#10 Babylon 5
#8 Star Trek the Next Generation
#7 The Cosby Show
#6 Star Trek The Original
#5 The Prisoner
#4 Alfred Hitcock
#3 Star Trek Deep Space 9
At the top of my list is the all-time classic television show “The Twilight Zone”. The Twilight Zone functions as the standard by which all other television shows and movies are to be compared and judged. Ingenious writing, trailblazing cinematography, mind boggling plot lines, expansive concepts all presented within a television series that premiered over a half century ago.
One of the unique aspects of The Twilight Zone was that it was recorded in black and white. In an age of high definition flat screen televisions that produce vibrant colors and extremely luminous imaging, The Twilight Zone continues to shine brightly as a beacon of light for a retired age of deep narrative substance, dramatic flair, and masterful cinematic production. Even in the year 2011 the viewer can watch The Twilight Zone for hours on end without even realizing that the show itself was recorded in black and white. This fact alone is a testament to the greatest television show of all time.
Rod Serling’s intros and outros were also ingenuous and often left the viewer with a sense of ardent expectation; always stretching the perceptual reality of the viewer; challenging us to contemplate the miraculously twisted intellectual constructs formed within the vice of science fiction lore.
The Twilight Zone is by far the most ingeniously creative television masterpiece of all time commanding the respect and admiration of even the greatest of modern television shows such as the ingeniously contorted “Lost” and the sci fi epic “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”. The creative gap between these two master works and The Twilight Zone is deeper than the spiraling content-driven abyss of The Twilight Zone itself.
Countless actors had their break on The Twilight Zone including William Shatner who played the role of Captain Kirk in Star Trek the original series. Other acting luminaries that appeared in the Twilight zone include:
Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei, Anne Francis, Robert Duvall, Carol Burnett, Burgess Merideth, Martin Landau, Telly Savalas, James Coburn, Art Carney, Robert Cummings, Don Rickles, Peter Falk, Cloris Leachman, Mickey Rooney, Dennis Weaver, Buster Keaton, and Robert Redford
My 5 favorite episodes:
1. Nightmare at 20,000 feet
I have to admit that this is one of the Twilight Zone episodes that scared the crap out of me when I was a child. You think flying on Oceanic Flight 815 was scary? Nothing can compare to what Captain Kirk must have felt while flying around on an airplane that happened to have a hideously chubby gremlin standing on the wing. This gremlin was an absolute badass and could fly and rip through aluminum paneling with great ease.
Captain Kirk, I mean William Shatner, plays the role of salesman Bob Wilson. Mr. Wilson has just recovered from a nervous breakdown. When Mr. Wilson sees a gremlin on the airplane’s wing his wife assumes that he is on the fringe of another nervous breakdown.
Special note to Mr. Wilson: If you are seeing chubby gremlins on the airplane then you probably need to get checked back into whatever “special” institution let you out in the first place.
But of course this is The Twilight Zone so all crazies are welcome including the viewer. We are all “special” indeed. The ending of this episode is an absolute gem and proves the utter genius of this world class production.
2. To Serve Man
The episode “To Serve Man” is probably the most profoundly twisted episode in The Twilight Zone television series. Featuring space ships, and big headed 9 foot aliens, this episode is an absolute marvel. The plot line is fascinating, telepathic aliens come to earth bringing with them advanced technology and a promise to “serve” man.
The aliens, while being exceedingly creepy, manage to gain the trust of many humans. At some point humans begin to take trips to the alien’s homeworld never to return.
As the story unfolds the aliens have a mysterious book that they bring to earth. This book is of great interest to the human population and human decoders work feverishly to translate the book. In the meantime humans continue to trust the aliens and more humans disappear. In the end the title of the book tells it all!
3. Time Enough at Last
The one thing that I can say about Rod Serling is that he had no problem with telling tragedies. In the episode “Time Enough at Last” Burgess Meredith plays the role of Henry Bemis, a quirky bank teller/bookworm who sneaks away to read in the bank vault during his lunch break. Reading at work? Why? Well the thing is that Mr. Bemis’ wife won’t let him read at home. Now how about that for spousal support?
As the story goes Henry Bemis, whose glasses look like S.U.V. headlights, can never seem to find the time to read. But then one day something happens that changes the course of his life. While reading in the bank vault an atomic bomb explodes and destroys his city. In the midst of death and destruction Henry Bemis finds “happiness” in realizing that he now has plenty of time to read. So he goes to the local library and starts stacking up books. He thinks he has it all. Time. Books. Reading glasses. But then Henry Bemis…….
I’ll have to leave it at that so as to not spoil the ending. All I can say is T-R-A-G-E-D-Y!!!
4. The Eye of the Beholder
One of the things that I appreciate about The Twilight Zone is that it teaches some very important lessons. In the episode “The Eye of the Beholder” a young lady named Janet Tyler is shown laying in a hospital bed with bandages covering her face. Janet has just gone through 11 facial reconstruction surgeries and nurses continue to assist her in her recovery. Presumably Janet is hideously ugly and the State considers ugliness to be a crime.
During the episode one of the nurses comments about Janet’s face stating, “If (her face) was mine I’d bury myself in a grave some place”. If a nurse is saying such a thing then Janet must be extremely ugly right?
What is fascinating about The Eye of the Beholder is that the faces of the characters are not shown for most of the episode. The camera angles are carefully structured so that all dialogues are shown without actually seeing the faces of the characters. Janet Tyler’s “hideous” face is not shown until the end of the episode.
There is also a nerve-wrecking scene where the doctor begins to take the bandages off of Janet Tyler’s face. It does not matter how many times I have seen this episode I always find myself anticipating what is revealed once the bandages come off.
The episode The Eye of the Beholder really causes one to take pause and ask, “To what degree have my perceptions been molded by social norms?” The episode The Eye of the Beholder is a must see for anyone who wishes to reclaim their sight.
5. The Howling Man!!!
To this day the Twilight Zone episode “The Howling Man” gives me the creeps. I know that grown men should not be be afraid of fanciful stories. I know that grown men should not believe in fairy tales. However, the manner in which this episode unfolds makes it very difficult for the viewer to maintain a logical disposition.
In this episode David Ellington finds himself lost in a storm. Luckily he finds a castle where he meets some very “interesting” individuals. One of the individuals that he meets is named Jerome who lives in the castle. The castle happens to be a hermitage for The Brotherhood of Truth.
Mr. Ellington also meets a prisoner that is held in a small cell. The prisoner shares his story with Mr. Ellington, stating that he was unjustly captured and imprisoned by Jerome. The prisoner pleads for Mr. Ellington’s help asking Mr. Ellington to set him free. Mr. Ellington spends the rest of the episode deciding on what to do.
Is the prisoner’s story true? Is the prisoner who he says he is? Does Mr. Ellington help the prisoner and set him free?
When you discover the answers to these question you will HOWL at what is revealed in the end!
Twilight Zone Trivia:
After WWII, Rod Serling tested experimental parachutes for the U.S. Army at $500 per jump!
There were a total of 4 Twilight Zone actors that later appeared in Star Trek The Original Series:
William Shatner Leonard Nimoy James Doohan George Takei
The length of Twilight Zone episodes was increased from 30 minutes to one hour in the fourth season, then back to 30 minutes for the final season making 18 one-hour episodes.
I once interviewed Marc Scott Zicree who wrote the Twilight Zone Companion. Marc actually visited Rod Serling’s house where Serling’s wife allowed Mark Zicree to view Rod Serling’s hand written notes and view never before seen film reels.
There were 156 episodes in the original ‘Twilight Zone’ series
There are so many great Twilight Zone episodes. Do you have a favorite? If so, please post your favorite in the comments section.
This completes my list of top 10 television shows. Stay tuned for my top 10 movies.