When Rod Serlings’s The Twilight Zone made its television debut in 1959 on CBS, it was a groundbreaking and landmark moment in modern television history. There was nothing like it on television at the time. The series’ only competition, The Outer Limits didn’t come along until 1963, right as The Twilight Zone was nearing the end of its five-season run. In the decades since The Twilight Zone ended its run, it remained one of television’s most influential programs. Its stories have been spoofed by countless other series. From the likes of The Simpsons to Tiny Toon Adventures and so much more, audiences of all ages have been entertained by this timeless series in one way or another. It has even been rebooted on television now three times, the most recent reboot coming last year with a new 10-episode debut season, hosted and executive produced by Jordan Peele. The full season run is available now on DVD and Blu-ray through CBS Distribution and CBS All Access, complete with some bonus materials. The content is the core positive of this season’s home release and will be discussed shortly. For all that the bonus content does, the stories featured at the center of this season’s episodes, which are supposed to be the show’s core, detract quite a bit from its presentation. This will be addressed a little later. While the stories that make up the body of Season One detract quite noticeably from the season’s presentation, Peele’s work as the show’s narrator makes up at least slightly for the problems posed by the stories. Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of this Season One set from the latest reboot of The Twilight Zone. All things considered, they make this collection worth at least one watch, but sadly falls short of the legacy maintained today by Rod Serling’s original series.
CBS All Access’ new reboot of The Twilight Zone is a presentation that is worth at least one watch in its debut season, but not much more. Keeping that in mind, it is not a total loss. That is due in part to the bonus content that is featured with the season’s home release. The most notable of the set’s bonus content is the tribute to Rod Serling and the legacy that he left with his landmark series. The 36-minute feature that is “Remembering Rod Serling” is a fitting tribute to Serling. It tells the story of Serling’s life, career and impact on television (and media) history through the words of his family and friends as well as clips of Serling discussing his work. One of the most powerful statements that Serling makes through the culled footage comes late in the feature. He notes to a group of college students that they need not worry so much about a misplaced comma or a run-on sentence, but rather making sure the idea that they want to express is done so clearly in their works. That is something that so many people need to take to heart today. There are editors out there who are so nitpicky about those tiny items, that they lose total sight of the bigger picture. The figures who were interviewed for the feature add their own comments, noting Serling’s desire to speak on social issues throughout his life. They stress that Serling used the series as a way to address those concerns while also entertaining audiences at the same time. What’s more, it is pointed out that he understood in doing what he did, that he also understood the role of advertisers and studios at the time, which played into his ability to so solidly balance the show’s more serious and lighthearted elements. One of Serling’s daughters is among the interviewees featured in this semi-documentary. She talks about Serling as a family man away from work, and how committed he was to his family. It is a truly uplifting, smile-inducing anecdote that is shared, and adds even more enjoyment to the presentation. Between all of the items noted here and the rest of the discussions that make up “Remembering Rod Serling,” the whole of the bonus feature is in itself well worth the watch. It is just some of the bonus content worth watching. The introductions to each of the episodes, called “Opening The Door To…” are important in their own way to the set’s presentation.
The “Opening The Door To…” segments are brief, but they give viewers a concise explanation as to the commentary presented within each episode. The topics are presented by the cast members who star in each episode, too, adding to the engagement and entertainment. Audiences will learn through the introductions, that the topics tackled are at least in most part, just as timeless as the topics that Serling addressed in his stories. ‘Replay’ for instance presents a commentary about the ongoing issue of the relationship between minorities and law enforcement officers. The introduction to ‘Point of Origin’ explains that as complex as the episode is, it is essentially an allegory about how we as a people handle the issue of illegal immigration and how racist views play into that discussion. The introduction to ‘The Wunderkind’ notes the story is a warning about letting identity politics control a nation rather than the important issues facing a nation. Simply put, the explanation of each episode’s story might not seem like a lot on the surface, but in the bigger picture of things, it plays directly into the engagement and entertainment of the stories themselves. The introductions are…well…introductions. They set the scene so to speak for each episode, and allow audiences to better decide if they want to watch one episode or another.
Staying on that note of audiences’ ability to decide which episode(s) to watch, the set’s packaging plays into that decision, too, making for another positive worth noting. The season’s episode listing is provided for audiences inside the collection’s box. Each episode’s title is featured along with a brief episode summary, adding to the ability to decide which episode(s) to watch. That initial decision can save time for audiences as they try to decide which episode(s) to watch. The compliment of the episode introductions with each episode adds even more pleasure for viewers as they make the noted decisions. Keeping all of this in mind along with the value of the bonus tribute to Rod Serling, it becomes clear why the bonus content is so important to the overall presentation of the first season of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone.
The bonus material featured in the home release of The Twilight Zone’s first season reboot is clearly critical to its presentation, and does a lot to make this set worth at least one watch. While it does a lot to make the set at least partially appealing, the stories collectively detract just as much from the presentation. From start to finish, it is easy to see that all the show’s writers did was re-imagine Serling’s stories, rather than make something original. Case in point is the episode “Six Degrees of Freedom.” It is clear that this episode coupled elements of the original episodes “I Shot An Arrow Into The Sky” and “Where Is Everybody?” and made them into a re-imagined take on the two. That realization does detract greatly from the enjoyment. The same thing applies for instance in the new episode “A Traveler.” “A Traveler” is essentially a mash-up of “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up” and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” what with the matter of the alien invasion and the matter of the friends fighting amongst one another as a result of the intervention by the alien. Those familiar with Serling’s original series will remember that in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” those neighbors who knew one another so well suddenly started fighting amongst themselves because of the intervention of the unseen aliens. In this case, the alien was in plain sight, yet still unseen. So again, it is in essence just an updated take on that story as well as the other noted tale. “Not All Men” with its overly preachy product of the MeToo movement about toxic masculinity also lifts from “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” after asteroids land in a town and “infect” all the men in the town, and they all start going crazy and become violent. Yet again, here is something from space causing the masses to go crazy. On top of that, do we really need that preachy message about toxic masculinity? The answer is a resounding no. This episode was completely unnecessary, and just a knee jerk reaction to the times. For another example of the detriment of the stories, one need look no further than “The Wunderkind.” This story is little more than a re-imagining of ‘It’s A Good Life,” which starred famed actor Billy Mumy as the “evil” child. In the case of “The Wunderkind,” the evil controlling child becomes the tyrannical leader of the United States. There is very little difference between the two stories in this case, other than this story clearly goes after Donald Trump, comparing him to a manchild of sorts. Given, there’s nothing untrue or wrong with that. After all, that is exactly what Donald Trump is. He is the worst thing to ever happen to America in this critic’s own view. But other than that, there is just no true originality in this case, either. It’s just one more lifting of Rod Serling’s work instead of being an original story. If all of this is not enough example of the detriment of the stories, the re-imagining of “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is yet another example that proves how much of a disservice these stories are in Season One. Rather than just being a fan piece about a man who sent crazy on an airliner (or did he?), this tale is loosely based on the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. In this case, the outcome is quite different from what likely happened in reality. To that end, it just takes so much from the enjoyment in this case.
On a slightly happier note, while the season finale, “Blurryman” is essentially just a re-imagining of “The Hitch-Hiker,” it is really the only story in this season that works. It mixes elements of that story with the equally timeless episode “Time Enough at Last” to truly pay tribute to Serling and his legacy. It is the only episode that can truly be forgiven for not being wholly original, just because of the way in which it was executed. Other than that one story though, the other noted episodes and the others not directly addressed here prove themselves to be anything but original, much like the episodes in the previous reboots of The Twilight Zone. Yes, they are at least worth watching once thanks to the acting and the cinematography, but in terms of the general writing, they are anything but positive.
Making things even more troubling for the stories is the overt inclusion of so much unnecessary foul language. Between the adult cast and even the younger actors, there are lots of f-bombs, s-bombs and other related four-letter words tossed around so openly. Serling’s series and even this series’ predecessor showed they did not need all that language in order to keep audiences engaged. To that end, one can’t help but wonder why the show’s creative forces thought it was necessary to work blue. The argument that this reboot is simply a product of its time does not hold water. If previous series could go without such language, then this reboot should be able to do the same. It is just disappointing that it is there this time out.
Getting back to the matter of Mr. Peele, who has made quite the name for himself in recent years in Hollywood, he is deserving of his own share of applause in his time as the show’s narrator. Peele only shows up in the episodes’ early and late moments, but there is something in his presence and his delivery each time that is so entertaining in their simplicity. It is a presentation in itself that will make the most devoted fans of Serling and his timeless series happy. He is just as stoic in his narrations as Serling was, his delivery so matter of fact, yet presenting just enough emotion to let audiences easily grasp the irony in each tale both at the start and finish.
On another note, Peele’s acting as he becomes one of the stars in the season finale is just as notable because he knows he is still more supporting cast than star. He lets his cast mates take the lead while still offering his own lighthearted act along the way. Between that impressive on camera role and his work as the show’s narrator, Peele proves to be his own key part of the season’s presentation. Between his work on camera and the importance of the season’s bonus content, the two elements go a long way toward making the debut season of CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone at least somewhat engaging and entertaining. The stories, while clearly not exactly original, do have at least some positive to note, slight as it is. All things considered, the home release of CBS All Access’ 2019 reboot of The Twilight Zone hardly lives up to the legacy of Serling’s original series and is worth maybe one watch, but sadly not much more than that.
CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone is a presentation that is anything but the memorable work that Rod Serling’s original series has proven to be more than sixty years after it debuted. Sure, the bonus content featured in Season One’s home release is engaging and entertaining along with star Jordan Peele (through his performance), but the stories prove anything but original. They are largely little more than mash-ups and re-imaginings of Serling’s original stories. The unnecessary foul language and overt violence and darkness in each episode makes this season even more targeted in terms of audience base than its predecessors. Sure, Serling’s original series might not necessarily be kid friendly, but at least it is known that audiences as young as 13 years-old can appreciate that series. This series, by comparison is more appropriate only for audiences 18 and older because of the noted content. Keeping all of this in mind, this latest take on The Twilight Zone is largely a failure that hardly lives up to the legacy of the original series and of Rod Serling himself. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other content from CBS All Access is available online at:
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