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.


Loren said...

Glad you got to see that. I remember it well from my childhood -- all those odd story twists.

*** Spoiler Warning ***

"A Nice Place to Visit" -- a street thug gets killed and ends up in a place where he gets everything he ever wanted. But he gets bored and wonders what "the other place" is like. His host tells him that he is in "the other place".

There's also one about someone who lived about 2000 years without aging, who wants to kill himself, but who can't get himself to do so.

And someone who's granted invulnerability, and decides to kill someone, just so he can have fun surviving the electric chair. He gets life imprisonment instead.

"It's a Good Life" -- Anthony Fremont is a bad, bad boy who wishes anyone he doesn't like into a nearby cornfield.

"A Stop at Willoughby" -- a businessman often snoozes on the commuter train that he rides to work, dreaming of a nice, relaxed small town called Willoughby. And after a very bad day, he dreams that he gets off the train at that town. But in reality, we see a hearse run by Willoughby.

"To Serve Man" -- some aliens invite us Earthlings to have a wonderful time on their planet, but guess what the book with that name turns out to be.

Enough of the memories for now; Wikipedia was very helpful for jogging my memory.

Marian Perera said...

Hey Loren, thanks for commenting!

Your mention of "A Nice Place to Visit" makes me want to do another blog post on stories about people who get everything they want handed to them without effort.

I watched "It's a Good Life" as well, but I prefer the short story on which the episode is based. In the short story, Anthony never speaks and it's implied that he's physically as well as mentally different from everyone else. Whatever he changes the guy into at the end of the story is also not described, so it's much more scary.

I like "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" as well. Couldn't find "What You Need" or "The Whole Truth" on YouTube, unfortunately. Those are the only ones I still haven't seen, but which I'd like to watch.