This is a 60-year-old reboot but a much-awaited one. The original 1959 show The Twilight Zone had a huge cult following and went on to have a whopping 156 episodes over its 5-year-old run. Plus everything that has Jordan Peele’s name on it, usually turns into gold these days.
Yes, the Get Out and Us director has not only developed the show, he’s also the narrator who pops up a couple of times in every episode to give the audience a pitch report of sorts from the ground. And just like the original creator Rod Serling used to spell it out, this is what Peele narrates with the opening titles of every episode.
“You are travelling through another dimension, a dimension of not only sight and sound but of mind. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of one’s fears and the summit of one’s knowledge. You are now traveling through a dimension of imagination. You just crossed over… into the Twilight Zone.”
As you can make out from this little voiceover script, the show is largely a sci-fi parable using channels of fantasy and horror. But the only little glitch is that we’ve had Black Mirror already and if you are to access that zone, you need to alienate (no pun intended) yourself from the Netflix show.
So, what the new Twilight Zone does is dive into divisive cultural topics and spin sci-fi and supernatural yarns around them. I’ve seen the first three episodes of the series (there will be 10 this season) and true to its anthological format, each of the stories is completely different from the other and yet somehow they all manage to be a social commentary with issues like racism and sexism organically embedded in the subjects.
In the first episode titled The Comedian, we have Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani of The Big Sick), a failed standup comedian whose Second Amendment jokes never ever find any laughs. Till a comedy legend mysteriously appears at the bar and advises him to use his own life in his act. As Wassan changes gear, the laughs do pour in and he feels “the rush of the limelight” but the people he mentions in his jokes start disappearing!
While the ending is predictable, this first episode is less about how it ends and more about how we all find the wrong things funny these days. The audience isn’t interested in the ludicrous rules about gun laws but they roll on the floor laughing when they learn about a dog pooping on the furniture. Interestingly, The Comedian is directed by Owen Wilson, who has directed a couple of episodes of Black Mirror, including the brilliant San Junipero.
The second episode, titled Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, has a journalist (Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation) listening to a podcast on an aeroplane that gives details of the events in the run-up to that same flight crashing. This one’s a tad predictable too but again the ethnically diverse passengers on the flight put up a fitting portrait of the racist American mind.
But my favourite till now is the third episode, Replay. A mother (Sanaa Lathan) is having a meal with her son at a diner before his first day of college and she’s got a camcorder whose rewind button actually rewinds what’s happening, giving her a chance to do things differently. But no matter how she approaches the situation, the racist trooper (Glenn Fleshler) sitting at the diner manages to stop her boy from reaching college in every replay.
Helped by a bravura performance by Lathan, Replay is a terrific take on how the blacks have become paranoid about the racist white police, having been profiled, harassed and even killed on so many occasions. And while the episode offers a solution in the end – “it was love, not magic, that kept evil at bay” – it also sent out a warning: “For some evils, there are no magical permanent solutions.”
All the episodes of the series are incredibly shot with masterful use of tilt-shift lenses. The production design is top notch too, whether it’s the comedy club in The Comedian or the insides of an aeroplane in Nightmare at 30,000 Feet. But what will stay with you are the central performances, whether it’s Lathan or Nanjiani or Scott.
Find a way to watch The Twilight Zone. It’s not as phenomenal as Black Mirror but just the kind of creepy sideshow you want in your streaming life. And if you are a fan of the original show, you must check out the reboot. That same theme music, that same logo and that familiar montage of a door opening into an eyeball… it’s going to be one satisfying trip back to the other dimension.