Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E07: “Not All Men”

As if men needed another reason to be horrible… in The Twilight Zone.

If there’s a message in this one, it’s a little lost on me. But I think it’s hard to see the forest for the trees because the trees are pretty damn compelling. This TZ iteration gets the societal dark side of the human condition almost note perfect (In this episode: women who feel weird saying “no,” white knighting as a pretext, men who don’t take no for an answer, etc.), in the way that the original series never could — that is, under network and advertiser scrutiny. It makes me wonder how much further “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” or “The Shelter” would go if they were made today.

The difference is, a lot of those original episodes were about a turn. There was at least an illusion that your neighbors maybe weren’t paranoid or racist or would turn on you, which a strange occurrence would then dispel. But even though tiny meteorites are as good a catalyst as aliens manipulating the power grid or a nuclear false alarm, there’s no surprise in “Not all Men.” There’s no shock as “Not All Men” reveal themselves.

I almost rated the episode lower than I did until I realized: Maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE of the 21st century, where the real shock is that there wasn’t that much illusion to dispel after all — which makes it poignant on its own terms! On the other hand, I didn’t rate it higher because even if I’m right about the point, I still feel like I had to reach a bit to get to that conclusion.

Other takeaways:

  • “The Martians might be coming.” — not the Venusians?’
  • Calling someone “a jobsworth” is definitely something worthy of a Serling script.
  • All the acts of violence men do, great and small, are all compressed and on display in one episode.
    • Patronizing men. And the women who enable it.
    • No surprise that Zeke the Geek is an asshole, “He used to be so bullied.”
    • “It’s just assholes being assholes.” Boys being boys.
    • “I guess I gave him a confusing vibe.”
    • “I just didn’t say anything.”
    • “At least the men are just as aggressive to each other, too.”
    • Yes, even the gay men.

The Jack Elam Score for “Not All Men” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E06: “Six Degrees of Freedom”

Five astronauts in search of an exit… out of The Twilight Zone.

Definitely another original series mash-up of every episode with: astronauts, a catastrophe, obvious throwback references, and more importantly, a meta examination on the nature of reality. It was simple and straightforward, but still compelling. But just because I don’t have a lot to say about it, “Six Degrees” is one of those really solid episodes that I’d expect to see if this new series lasts long enough to get its own holiday marathons. Other impressions I had…

  • Featuring The Bradbury won’t necessarily get this episode a “4” rating, now…
  • Oh, TINA is talky — is it going to go H.A.L.?
  • I’m gonna be pissed if this whole thing is just someone’s delusion.
  • Otherwise, this would be a great pilot for a sci-fi TV series.
  • I swear, the astronaut who loses his shit is THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S answer to STAR TREK:TOS’s redshirts.

Okay, so while this episode does feature The Bradbury

The Jack Elam Score for “Six Degrees of Freedom” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E05: “The Wunderkind”

Art imitates life imitating a reality TV show imitating life… uh… “Twilight Zone.”

I hoped for a follow-through on the OMEN-esque vibe I got seeing the trailer. Some kind of new update of “It’s a Good Life.” Of course, the last episode that brought this to my mind didn’t seem so good to me. “The Wunderkind” had a promising premise, a compelling character, and the clever throwback touches I’ve come to expect from the new series. Trouble is, it couldn’t get off the note of “Look, look, it’s about how we’ve normalized the weird shit going on in Washington DC, get it?” The other impressions I came away with…

  • Five episodes and I have to be imagining the continual references to “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” That jukebox could be referencing a bunch of episodes. Right…?
  • You’re blatantly mixing your o.g. TZ references with John Cho strapped to hospital bed, there — part “To Serve Man,” part “Eye of the Beholder.”
  • But only in the modern TZ could you have the Asian character say, “I want Justin Timberlake to play me in the HBO movie!”
  • The polls being “high tech baloney.” A child who “tells it like it is.” Hm, seems familiar…
  • Only in the modern TZ can Asian guys be selfish a-holes proposing ridiculous candidates/ideas, blinded by the privilege that lets him think, “Everybody wins, nobody gets hurt.” Yeah, right.
  • Nope, the episode took my suspension of disbelief a step too far. Why would parents let Raff near them again. I could believe they could go for it once, but twice? Obviously, because the plot needs it.
  • Look, little Bobby Flay jumping up on the cutting board.
  • Ah, here it is — “That was a good thing you did, Oliver. A good thing.”

I’m reminded of the interview James Gunn (the sci-fi writer, not the director) did with Rod Serling where Serling mused about the consistency of the original TZ: “It wasn’t a good show every week. It wasn’t a good show, sometimes, three weeks running.” “A” for effort here, but…

The Jack Elam Score for “Wunderkind” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E04: “A Traveler”

An assimilated people still have a line in the sand against a colonial oppressor. It’s just pushed far back. For some though, that line is set all the way… into The Twilight Zone.

I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but just in this single episode there were actual or thematic references to every original TZ episode where…

  • …someone is in a jail cell
  • …it’s all police can do to just keep a grip on WTF is going on
  • …people get paranoid and shit gets crazy
  • ::that Giorgio Tsoukalos meme::

And this reminds me of another strength of the original series. I think part (a small part, to be sure) of the reason people say stupid things like, “Why can’t modern SF/F be apolitical like THE TWILIGHT ZONE?” is because a lot of the stories were crafted to sink its speculative hooks in you so deeply that it practically enabled a shallow viewer to miss the deeply political stuff. Now, I don’t recommend that kind of viewing for “A Traveler,” because you’d miss out on its commentary on colonialism. But hey, you do you!

Other thoughts I had as I watched…

  • This is the Christmas episode, but I get the feeling it’s not going to be “Night of the Meek.” Will we ever get an episode like that in this 2019 iteration?
  • Sure keep showing the Gremlin, Talky Tina, the Mystic Seer — I like merch! But I don’t know… I don’t think the alien with the bling and a Sherpa hat is going to be a thing.
  • Jesus, Steven Yuen dressed like Ross — fucking awesome
  • “Quallinat Christmas sucks”… but as long as you get turkey and pie…? Hey, I’m Fil-Am, I’m not judging!
  • Again, a good depiction of the low key everyday racism that I experienced. (Heh, “experienced.” Past tense… it’s a joke, get it?)
  • Dummy Christmas wrapping
  • A. Traveler.” HAHA I like it.
  • Aggro travelers are a thing…??
  • Love the rotary phone with buttons
  • Oh, now we have some “Monsters are Due” shit going on here?
  • Mayor “Matheson” — okay, I think by episode 4, new viewers know how Richard Matheson is by now!
  • I was fully expecting Greg Kinnear to the be a racist dumb-ass. No, just a bigger egotist than racist.
  • “What the actual what?” is a nice callback to “Wet… what’s, ‘wet’?”
  • “My people are going to intercept them.” What… from Venus?

The Jack Elam Score for “A Traveler” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E03: “Replay”

Even a magical camcorder might not be enough for a Black mother to protect her son from racism in America… even in The Twilight Zone.

There’s some true alchemy in this episode! Like the first two, there were lots of tiny references sprinkled in for the eagle-eyed fans of the old series. But whereas the last attempt to update the old series was a little too on the nose (for me at least), “Replay” took the original TWILIGHT ZONE’s approach to the themes of the ’50s and ’60s and fashioned something completely relevant for 21st century viewers. Especially 21st century viewers of color! So far, “Replay” is the quintessential TWILIGHT ZONE update to me! Here are some other takeaways…

  • I love the sheriff uniform. Reminds me of something…
  • C’mon Jordan, is the Mystic Seer really necessary? I mean, I get it but still.
  • Emmett Avenue, huh? Of course.
  • Kaepernick super-bowl!
  • This is definitely reminiscent of those hitchhiker stories where the ghost keeps reappearing.
  • That’s it — instead of running from the apparition, go straight for it!
  • It’s not often you see subtle racism played out on TV. Sure we all knew the White trooper was racist and going to say “boy” at some point. But up until that point, he’ll sit and chat amicably with people of color. There comes a point in the episode where one might be tempted to think, “Oh, this is when she turns the cop around.” But people of color knew better.
  • Car 1015, eh?
  • You’d think anyone in a TZ with a grasp of the weird shit going on around them would’ve been like “ain’t no thing” when something bad happens.
  • “You’ve never asked for help” — that’s the key right there!
  • I called the ending — but not until it was almost on me. Good one, Jordan!
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a teleplay sum up about 90+% of the struggles of a community in a well-rounded way since, well, BLACK PANTHER.
  • We don’t just get a fleeting visual reference to the spirit of Rod Serling. Thematically, we also get, “It was love, not magic, that kept evil at bay.”

The Jack Elam Score for “Replay” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E02: “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

An airline passenger has a dire warning for Flight 1015 in a story that doubles down on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — at least, as much as one can for only going an additional 10,000 feet up… in The Twilight Zone.

My first thought heard when I first heard this episode’s title was, “Really?” After all, I’d heard that this iteration of TZ would swear off direct remakes. But now it wouldn’t surprise me to eventually see yet another updated version of “It’s a Good Life.” Not that I’d complain, but still. Here are my other impressions…

  • Easter eggs abound in this episode: References to each of the folks who were a distant second and third for number of original TZ episodes written (Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont), to a familiar company that ended up making mp3 players, to the original “20,000 Feet” episode via a deliberately placed callback like the one in “The Comedian“…
  • …which is what makes me suspect that I was supposed to have my “Really?” reaction. Okay TZ 2019, you got me!
  • Ah, the risks of traveling “Privileged class”… for the traveler and everyone around them.
  • Wow, do I feel called out over my obsession a year or so ago over SERIAL.
  • You know what they say about how the more something changes…?
  • I don’t want to get spoilery at all, so I’ll just say that I don’t get the ending. Rather, I don’t see the logic for this story’s particular ending.

The Jack Elam Score for “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E01: “The Comedian”

A stand-up comedian gets advice for advancing his career, which works out about as well as you can expect… in The Twilight Zone.

Here it is — my first in a series of reviews of Jordan Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE! I’ve purposely avoided having too much information about this series. The only things I couldn’t avoid gleaning were (a) there are homages galore to Rod Serling and the original series and (b) the show intends to shy away from direct remakes of old episodes. Fair enough. Here are my impressions…

  • The first thing I thought of when I saw this episode’s title was, of course, the PLAYHOUSE 90 special of the same title that Serling did in 1957. Hey, if Mickey Rooney can play the role of a comedian dramatically, why can’t Kumail Nanjiani?
  • Tracy Morgan upholds the tradition from classic TZ episodes like 1961’s “A Game of Pool” where comedians like Jackie Gleason play creepy.
  • I thought the episode went a little overboard with the camera work, but probably no more in 2019 than was considered overwrought in the 50s and 60s.
  • I wish the original series was this sweary.
  • I loved the reference to 1962’s “The Dummy.”
  • I forget how simple the old Twilight Zone-y elements are, but this episode leans on that simplicity: a comedian who wants to open his mouth and change the world…
  • …which of course, in this case, leads to the classic TZ trope of someone abusing the messed situation they’re in.
  • The episode was a little padded, IMO and I totally called the ending. Still, though, an awesome start!!

The Jack Elam Score for “The Comedian” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

#Weeknotes S02 E08

Well, whatever Andromeda Strain I was fighting off for the past two weeks knocked me out last Thursday and Friday. Stayed home from work because I wasn’t capable of doing that much else except sleeping. I did get some writing in when I could; it was only a little bit but more than I’ve managed in awhile.

Still waiting to hear on an iron that’s been in the fire for a few weeks now. Added another iron in the form of a writing-adjacent submission. I don’t expect anything to come out of that one, but you never win unless you play, right?

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 4 days with 5 writing days total!

On track for my basic, ultra-low bar of “just write more days in February than you did in January.” Because that’s where I am right now. It’s keeping my fingers warm, looking over old projects, adding a little here in there just to keep myself writing. The important thing is to keep doing it daily. And I know, “You must write every day” seems prescriptive and ableist, and it is if you mean it as general advice for everybody, for all time. Still, I’m compelled to keep trying for that goal. The only difference is not judging myself as weak if I fall off the horse.

FEEDING MY HEAD
I forget exactly how I stumbled onto the Backstory Cleveland newsletter, wherein editor and writer Matt Winkam reads his way through every novel set in Cleveland. That alone made me bookmark the link. I have some of the material he lists, and I’m curious to see this take on it.

FEEDING MY EARS
Wrote up a little thing on WEATHER, the latest album from Huey Lewis & the News

I’m also finding myself diving into my collection of Chick Corea Elektric Band albums, and hearing things now that there’s no way I could’ve comprehended when I pretentiously got these albums after college. I’ll probably distill some thoughts on them soon.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

IN THE WILD

I’m ashamed that despite being the hard core TWILIGHT ZONE fan that I am, I didn’t shell out for CBS All Access to watch this, and so I missed out. But I’m rectifying that now! Episode reviews coming soon, rated with my customized “Jack Elam Score,” in honor of the actor in my favorite Twilight Zone episode ever, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS! CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!”

#Weeknotes S01 E11

Relatively short one this week, only because things have been busy at the dayjob since the holidays. It’s always a busy time of the year right as people are scrambling to get everything wrapped up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I spent most of this weekend just taking it as easy as possible and fighting my tendency to make every second of it productive, at least this once.

But you know, just thinking about it now tickles my anxiety a little; like, “You still got time between now and Monday, get on the stick!” Especially since I’ve really let my progress slip on the MOOC I’m doing. And it doesn’t help that I learned that being a professional dungeon master is a thing. Makes me feel like I missed a calling in life.

I just need to get comfortable with just chilling the fuck out between things. I think that’s a 2020 goal.

IRON IN THE FIRE. So yesterday I had an interview for a new position at my dayjob. Things look good; then again, I’ve thought that before. But I’m one of two final candidates so my odds are 50/50 at this point. I should hear in the next couple of weeks, so I’m either going to have an awesome holiday or, well, an okay one. Y’all will know as soon as I do!

FEEDING MY EYES. Would you believe that yesterday I came across another episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE — “The Fear” — that I’ve never seen before?

FEEDING MY EARS. It only took me 30 years to figure this out…

IN THE WILD. This was the week that Asher finally ventured out of the bedroom (under his sister’s watchful eye, of course). Monday, he made it out of the hallway, and spends longer and longer out in the living room before being startled by something and scurrying back to his hidey hole. And just now, for the first time, he jumped up onto the living room furniture. He’s come a long way!!

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

Backlog Catch-Up // “Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

“Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont
From THE HUNGER AND OTHER STORIES (1959, Bantam)

This is the story of one Mr. Aorta — See, already that sounds like the beginning of a Rod Serling TWILIGHT ZONE intro, which is fitting given Beaumont’s relationship to that show as well as the tone of this piece. First published in F&SF in 1957, it’s a cautionary tale of a lazy man’s petty dreams of avarice coming true thanks to some magic dirt. The wonder of Beaumont’s writing is that while you know Mr. Aorta is headed for a not-so-happy ending, Beaumont’s dreams go a step beyond what you expect.