Why Jordan Peele’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE Is As Risky As It Is Urgent

In Jordan Peele we trust.

I’ll be honest, the very thought of a remake of The Twilight Zone makes me cringe. It’s my favorite TV show of all time, and one of the absolute best series to ever grace the small screen (I’m not interested in debating this). So there’s a certain amount of protection I have for it - even when someone like Jordan Peele expresses interest in rebooting it for the modern audience. He’s riding the wave of success after his similarly provocative Get Out, and striking while the water is still hot on his next high profile project. I get it; and I want this for him because he deserves it. If there is any filmmaker who would be halfway worthy to tackle the timeless sociopolitical themes of the original series and apply them to present day, it’s Peele.

But still, I remain conflicted because...what if it's not good?

Many have come before Peele trying to redo this series. Remember the ill-fated '80s movie? I don’t. I mean, I do, but I don’t want to. And what about the short-lived 2002-2003 TV reboot starring Forrest Whitaker? Not even that future Oscar winner could save that sinking ship, which may have looked like the original series, but reeked like a dumpster. And just when I hoped any interest of reviving the show thereafter would be DOA, Leonardo DiCaprio takes his big screen adaptation off life support with reports just this summer that they’ve found a screenwriter for the project. It just…never ends.

So yeah, I am more than a little fatigued about the prospect of yet another attempt to bring back the show. But given what Peele did with Get Out (namely: tap into the bigoted fears of suburban white America and the everyday fear of what it’s like to navigate the country as a black man), he's an inspired choice for the project. Get Out isn’t a traditional horror film. And to that extent, The Twilight Zone isn’t a traditional sci-fi/horror series. They’re both allegories that present the very real horrors of actual society in plain sight—with no gimmicks, gore, or jump scares to enhance them. They both hold up a mirror to society and to people’s deepest fears, biases, and hatred. So let’s ease some of the concern here by taking a look at just what Peele can do with a reimagined series.

Let’s start first by saying that there is really nothing on which to improve the original 1959-1964 series, particularly for its time. So there’s no need to come from a place of deficit, to think of ways in which it can be “fixed.” Creator Rod Serling himself was reportedly adamant about highlighting the show’s most controversial themes that challenged the status quo, including racism, PTSD from war, censorship, greed, a general fear of the unknown in often the most painfully ironic way. While the series remains groundbreaking even today, however, how the audience discusses these themes is radically different than the way we once did. Back then, there were intimate conversations explored in small timid groups among allies (or, in some cases, among men wearing white hats and capes). The dialogue was often suppressed by (or supported, depended on which way it flowed) by legislature. Now, in this digital media age, we have online and social media platforms that provide a space for people around the world to engage in wide open discussions that are not only urgent but necessary.

Our modern society has removed the stigma from such controversial dialogue, which means that a Twilight Zone remake has to take it a step further - in order to incite the same level of discomfort and insecurity that the original series did. Peele should be able to do that, since in Get Out he a) centers a black man in a horror narrative in which he is neither the villain nor the first guy dead and b) presents white suburban racism as the actual villain in the story. In doing so, he radically shifts what audiences have come to expect from horror - which here is internal and compels viewers to question beliefs by which they are comforted. He also raised the bar for future genre filmmaking. That’s just what the classic series did and continues to do.

Of course, the obvious area to explore would be digital media, the threat to anonymity, social currency, and other ways in which the World Wide Web has challenged how we view ourselves, each other, and the world around us. But I hope it doesn’t, because that show is already called Black Mirror and it’s phenomenal. What makes a great remake isn’t its ability to imitate its predecessor (or any other successful show); it’s how it forces us to take another look at some of the themes from the original and apply them to present day. Serling and Peele have explored similar themes in their prospective projects, but it will be interesting to see how the latter uses his own identity to influence the writing. As a black man, married to a white woman, and navigating the overwhelming whiteness of Hollywood, it sets him apart from the countless white male dystopian filmmakers who don’t think to center characters of color or talk about issues that directly affect the marginalized and disadvantaged and tell their such stories from their perspectives. What would “Eye of the Beholder” be like today, if the protagonist was a black woman struggling with the concept of beauty in a white world?  Or what about “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” if Peele decides to rework it as a continuation of Get Out?

There is potential here, especially now as we continue to interrogate these same issues today. And if done right, it could be epic. I’m not saying that it could surpass the original, but it is worth approaching if Peele decides to imagine these topics in the way in which we discuss them today—with the aim to expose the uncomfortable truths behind them while eliciting the same sense of anxiety and uneasiness found in any great genre narrative. If he doesn’t, then I have to ask why bother. But if he does, it begs our undivided attention.

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