Can you write a hagiography about a TV show? Yesterday was THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s 50th anniversary. If I have an all-time favorite TV show, this is it. Oh, I’m a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the original Star Trek and Next Generation. I am enough of a fan of Doctor Who that I started a fan club in college. I grew up on All in the Family and MASH and other such shows that have gone down in the history of the small screen and that I watched religiously.
But not like I watched The Twilight Zone.
I had to be careful with Twilight Zone. I had to jump up and turn down the volume (this was waaaaay back in the day children), because hearing the music scared me too much. But I kept watching. After I saw the episode “Living Doll,” I checked the cabinet I kept my own dolls in every night for months to make sure it was fully shut. But I kept watching. I couldn’t sleep after “The Dummy.” But I kept watching. I simply couldn’t look away. The stories were too wonderful. Even as a kid I loved fantasy and science fiction, and here was some of the best I’d ever find.
But it was more than magic and space ships. Urban Fanstasy is now a genre of vampires and werewolves and Babes in Black Leather, but some of the best urban fantasy ever created was on display in the Twilight Zone. Serling set stories in diners, bars, and pool halls, in train stations, in apartments, department stores, on the carnival peers and on the streets of suburbia. In his hands the everyday was the home of the fantastic, because humanity is fantastic and is capable of anything, anything at all.
I am not sure how to judge if the series has aged well overall. If someone sat down and watched one of the Syfy channel’s marathons, they’d be hampered by the fact that a number of the greatest episodes have turned into cliches. We all know To Serve Man is a cookbook, and, of course, the technology has been way outstripped by reality, and I imagine a number of the plots could have been solved a lot sooner if the characters had had cell phones.
But to tell you the truth, I think it’ll hold up tomorrow, and I think it will continue to hold up the way great movies do. Because the stories are not dependent on the technology or the clever twists. They’re dependent on the people, and the choices, hopes and fears of the people. I’d strongly recommend, for instance, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” It was written for the Cold War, but it is highly, frighteningly relevant right now. And even if you know what’s coming, watch Mickey Rooney’s one-man performance in “The Last Night of a Jockey,” where he plays the both tempter and tempted is deeply affecting.
So Happy Anniversary to the dimension of sight, the dimension of mind, and to the stories that came out of it to change the way we think about what waits behind all the closed doors.