Ranking the 2019 Twilight Zone Episodes

D.M. Domosea. A woman who has long outgrown the idle interests of her youth in supernatural shows like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Outer Limits. She never sought out these shows and yet they’d draw her in—like a siren song—whenever she’d come across them on TV, usually on a rainy Sunday afternoon or in the middle of an unsleepable night. They held her captive with their tales of the impossible and the macabre, feeding a small creature within her called inspiration. Now, fully ensconced in adulthood, D.M. finds herself drawn in once again by the familiar siren song of the supernatural with Jordan Peele’s reboot of a classic series on CBS All Access. And so, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, after a night of fitful sleep, D.M. embarks on a journey she cannot ignore, accompanied by that creature she cannot forsake, as she ranks and reviews episodes of a show known as The Twilight Zone.

10 — A Traveler.  This story incorporates themes of government conspiracies, unwelcome visitors, and colonialist sins, and for me, was the most unremarkable episode of the lot. It’s not that it was altogether awful, but I didn’t find the hook overly compelling or the creep factor suitably high. Rather, it felt a bit predictable and silly. I figured out the ending early on and the rest of the story plodded along to that finish.

Not All Men9 — Not All Men.  The writers worked hard to turn the themes of male aggression and entitlement in the #MeToo era into the basis of a creepy Twilight Zone story, and it only somewhat worked for me. On the one hand, the message is so explicit that I couldn’t fully enjoy the story. On the other, with a series intended to invoke contemporary issues and societal ills, you can’t NOT include it. The episode actually starts in good place with a scene that’s likely relatable for many women, but then it veers into over-the-top violence and contrivance.

8 — Nightmare at 30,000 Feet. This episode is a reboot of one the more well-known Twilight Zone episodes—one that was included in the 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie—“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” As appropriate for the twenty-first century, the writers have replaced the gruesome monster on the wing with a much more believable one inside the plane, and added in a hearty helping of paranoia, helplessness, and gut reactions. I appreciated the timely twist on a classic but that familiarity keeps it from landing higher on my list.

7 — The Wunderkind.  This John Cho-led story is inspired in part by the original episode, “It’s a Good Life,” which was also redone for the 1983 movie. However, this script takes a clever and contemporary spin on the notion of a child with “godlike powers” by making the basis of that power the cult of personality rather than supernatural gifts. Given our current political reality, this one cuts close to home. I enjoyed the episode but didn’t think it was among the stronger tales of the season.

TZ Blurryman6 — Blurryman.  I enjoyed the meta nature of this episode…even Jordan Peele gets roped into the plotline as himself! It also feeds into the helplessness and horror of being stalked by a persistent yet ambiguous assailant, a fear many women carry with them as part of their lived experience. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending (it’s very Twilight Zone-ish but without the Twilight Zone tone…?), but I adore Zazie Beetz so that makes everything about this episode better.

5 — Replay.  Okay, so this episode was downright uncomfortable to watch because it deals with racial profiling and police harassment that are all too real. In true Twilight Zone fashion, “Replay” takes those cutting realities and puts a supernatural spin on them, giving the audience the chance to slip into the utter futility black mothers must feel as they fight to ensure their sons’ success and safety in a world designed to persecute them. As I said, difficult but compelling to watch.

4 — The Blue Scorpion.  I spent the entire time watching this through anxiously clenched teeth. You think you know what is going to happen, but the plot takes a turn or two into the unexpected. It’s a tale of grief, loss, obsession, and learning to move on. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but the main character’s ending was more hopeful than one might expect from a Twilight Zone episode.

TZ comedian3 — The Comedian.  This episode felt like classic Twilight Zone without necessarily replicating—in an obvious way—any of the old series (at least, not any that I’m aware of…) I figured out the end about halfway through the episode, but I still enjoyed watching Kumail Nanjiani take us through his character’s struggle as a comedian and his growth as a human being. Tracy Morgan has a delicious supporting role in this.

2 — Point of Origin.  This episode was quietly creepy, foreboding, and unsettling. Ginnifer Goodwin does an excellent job in the main role of a woman who is too entrenched in her comfortable and privileged life to understand—or remember—what it’s like to always be afraid you will be dragged away from the place you’ve made home. It uses a “shoe on the other foot” take on illegal immigration that works because it does so by focusing not on the supernatural aspects of the story but on the emotional toll.

TZ six degrees1 — Six Degrees of Freedom.  I admit that the primary reason this episode was my favorite is because it’s a space-based theme, and I am always down for a science fiction space thriller with an ensemble cast. I really connected with the characters and their struggles as they work to overcome grief, fear, paranoia, and endless monotony and familiarity to remain not only a functioning team but a family. Kudo to the new Twilight Zone writers, cast and directors for fitting the tension, heart and suspense of a full-length movie into a one-hour episode.

If you’re partial to speculative fiction anthology shows like this one, I suggest checking out the classics: The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, or Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. For something a bit more contemporary, try Black Mirror and Love, Death and Robots on Netflix, or Electric Dreams and Tales from the Loop on Amazon Prime.

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