My girlfriend Linda made a big mistake by walking out of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
She went to see the show at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on a Tuesday night while I was at (the excellent) ROSMERSHOLM.
“Well, they didn’t do episodes in their entirety as I was anticipating,” she said. “They just did a little snippet from this one, then interrupt it with a scene from another one, then jump to another one, and then go back to the first one.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, what was the point?”
Nevertheless, her pan didn’t dissuade me, for I’m a rabid fan of Rod Serling’s landmark CBS 1959-1964 series.
Although Friday night is prime time for teens to go out and even raise a little hell after a long week of school, many Baby Boomer high-schoolers and I stayed home instead. We wanted to see what THE TWILIGHT ZONE would be up to at 9:30 p.m.
Lord knows how many kids Serling kept out of trouble – and jail — because they wouldn’t miss his show. In those days before even VCRs and VHS, if you didn’t catch it, you’d have to endure hearing us Friday Night Stay-at-Homes tell you when we got to school on Monday: “Awww! You missed a GREAT one!” Then your only recourse was to wait for summer and catch a re-run.
(And when you’re young, time goes by awfully slowly …)
Despite Linda’s negative review – and an already-posted closing notice of June 1st — I was heartened by another factor: Anne Washburn had been chosen to do the editing and writing (probably in that order).
Five years ago, Washburn gave us MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY (to use its actual full title) which was a TWILIGHT ZONE episode in itself. After some sort of nuclear holocaust, the few who have survived need to bond and get their minds off what has happened. Art helps them to do it, if you can call THE SIMPSONS art (and I say we can). Washburn neatly mixed drama with humor as Serling almost always did, so she’d probably do it here.
The show curtain offered CBS’ famous “eye” logo on an old-world television screen. It was in black-and-white, of course, because no episode of the series was filmed in color. Costume designer Nicky Gillibrand followed suit by ordering suits and dresses in various shades of black, white and grey. Ditto Paul Steinberg’s sets.
The famous twirling door, eyeball and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity didn’t quite float as they did in the series’ opening sequence. Cast members simply carried around placards that had these pictures on them. The low-tech replications got the audience to laugh heartily.
Laughter wasn’t just relegated to those images or to such period references as Abbott and Costello. Attendees chuckled at what once spooked them and remembered how they’d survived the scares way back when. More laughter when characters lit cigarettes without even thinking to ask “Do you mind if I smoke?” or heading outside. Times do change, don’t they?
Linda’s description was accurate; this was a case of what we can call Zonus Interruptus. I’m not saying that Washburn got reels of film of her favorite episodes, cut them into little pieces, threw all of them in the air and then just re-spliced them without any thought to the correct continuity.
That, however, is what the show was: THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S greatest bits from its greatest hits: a sprinkling of that eerily sparkling dialogue from Serling and/or Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson.
Long before Edward Albee wrote a play called THE MAN WITH THREE ARMS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE did an episode that could have used that title.
(No — that would have given away too much; Serling was wiser to instead opt for “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”)
Fans of the series won’t be surprised to hear that “To Serve Man,” a phrase which came to have two meanings, was represented. So was “The Eye of the Beholder,” which concerned a woman desperate for plastic surgery. It garnered the highest rating of all 156 episodes – and gave many of us nightmares for months on end.
Under these circumstances, the cast of 10 was to be congratulated for segueing from one fragment to the next with the speed and costume changing ability of the FORBIDDEN BROADWAY crowd. All were effective, although not hiring a genuine child actor damaged the scenes that involved young ‘uns; any actor who must pretend to be a kid seldom if ever is convincing.
With the stories in pieces, I saw Linda’s point — until the second act. That’s when the audience saw what may very well had spurred Washburn to do the project: “The Shelter,” broadcast on September 29, 1961. Now we weren’t given snippets of segments but a sustained look at one episode.
For people who often have a knee-jerk reaction that some work of literature is “dated,” here’s one for which they cannot make that claim – more’s the pity. “The Shelter” unflinchingly deals with immigration, xenophobia and racism in a nice suburban neighborhood.
As much as the episode indicted 1961 viewers, this excerpt now wound up packing a substantially greater wallop. It showed how little awareness and progress people has made in being tolerant and getting along with those unlike them. Times have changed when it comes to smoking indoors; what a shame they haven’t changed enough where downright prejudice is concerned.
So a production that had seemed to be nothing more than a parade of divertissements became utterly an ugly expose. Director Richard Jones, who’d maintained the appropriate light touch for all of Act One, suddenly had to make matters icily dire without getting ponderous. He did.
Only at the end of the show did we finally get the “doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” theme song that people have since mimicked when they want to indicate that someone is crazy. It could have been a comment on the racists in “The Shelter.”
So, Linda – you shouldn’t have left.