The Twilight Zone remains one of the most timeless and relevant shows ever made, its social parables and imaginative twists still resonating with audiences all over the world to this day. Though the show has gone through several revival attempts, recent news that writer/director Jordan Peele would oversee yet another incarnation has many people excited. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is now, more than ever, is the right time to return to the dimension of imagination.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
The original incarnation of The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS in 1959. The brainchild of writer Rod Serling, each episode told a unique story featuring characters caught up in unusual, and often supernatural, circumstances. But while it’s often remembered as fantasy, The Twilight Zone was born out of an unusual time. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, the McCarthy Hearings left many afraid of their neighbours, and the prospect of nuclear annihilation hung over the nation and the world at large. As a writer, Rod Serling wanted to tackle these issues.
Rod Serling was a socially conscious man, and as such he wanted to address his own opinions on the state of the world through his work. While writing for Playhouse 90, Serling created episodes meant to address issues like The Holocaust and the murder of Emmet Till, but his work was often censored by the studio for fear of controversy. A frustrated Serling eventually found that disguising these issues in the context of fantasy and science fiction would make them easier to swallow, and thus The Twilight Zone was born.
While not the case with every episode, The Twilight Zone often tackled issues like racism, nuclear war, the Holocaust, and just what it meant to be human. Tackling these issues under the guise of fantasy and science fiction proved a big hit with the public. The show lasted for five seasons, each of its 156 episodes presenting a unique vision that maintained its own identity while still feeling right at home in Serling’s universe. To this day, it is considered one of the finest shows ever made, so it was natural to want to revive it. Several attempts have been made, though none were as successful as the original.
The first revival came in 1984, lasting three seasons and running a total of 64 episodes, a far cry from the original show’s run. The show attempted to deal with issues like the Cold War and economic strife but lacked a lot of the subtlety and poetry of Serling’s original work. It could hardly be called a failure, but its success was only moderate, and it lacks a lot of the lasting power of the original series.
The show was revived again in 2002 with Forrest Whitaker as host, but this version made even less of a splash. In spite of episodes meant to deal with school shootings and even a sequel to the original series’ classic episode It’s A Good Life, this revival only lasted one season and came to an end after 44 episodes. The stories for the most part just weren’t terribly good, and few, if any, made an earnest attempt to tackle relevant topics.
With each incarnation becoming less and less successful, it seemed the time for The Twilight Zone had come and gone. So why are people excited about this incarnation? One is the motivations behind it. The 84 and 02 revivals were based more on nostalgia than anything else, and thus lacked the vision and sense of importance that made the original so special. They also occurred in times that, when compared to today, seemed relatively stable. There was precious little that was stable about the Civil Rights Era, and in many ways, tensions of today reflect the tensions felt then. Jordan Peele was one of the few artists to address them.
A few years ago if someone were to tell me Peele was going to host an incarnation of The Twilight Zone, I wouldn’t have believed it. This wasn’t due to dislike of the man’s work. I was a big fan, and consider Key & Peele one of the funniest shows to come out in the last decade. In retrospect, it’s easier to notice a lot of the socially relevant touches to some of the sketches on that show, which took controversial topics like race, economic strife, and the mistreatment of teachers and re-packaged them as comedy. Peele would carry that with him when he made Get Out.
Get Out actually follows a lot of The Twilight Zone’s tricks of the trade. The film is a parable for racism in the United States but does this under the guise of a horror film. It’s very effective too, using the genre to disguise its message, and thus hit the audience in a more unexpected and unsettling way. Peele’s decision to deal with a socially relevant issue in this manner shows the same kind of thinking as Rod Serling. That thinking makes him perhaps the best choice to helm this upcoming incarnation.
Peele isn’t merely hosting the show, but is also executive producing it through Monkeypaw Productions, and will hopefully bring some of his writing talents to the table with future episodes. Peele’s talent is one of the reasons I’m excited for this new incarnation of one of my favourite shows, but there’s another element that makes a new Twilight Zone seem like a foregone conclusion. To find it, all you need to do is look out the window.
While previous revivals for The Twilight Zone were born out of nostalgia, the original was born out of its turbulent times. It’s no mystery that we’re living in similarly turbulent times now. Both old issues have reared their ugly heads again, and new issues have come to the forefront as well. Political tensions are on the rise once more, racial controversies are once more front page news, economic strife is becoming worse, and the threat of nuclear annihilation has been replaced by the threat of climate change. As in the 50s and 60s, very few people want to talk about it. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.
Though it may not seem like it, people do have a need to address certain topics that are controversial or frightening, and tacking these issues in the guise of fantasy or science fiction has proven a good way to make the public more open to them. Not only that, Peele’s Get Out has proven there is still an interest in such material. As with The Twilight Zone, it used a parable to address racism, and as with The Twilight Zone, it was more successful than more direct attempts to talk about it.
The Twilight Zone was more than just science fiction and fantasy as it never offered audiences an escape. What it did do was offer them a mirror, asking uncomfortable questions about who we were and who we wanted to be. It’s through these questions that we can all work to better ourselves and the world at large. Maybe it’s time to take a look in that mirror once more.
I hope you liked this post and be sure to check out some of our other content at ScreenHub Entertainment such as my list of 10 B&W movies that are still terrifying or my piece on female empowerment in the slasher genre.