I have a confession to make; one that will surprise and possibly upset you: as of November 1st, 2013, I had seen more episodes of 2002's Twilight Zone revival starring Forest Whitaker than I had the original series that ran from 1959 to 1964. Over the years I've seen a few on late night TV, and usually not paying much attention to boot - I've probably "seen" more episodes via Simpsons parodies (or 1983 feature film remakes) than the right way. It's depressing, really.
But a recent acquisition of the series boxed set (a newly packaged version from RLJ that is now in stores) has given me the opportunity to fix that. This post is part of a new limited series column, where I will go through a disc at a time and offer some highlights on each as I make my way down the path of being a much more educated genre fan (not to mention someone who will understand 7-8% more "Treehouse of Horror" gags). Join me, won't you?
Season 1, Disc 5
A Stop At Willoughby
A Passage For Trumpet
The After Hours
The Mighty Casey
A World Of His Own
Favorite Episode: The After Hours
Like Disc 2, all of these were pretty damn good, making picking a favorite difficult. Each had their own merits and thankfully avoided too many overused ideas (not a single astronaut in sight!), and if you were to ask me again in a year or so I might say "Willoughby" was the best, or even "A World of his Own" thanks to the hilarious twist ending. But ultimately the one I kept thinking about was "The After Hours", which like "The Hitch-hiker" is a rare episode that actually has some scares, always a nice surprise. Our heroine is at a big department store looking for a gold thimble and is told she can find one on the 9th floor, but after dealing with the only clerk on the floor (who seems a bit odd), she discovers that the thimble is scratched. And of course, when she goes to get an exchange or refund, she is told by the store manager that there IS no 9th floor! First off, I liked that it wasn't something more obvious like the 13th floor. Second, it's the rare twist I didn't see coming right away (not a slam on the show's writing; it's just that I've seen so many things that were ripping off these episodes that I had never seen until now), which is always a plus. And third, it's creepy as hell! After she learns that the 9th floor doesn't "exist", she takes a nap in an office to compose herself, and when she wakes up she discovers she's been locked in the store with all its terrifying mannequins. But it's not just a cheap scare, the mannequins actually play a role in the tale's conclusion, which is equally sad and uplifting. I also liked how they clearly modeled real mannequins after the actors (doing a fine job in the process), instead of just having the actors stand still (a practice that has proved to be problematic in previous episodes like "Elegy").
Not A Classic: The Mighty Casey
The episode is harmless enough, but it suffers from the fact that the behind the scenes story is vastly more interesting. At first I was baffled why Jack Warden (the only actor of note to play two roles in the first season) was hired to lead an episode that found him partnered with a robot, since that was the plot of his other episode ("The Lonely"). But while I still don't get why they got HIM, at least I know now that it was meant to star another actor, one who actually shot all of his role, albeit in a very "off" state that had Serling thinking the actor (Paul Douglas) was drunk. As it turns out, Douglas was actually suffering from a coronary during the production, and died less than 48 hours after production had wrapped. Not wanting to use the footage since it clearly would make for a lousy tribute as his performance was severely hampered by his condition, Serling put up his own money to reshoot his scenes with Warden. All for a goofy, forgettable episode about a robot pitcher that can't bring itself to strike out the batters once it is given a heart.
Starwatch: The Mighty Casey
It may not be a great episode, but I was charmed to see a young Robert Sorrells as the robot - I am much more familiar with him as Marvin Stanwyk in Fletch ("Velma makes the most unusual lemonade..."). Sadly, the top Google match on his name today would probably be for the fact that in 2012 he walked into a bar and shot two people, killing one of them. He's now serving life in prison. Charming! Also, Orson Bean in/as "Mr. Bevis" as a young man was charming, as I only know him as an old coot on (name a TV show, he probably popped up on it).