Next to Star Trek, The Twilight Zone was CBS’s most well-established property upon which to construct as soon as it launched its streaming service CBS All Entry. The unique Twilight Zone collection ran 5 seasons from 1959 to 1964, created and spearheaded by the famend scriptwriter Rod Serling, who penned an exhausting proportion of its episodes. Regardless of some average success following the top of the collection—most notably, the screenplay to Planet of the Apes—Serling didn’t see sustained acclaim after the mid-’60s. Neither did The Twilight Zone; revivals of the collection within the 1980s and 2000s (together with a notoriously disastrous movie) didn’t come near the magic of the unique.
There’s an underlying discrepancy between Serling’s imaginative and prescient as articulated and actualized within the 1960s model and that of its 21st-century counterpart.Nonetheless, CBS All Entry’s newest iteration of the show got here with some substantial expectations, most notably because of its affiliation with Jordan Peele, who serves as one of many govt producers and fills Serling’s sneakers because the narrator. Peele was clearly an apt selection; however his background within the comedic Key & Peele, his star actually rose when he directed the movies Get Out and Us, well-regarded horror motion pictures with Serling-esque sensibilities. Following a memorable Super Bowl promo, the community started dropping episodes of Season 1 on April 1, 2019, following its mannequin of releasing them weekly relatively than abruptly. All the second season, nevertheless, was launched mid-pandemic on June 25, 2020.
Does the brand new Twilight Zone reside as much as its expectations? That relies upon considerably on who you ask. Critical reactions to the 2 seasons have been considerably optimistic, however not overwhelmingly so. The parallels to Serling’s unique collection are evident, such because the opening and shutting narrations, the twisty storylines that always contact on social points, and the heritage of tapping well-regarded storytellers—moreover Peele, episodes are sometimes directed by up-and-coming horror auteurs like Ana Lily Amirpour, Osgood Perkins, and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
The variations are noteworthy too, nevertheless. The Twilight Zone type was distinctive. There was its trademark black-and-white format, artfully and deliberately deployed. This type consciously averted particular results, which have been troublesome to attain on a decent price range with the expertise of the day, relying as an alternative on suggestion and well-crafted dialogue. And naturally, there was the operating time—round 25 minutes (sans commercials), apart from its penultimate fourth season, by which the present’s growth to an hour time slot diluted a lot of its effectiveness.
How effectively Peele’s Twilight Zone stacks up with Serling’s partly hinges on one’s expectations. Does it stick too intently to the unique collection to be a very modern and obligatory addition? Does it depart too broadly from a tried-and-true formulation? Does it fail not from following the formulation however from making use of it poorly? Or does it hit that candy spot, balancing out the polarities and presenting a traditional in a brand new mode for a brand new technology of viewers?
To a sure extent, one would possibly reply, “All the above,” from the straightforward proven fact that The Twilight Zone is an anthology present relatively than a serialized storyline (albeit one with numerous continuity Easter eggs). As a collection by which every episode should stand alone, the character and high quality of episodes is certain to range. This was true of Serling’s unique Twilight Zone, which amongst its memorable installments additionally included any variety of mediocre (or downright terrible) ones. Furthermore, like its predecessors, CBS All Entry’s Twilight Zone operates throughout a number of genres; and this truth will not be incidental trivia however (as I’ll talk about shortly) bears considerably on the worldview(s) introduced to its viewers.
In some ways, I recognize the brand new Twilight Zone and have discovered a number of of its particular person entries highly effective. I consider that (as is commonly true of profitable exhibits) the second season has realized a number of the classes from flaws of the primary. Even so, past superficial variations, there’s an underlying discrepancy between Serling’s imaginative and prescient as articulated and actualized within the 1960s model and that of its 21st-century counterpart, one which in the end limits its usefulness to up to date audiences even because it strives to be extra related: that’s, its strategy to the religious world.
Before continuing, you will need to handle the query of The Twilight Zone’s style. The unique model of the collection was all the time a hybrid of speculative genres, and viewers by no means knew in any given week whether or not they can be getting science fiction, fantasy, or horror (solely a pair episodes—“The Jeopardy Room” and “The Silence”—had no speculative aspect). These distinctions aren’t tangential, as a result of completely different genres are predicated on completely different assumptions. Certainly, whereas bookstores might need a single “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” part, of their purest types, the 2 classes are mutually unique. Fantasy assumes some supernatural element, whereas advocates of “laborious science fiction” insist that plots should be extrapolated from identified scientific materialism. Any supernatural aspect in science fiction is pushing it towards the extra ambiguous “science fantasy.”
Horror, in the meantime, is distinguished extra by its orientation, its want to impress worry. That is perhaps carried out in purely materialistic phrases (e.g. “slasher” horror), however extra usually, it skews nearer to fantasy in its appropriation of the supernatural. Nevertheless, not like horror, fantasy tends towards an orientation of marvel. If fantasy and science fiction make unusual bedfellows, horror and science fiction are much more unsettled, since science fiction classically was related to an orientation of optimism, even sharing with fantasy at occasions a way of marvel.
So from its very origins, Serling’s present was a peculiar mixture of genres. But throughout these genres, there have been some broadly unifying arcs. One was a fervent insistence on the intrinsic value of human beings. Science fiction can lose that insistence when it veers too far into transhumanism, because it has traditionally been susceptible to do. Horror can simply develop misanthropic in its emphasis on worry and despair. Fantasy, at its worst, can change into disenchanted with the first world and switch towards a gnostic rejection of creation. But none of those options are defining points of their genres, and below Serling’s course, The Twilight Zone by no means overpassed the dignity of individuals. Even when—because it usually did—the collection critiqued its core characters (or their antagonists), I consider these critiques got here from a posture of care and correction, not outright hatred.
Considerably, Serling positioned intrinsic human worth within the picture of God. This turns into evident in a number of the present’s most memorable moments. In “The Obsolete Man,” Romney Wordsworth defies the authoritarian authorities official’s rejection of God, and Wordsworth’s personal religion permits him to die sacrificially in opposition—a uncommon optimistic non secular reference in dystopian fiction. In “Demise’s-Head Revisited,” a former Nazi is confronted by the ghosts of the folks he killed, who insist, “Your remaining judgment will come from God.” Merely put, Serling’s collection instructed not solely a supernatural realm, however a religious one. Sure, within the fantasy and horror segments, paranormal happenings performed main plot roles. However underlying these unusual occasions lay a extra foundational stratum, one which assumed people existed on greater than a cloth aircraft.
It isn’t so clear that the brand new Twilight Zone builds upon such a basis. The CBS All Entry model shares with its predecessors a dedication to a number of genres and to asserting human dignity. Like Serling’s collection, Peele’s version riffs off present occasions for its material. Each exhibits proceed from a want to make use of the conventions of style fiction to impact optimistic change in society.
However whereas Serling might contend for human value on the premise of a shared imago Dei, a religious facet that gives an inherent worth to every particular person, the reboot appears content material to treat women and men materialistically. Human beings, Aristotle maintained, are “political animals,” and that’s actually how season one of many new Twilight Zone understood them. At occasions, it appeared nearly just like the writers have been retaining a grocery record of political hot-button subjects in entrance of them after they broke tales. Racism? Verify (“Replay”). Immigration? Verify (“Level of Origin”). Gun management? Verify (“The Blue Scorpion”). The Trump election? Verify (“The Wunderkind”).
There’s nothing improper with such consideration per se; pertaining to incendiary points was a key a part of the unique present’s legacy. However the season’s unflagging devotion to its politics grew exhausting over time, particularly as a result of too usually the thematic content material overwhelmed the story and characters. Within the collection premier, “The Comic,” Kumail Nanjiani performs a would-be stand-up comedian who can’t succeed as a result of his want for political commentary overwhelms the “jokes” of his routine. That episode, satirically, might stand in as an allegory for the entire first season.
The newest Twilight Zone might on one degree be simply as knowledgeable by the humanities as its progenitor. But its posture towards the humanities is kind of completely different.And one purpose Peele’s model appears so wearying is a way of bleakness, even despair, that pervades its storylines. Which may be a part of our present cultural second, but it was no much less part of the 1960s, an period of the Chilly Struggle and the Civil Rights motion. The twists of that Twilight Zone may very well be chilling—sure, even bleak—on a person degree, however the present’s arc extra broadly instructed glimmers of hope. If an episode ended tragically, it steadily did so on the phrases of Aristotelian and Shakespearean tragedy: with the expectation that pity and terror might rework the viewer’s life. And lots of episodes concluded extra optimistically, with virtuous characters rewarded via battle or obvious antagonists and villains experiencing some mode of redemption.
In some methods, the second season has improved on the primary. One can catch these elusive glimmers of hope in episodes corresponding to “A Small City,” “Attempt, Attempt,” and a few others (for those who squint at them from the suitable angle). The dedication to tackling up to date points stays intact, however it’s subtler and extra story-oriented. If something, the emphasis this yr appears extra on socioeconomic relatively than immediately “political” considerations—although these are intertwined (as they might have been in Aristotle’s polis).
Yet whether or not the main target is on homo politicus or homo economicus, the brand new Twilight Zone’s perspective on humanity stays reductive. However the apparently progressive politics underlying its premises, the present isn’t “progressive” within the historic sense—fairly the opposite, episode after episode ends with the implication that human occasions are largely locked in a near-endless cycle. This can be a shortcoming endemic to materialistic iterations of progressive thought: with out the idea of a future supernal eschaton, all we’ll ever know exists on the corporeal aircraft of our present existence, and so the one hope for any paradise should be realized within the horizon of our personal societies. But such a quest for an immanent utopia is doomed from the beginning—actually human beings will burn you each time. The result’s a sociopolitical mindset that vacillates wildly between extremes, from naïve optimism to bitter cynicism when these hopes are crushed.
To adapt the terminology of Charles Taylor, the brand new Twilight Zone might cursorily counsel an enchanted world with its deployment of the supernatural, but on a deeper degree, it betrays its dedication to the immanent body. This dedication is manifest, amongst different methods, within the present’s depiction of the liberal arts. A key defining characteristic of Serling’s collection was its frequent paeans to the humanities, and to literature specifically. It’s little marvel that Romney Wordsworth of “The Out of date Man” is a librarian, one who finds the religious impetus to resistance dystopia via literature; the identical is true of Marilyn within the chilling “Quantity 12 Appears Similar to You.” “The Altering of the Guard” extols the importance of an English instructor fearing he has wasted his life, whereas “The Bard” excoriates the methods by which up to date media appear at odds with the manufacturing of true enduring cultural merchandise.
The newest Twilight Zone might on one degree be simply as knowledgeable by the humanities as its progenitor. But its posture towards the humanities is kind of completely different. As with its use of the supernatural, the brand new collection appears content material to deal with its varied literary and cultural allusions as plot units and thematic overtones, with little suggestion that they might retain actual transformative energy. On the one hand, its writers are clearly readers; many subtly or immediately invoke traditional cultural merchandise. For example, “Among the many Untrodden” (arguably the perfect episode of the second season) not solely derives its title from William (not Romney!) Wordsworth, it contains the compulsory English class with an teacher lecturing on Wordsworth. However whereas the episode actually permits for some narrative payoff of those allusions, it by no means immediately means that anybody is benefited from studying Wordsworth.
This creative lacuna isn’t actually shocking; certainly, it proceeds naturally from the present’s secular assumptions. The humanities aren’t, after all, completely the area of Christians—certainly, culturally and traditionally they actually belong not solely to Western Civilization however to everyone. But that transcendent and transcultural strategy to fact assumes that human beings are extra than simply composites of their cultural contexts and influences, that we’re vital individually as a result of we’re vital metaphysically. Rod Serling’s traditional Twilight Zone shared this primary assumption. Solely time will inform whether or not its present successor can actually reside out its inheritance by asserting transcendent human religious dignity, an enchanted antidote to our secular age.