I don’t like The Twilight Zone

Posted on July 3, 2009

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I like science fiction and fantasy. I’m one of those people who can watch movies and TV shows multiple times. So I should watch The Twilight Zone, right? Except I don’t.

I’m thinking about that now because we’re in the midst of the SciFi channel’s annual Twilight Zone marathon (and don’t even get me started on the channel’s name change). For the July 4th weekend, the SciFi channel is off-limits for me. I just don’t enjoy watching it. It’s not the marathon. I don’t even like Twilight Zone in small, single-episode, doses.

For those of you who don’t know, The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964. Rod Serling hosted, and some of the best and brightest writers in SciFi and television scripted episodes. Stars like Jack Klugman, William Shatner, Burgess Meredith, and Martin Landau appeared. The brilliance of the series was was how it could use science fiction tropes to take an unusually sharp and critical look at society at the time. Then again, there were deeply psychological episodes like the Shatner classic, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (an episode so good they re-made it for the 1983 movie, with John Lithgow taking Shatner’s place). So please understand that I’m not critiquing the show, or arguing against including it in the pantheon of classic television. I just don’t like it.

To be clear, I have watched it. I watched Twilight Zone growing up and loved it. There was always something good – the acting, the writing, the make-up, something. I just don’t watch it now.

The episodes usually have some kind of ironic twist. For example, in the first season of the show, Burgess Meredith was in an episode called Time Enough at Last. His character, Henry Bemis, loved to read, but never had enough time. A nuclear war wipes out the rest of the human race while Henry is taking his lunch hour in a bank vault, the only place where he can find peace enough to read. Now he has all the time and peace he wants to read, but his glasses slip off his face and break. Fade to black, cue credits, end. Many of the twists are well done and, for their time, original. In fact, the twists have become television tropes of their own, and are constantly re-used by contemporary writers. So even without watching the actual Twilight Zone, I see its influence in many “twist” endings.

Still, I know the endings of many shows and movies that I routinely re-watch, so what’s the big deal? I see a couple of differences. First, many things that I re-watch have emotional associations that have nothing to do with the content of the show or movie. For example, when I watch A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, or Yellow Submarine, the emotional associations come from the Beatles’ music, and from memories of listening to that music or watching those films with friends. Growing up, I watched The Twilight Zone by myself. Geek shows were a refuge from adolescence, and  that’s not a time that I need to revisit.

Second, when I re-watch things, I’m usually doing something else like writing, studying, cooking, or gaming. I don’t want something that’s going to intellectually or emotionally challenge me. I want the soothing background noise of the expected, and dammit The Twilight Zone is just too good to allow that.

So I respect The Twilight Zone, but I don’t watch it. Now. You wanna see something really scary?

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