“You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.”
A few days ago on Twitter, J.C. Hutchins asked people for their favorite Twilight Zone episode. Along with the list of usual suspects people mentioned (To Serve Man, Living Doll, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, and so on…) I threw my own personal favorite into the ring: George Clayton Johnson’s Nothing in the Dark. And, like anything, picking your favorite Twilight Zone is an ad hoc exercise in psychological analysis.
But the truth is that the Twilight Zone is one of those rare things, where it’s virtually impossible to pick one single episode as your favorite… impossible to single out the one that’s the best. The show contributed far too many classics to the canon. There are a few odd clunkers in there, to be sure (and the less said about the ill-conceived, ill-fated feature film from the 80’s, the better). But the show — and it’s creator and host, Rod Serling — occupy a well-deserved place in Television history.
When I was a kid, the Twilight Zone was on TV every single day. It came on at noon and then again at midnight, two episodes back to back. And holidays typically saw at least one local station running a 24 hour marathon (regrettably, this last tradition seems to be waning as cable takes over for the local stations).
I probably started watching the show with my older brother Scott. But we were all fans on one level or another. It wasn’t uncommon for someone in our house to hum the tell-tale theme (“Do do doo doo, do do doo doo…”) to indicate when something strange was going on. As a matter of fact, my mother did this on Facebook a few days ago.
I don’t remember what the first episode I watched was, but I was hooked from the very beginning. When I was out of school during the summer, it was part of my daily ritual to watch the show while I ate lunch. Later that night, already a confirmed night owl, I would stay up and watch the midnight round of shows as well. This went on well into high school and beyond. If they were still on, I would do it now.
I didn’t know it at the time — in fact, I wouldn’t realize it for at least a decade into my own writing career — but the Twilight Zone served as my first lessons in storytelling. I don’t think there’s a story I’ve written that doesn’t owe some debt to the show, either in pacing, theme, or character. And I know I’m not the only writer who would say this (and say it proudly).
As the current “Twilight” offers opportunities for a new generation to identify with the strange, the outcast and the darkness… so too did Rod Serling open up a doorway to another world, welcoming permanent residence to this skinny, slightly off-kilter kid.
And, without looking back, I gladly stepped through.
That was over twenty-five years ago, but I still am proud to consider myself a citizen . . . of the Twilight Zone.
While I was writing this post, I was disappointed to find that episodes are not available for instant viewing through Netflix. Someone really needs to get that fixed as soon as possible.
However, my faith was restored when I discovered that Wikipedia entries for individual episodes include a transcription of both the opening and closing narration by Mr. Serling. This amazes and delights me.
Once again, I find that I am not alone.