Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The Twilight Zone
So this Labor Day weekend, I decided to watch as many episodes of The Twilight Zone as I could manage, even though I’d often be using them as background sound while I wrote.
The show holds up surprisingly well for something that aired over forty years ago. All the women wear pearls and have their hair in bouffant ‘dos, while the special effects may be better left to the imagination. But many of the ideas behind the stories are so great that they overcome this, and I enjoyed the horrific or grotesque overtones. They’re like a Ray Bradbury tale.
I was able to spot a few of the shock twists coming (such as the one in “Stopover in a Quiet Town”), but “The Eye of the Beholder” scared the hell out of me, and the wishes in “The Man in the Bottle” had darkly funny consequences. The main character found a genie who gave him four wishes. He spent the first one on repairing a cabinet, to make sure the genie was real. For the second wish, he asked for a million dollars, which he got – but since he hadn’t specified a million tax-free dollars, he ended up with $5 after the IRS took its ton of flesh. For the third wish, he asked to be the leader of a powerful modern country, who could not be voted out of office. He became Adolf Hitler and spent the fourth and last wish to undo that.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, starring a pre-Kirk William Shatner, is a good story that’s also an excellent example of the plot skeleton. Start out with a sympathetic character in a difficult situation (a guy who’s had a nervous breakdown and who has to take a plane flight in a storm). Add an obstacle (he sees a creature clinging to the plane’s wing). He takes steps to overcome the obstacle (he tells a stewardess about the creature). The steps fail (no one else sees the creature and they believe he’s crazy). And things get even worse (the creature begins tearing up the plane’s wing).
There’s a reason this show is a classic.