Having stuck with the entire first season of CBS All Access’ The Twilight Zone reboot — through episodes thin, maddening, exasperating, and incoherent — I think it’s safe to say now that maybe The Twilight Zone just doesn’t work anymore in a post-Black Mirror world. I mean, if Jordan Peele and an incredible array of talented actors and writers cannot make it work, I’m not sure it can be done. It’s like remaking Withnail and I in a post Apatow/Rogen world: The original is always going to be fantastic, but Rogen and Apatow have taken so many of the elements of that movie and applied them to this moment that a remake of Withnail and I would feel … pointless? Like when J.J. Abrams tried to recreate the entire Amblin catalog with Super 8.
In either respect, with 10 episodes in the can now, I thought I’d take a stab at ranking them, should viewers want to pick and choose among the best. I have to say, though, that even the best episodes are not all that great, which is to say about as good as the worst episode of Black Mirror. When The Twilight Zone kicked off with Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Comedian,” I thought, “Well, that’s a decent start. Let’s see if it gets better from here.” As it turns out, “The Comedian” was one of the best, and it was mostly downhill from there.
Nevertheless, here they are in order from worst to OK:
10. “The Wunderkind” — John Cho stars as a failed campaign manager (and Alison Tolman as his campaign assistant) who attempts to make a comeback by getting a child (Jacob Tremblay) elected President, with disastrous results. Written by a very good television writer, Andrew Guest, it highlights how easy it is to persuade the American electorate with the right story (here, the kid recovers from a disastrous debate after expressing sadness over the death of his dog). However, the story goes so far beyond parody or satire — even in the Trump era — that it completely fails as social commentary.
9. “Six Degrees of Freedom” — Starring DeWanda Wise and Jessica Williams, among others, this episode is about a Martian expedition crew leaving Earth just as it is destroyed by nuclear war. Things are not exactly what they seem, however, and the crew begins to question whether their reality is real or if they’re stuck in a months-long simulation. However, there are life-ending risks in testing the latter possibility. It’s one of three episodes written or co-written by The X-Files’ Glen Morgan, and while there is a kernel of a decent idea here, the episode itself feels more like nu-X-Files than old.
8. “Point of Origin” — This is another episode where I liked the idea — a privileged, well-intentioned white woman (Ginnifer Goodwin) whose maid is deported finds herself in a situation similar to her maid, only in a different dimension — but ultimately, the story is so convoluted and incoherent that any social commentary it’s trying to impart gets completely lost in all the muddle.
7. “Not All Men” — This episode, featuring a very good cast — Taissa Farmiga, Rhea Seehorn, Luke Kirby, and Ike Barinholtz — is basically what would happen if Twitter and Comments sections came to life. A meteor of some sort hits, and all the men suddenly turn into incredibly aggressive, agro-violent assholes, and while it makes for an interesting thought experiment, it doesn’t hang together well in story form.
6. “A Traveler” — I’ll say this much for this episode: Steven Yeun, as the alien traveler, is creepy AF. The episode is thematically interesting — it’s a story about colonization presented through the filter of the traditions of a white people holiday, Christmas — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was early on in the series’ run, though, so I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, and I ended up watching it twice in trying to write an explainer. I’ll just say that a lot of other people on Google trying to make sense of the episode ultimately ended up on that post.
5. “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” — A lot of people who only watched the first couple of episodes saw this remake of a classic The Twilight Zone starring Adam Scott, and a lot of people probably bailed afterward thinking, “Well, if that’s the best you got …” They tried to remake it for a contemporary audience, and it fell horribly flat. That it’s still one of the middle best episodes says all you need to know about the overall quality of the first season.
4. “The Blue Scorpion” — “The Blue Scorpion” refers to a pistol that a character played by Chris O’Dowd finds in the possession of his father’s corpse after his Dad kills himself. O’Dowd ends up becoming entranced by this gun, which has had a history of being exactly where it needs to be, and we spend much of the episode waiting to find out why it needs to be in this character’s possession. I actually liked much of this episode, but it just had no idea where to go, and the payoff was ultimately unsatisfying. But, O’Dowd is terrific in it.
3. “Blurryman”— The final episode of the season stars Seth Rogen and Zazie Beetz, and it is total gobbledegook. Zazie Beetz plays a writer named Sophie who, while writing an episode of The Twilight Zone about a writer who affects reality with her words, actually finds herself trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone being chased around by a Blurry Man, who — as it turns out — appears in all of the other episodes of the first season. The episode ultimately makes no sense, but Jordan Peele delightfully plays a version of himself, Seth Rogen has something akin to a glorified cameo, and even though it doesn’t really earn the twist ending, the reveal of the Blurry Man is a super fun homage to the show itself.
2. “The Comedian” — The first episode is somewhat slight, but Kumail Nanjiani is great in it, and the premise — about a struggling comedian who finds success telling jokes about his loved ones, only it causes his loved ones to disappear — is great. It doesn’t ultimately really go anywhere, but at least it doesn’t sledgehammer the viewer over the head with metaphor.
1. “Replay” — On the other hand, “Replay” does beat its viewer over the head with metaphor, but the storytelling here is probably the most effective of the season. Sanaa Lathan and Damson Idris star as a mother taking her son to his first day of college when they confront a white police officer in a diner. The mother, however, discovers that she has a video camera that can reverse time. However, no matter how many times or how many different routes they take away from the diner, the white police officer always catches up to them and violence always ensues. It’s an intense and terrifying episode thanks in large part to Glenn Fleshler’s terrifying racist cop.
Header Image Source: CBS All Access