I haven’t seen every episode of the original The Twilight Zone yet, but I’ve been a fan of it for years. I’ve seen at least a piece of just about every incarnation of it, from the original black and white show to the 80’s movie and TV series, to the early 2000’s version as well. Rod Serling’s seminal classic is one of the hallmarks of science fiction television history.
So being also a huge fan of Get Out, I was ecstatic that Jordan Peele was hosting the next version of it, for CBS All Access no less. I already had a subscription because of Star Trek: Discovery, and now I get to add another modern-day version of a classic science fiction franchise to my list.
It did not disappoint. Not one bit.
The Twilight Zone has always had staples about its stories. There was always an eerie, otherworldly element that was present not just in what was driving the story, but also in how the story was being told. The camera angles, the movement, the music itself, the performances and of course the writing. All of these elements that are critical to the formula of Serling’s creation, and it is abundantly clear that everyone involved in the new show from Peele on down, completely understands how the world of The Twilight Zone works.
The first episode, The Comedian, starring Kumail Nanjiani as a struggling stand-up comedian willing to do whatever it takes to make it big, is a classic Twilight Zone parable. From the surreal nature of how his audience reacts to his “jokes,” to the otherworldly, dark nature of the plot device, right down to the creepy big band jazz that you hear throughout the episode, it is downright an honor how much this new show pays homage to its predecessor.
At the same time, The Comedian is without question a story for a modern audience. This isn’t a case where the theme is dated or not applicable to the world we live in now as it’s in fact, very relevant given the nature of what Nanjiani’s character is trying to do, and what he ends up doing in the episode. A lot of times with reboots there is a valid concern about whether or not the new version is just telling the same old story the exact same way as the predecessor without being able to spread its wings and fly its own path. This is definitely a case where The Twilight Zone is able to go its own way.
Part of that way involves the freedom of being on a streaming service, which means strong language. It’s there and not in a way that feels forced or done just for the sake of exercising that freedom. It’s from a natural place with the characters and the story being told here. To watch this new Twilight Zone, that’s one thing to definitely understand.
Nanjiani is great in this tale as the struggling stand-up comedian Samir Wassan and while he has a small supporting cast surrounding him, he is bolstered by actresses Amara Karan and Diarra Kilpatrick, as well as a fittingly awesome appearance from Tracy Morgan, who plays into the theme of the show and the episode so well. The first one is free on YouTube for those who want to try it, but is not the only episode immediately available for CBS All Access subscribers.
The second one, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is an inventive retelling of the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of the original series that famously starred William Shatner before he became Captain James T. Kirk. In the new version, it’s Adam Scott playing the role of a journalist that has just recovered from a nervous breakdown and finds himself in a peculiar situation of dread aboard a plane that he believes is in danger, for similar but not completely identical reasons that Shatner’s character did. That’s as much as I’ll say without spoiling the episode, but it’s another case of the show paying homage to its predecessor while still going its own way. It’s not a strong or as long as The Comedian, but it’s still a great indicator of the potential that this show has down the road.
Peele of course, is fantastic as the narrator. He’s not doing a Serling impression at all and he doesn’t play it campy or in jest. He’s keeping the torch that’s been handed to him lit very brightly and it’s a joy to see him involved in this series for sure.
I was expecting to have another reason to recommend CBS All Access to people with this show, and I’m glad to say that I certainly do. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a longtime fan of The Twilight Zone, I have to believe there’s something here that you will greatly appreciate just as I do.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE – 5 of 5 – Streaming on CBS All Access