The Twilight Zone is a classic piece of television, and it really set the benchmark by which any sci-fi or horror television series (especially if they are anthologies) are judged against. Probably right now the iconic theme is in your head–even people who have never watched the show have likely heard it, it’s imitated so often.
It used to be that you might catch a few episodes here and there on the Sci-Fi Channel (I refuse to call it SyFy because…really?) but now what with Netflix and Hulu it’s much easier to find. Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching seasons 1-5 (minus season 4, for some reason) on Netflix. I’d seen a few episodes here and there during Sci-Fi marathons, including a few classic episodes such as “Time Enough At Last”, where Burgess Meredith (better known as Rocky’s manager in the first three Rocky movies) plays a man who likes to read, and after a nuclear war finally finds the time, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” where a young William Shatner sees a terrible creature on the wings of a plane.
Seeing those classics, I knew I like The Twilight Zone and I was excited to get to experience the rest of the series. I was impressed by how edgy the show was, given the time period in which it was made. It featured a lot of scathing social commentary, using sci-fi/horror themes to illustrate (and conceal from censors) its point. “Monsters on Maple Street” is a perfect example of The Twilight Zone as social commentary. It is about a neighborhood in a small town that sees strange lights and hears word that aliens have come down in human form. Paranoia takes over, and soon the neighborhood devolves into panic and violence. Another such episode whose name I can’t recall centers around a family who has a bomb shelter in a neighborhood of people who did not. The authorities come over the airwaves with the warning that a nuclear attack is under way, and what once looked like a neighborhood straight out of a Norman Rockwell becomes a place of fear, panic, and the animal instinct to survive at all costs.
Not every episode of The Twilight Zone is quite so weighty. Many are moralistic fables, many of which are intended to be humorous. One hallmark of the series is the ironic, often horrific twist featured in nearly every episode. The Twilight Zone beat M. Night (What a Twist!) Shymalan to the punch by fifty years, and more often than not this show does it better than ole Shymalan ever could, outside of The Sixth Sense that is. Not every episode is great–like any anthology, the stories can be a bit hit or miss–but when The Twilight Zone gets it right, well, there’s a reason it’s considered classic television.