Love Jordan Peele’s ‘The Twilight Zone’? Then watch these original episodes
Crazy premises and messed-up twists? Check. Creeping sense of anxiety? Check. Striking iconography that reveals itself as a maniacal allegory for cultural tension and social ails? Check and check. Have you checked out the new reimagining of The Twilight Zone from the twisted mind of Jordan Peele yet?
We can see why Jordan Peele is the perfect showrunner for this CBS project. Both Get Out and Us already feel like big-budget, extra-twisted feature-length episodes of The Twilight Zone (with an added dash of racial commentary and modern blood & guts).
Peele’s the perfect figure to to host, produce, and fine-tune this modern reboot. The first two episodes dropped on CBS All Access April 1st and we’ve already sat staring at the wall ever since pondering in existential anguish.But let’s not forget the original The Twilight Zone, which aired from 1959 to 1964 in its impressive 156-episode run. The groundbreaking sci-fi series from creator Rod Serling is regarded as a cult classic. Many men have tried and failed to reboot this gold standard sci-fi show and failed, so today we’re celebrating to original show and its must-see episodes.
Writer and creator Serling was a true disrupter before Hollywood disruption was even a thing. Known as the “angry young man” of Hollywood early on in his career, MeTV reported he used to battle the major studios “in his quest to loosen the corporate grip of censorship and write freely on controversial topics.”
He continued his outspoken ingenuity when it came to his art, the pinnacle of his genius being The Twilight Zone. Loaded with tales of suspense, sci-fi, and the paranormal, Serling used the narratives to carry socio-political statements on love, war, and prejudice, all the while keeping audiences tuning in week after week with each episode containing a shock twist ending.
The show stood as a foundation for lovers of psychological horror and storytellers of the macabre variety and to this day continues to influence filmmakers and content creators across the world. While there are 156 episodes to choose from, we thought we’d rank the top ten for Twilight Zone newbs who aren’t sure where to start and for lifelong TZ lovers who are in need of a whittled down list to celebrate May 11 the right way.
“You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
“Five Characters in Search of an Exit”: S3E14
A homeless man, a clown, a bagpipe player, a ballerina, and an army officer wake up trapped in a room, unable to remember how they got there. Although the ending’s a little sappy (it was a Christmas special, after all), it doesn’t take away from the existential dread suffered by each character, bringing into question the deception of free will.
“The Invaders”: S2E15
Serling took out much of the dialogue and replaced it with pure fear, following the interaction between an elderly woman (Agnes Moorehead) and a group of tiny aliens (or so we think) that invade her solitary farm. This masterpiece is near-silent most of the episode, right the way through to that absolute shocker of an ending!
“It’s a Good Life”: S3E8
In this season three episode based on the same-name short story by Jerome Bixby (The Man from Earth), the quiet town of Peaksville, Ohio is overshadowed by a monster that controls its residents, and that monster is a cute 6-year-old boy (Billy Mumy).
The town suffers in a state of hopelessness and fear, unable to leave or contact the outside due to little Anthony Freemont, who has the magical ability to read minds, banish people to the cornfields, and basically do whatever the fuck he wants. The episode culminates with a truly outrageous ending, which Serling himself said didn’t mean much – he just wanted us to be terrified of this shitty little kid. Job well done!
Following a panicked phone call about a crashed spaceship, two policeman try to figure out who among a group of bus passengers at a snowed-in roadside diner is from outerspace. Filled with all the suspense of a whodunit mixed in with a touch of extraterrestrial, Serling himself said: “We recommend this to the space buffs and the jigsaw puzzle addicts.”
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”: S5E3
William Shatner (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) gave a delightfully manic performance as a man on the edge of sanity in this fan fave episode. Playing an airline passenger who had recently suffered a nervous breakdown, he finds himself terrorized by a horrifying gremlin as it tears apart the plane he’s on. Like many of The Twilight Zone episodes, it’s frustrating to witness a character who’s deemed crazy by everyone around him.
“To Serve Man”: S3E24
In this delightful play on the English language, “To Serve Man” is based on a Damon Knight story of the same name. When a race of large-headed extraterrestrials arrive on Earth, promising peace and technological advancements, a linguist and his team set about attempting to decipher and translate the visitors’ language. What they discover (too little, too late) creates one of the most holy shitball endings in Twilight Zone history!
“The Hitch-Hiker”: S1E16
As a young woman embarks on a solo road trip, she grows increasingly frantic when she encounters the same hitchhiker, over and over again. The episode is one of frustration and loneliness, serving up plenty of Hitchcock-esque tension and an eye-watering twist.
“The Eye of the Beholder”: S2E6
Serling tied in the message of society’s narcissism in numerous Twilight Zone episodes, one of the most blatant being “The Eye of the Beholder”, in which a young woman named Janet (Maxine Stuart) has just undergone her seventh surgery performed by the State in a last-ditch effort to make her look “normal”. The twist is an absolute gut-puncher – a clear meditation on the idea that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
“Time Enough at Last”: S1E8
“Time Enough at Last” follows a man named Henry who wants nothing more than to be left the fuck alone – by his wife, his job, and the rest of society – so he can just get on and read his beloved books. When a nuclear attack wipes out civilization, Henry’s wish finally comes true – he now has all the time in the world to read without the relentless bullying from those around him. Only, well, you know what happens next! Arguably the best (and most frustrating) twist ending in the entire Twilight Zone canon.
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”: S1E22
In one of the most impactful commentaries on human nature and a truly stunning example of Serling’s talents as a writer, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” centers on a peaceful suburban street. When strange happenings unfold, paranoia, distrust, and aggression take over as the residents point fingers and create chaos within the community. Perhaps even more relevant now than it was back then, the episode conveyed the message that the biggest danger to mankind is its own irrational fear.