surprises that the series holds. It is hard to live up to high expectations, but these episodes still inherently feel like they belong next to the original series. That is pivotal to its future success. There will be twists that shock you, stories that challenge you, and memorable characters at every turn. Welcome back, Twilight Zone.