I thought I saw them all as a kid, but lately found out how very wrong I was after marathoning the hell out of the series thanks to Netflix and boredom. In fact, thank goodness for Netflix and boredom because I missed some awesome episodes.
Overall, the series is a winner. It stands bravely in the face of unforgiving years and creator Rod Serling’s writing still manages to amaze and surprise in most cases. There were times when I’d figured out the plot and denouement within the first couple minutes, making it a very boring viewing. Yet, there were other times, as with the creepy “After Hours,” that kept me guessing up until the end.
Standout episodes in the series include “To Serve Man,” a story about alien inv…uh, visitation; “Time Enough At last,” with Burgess Meredith; the very unsettling “The Hitchhiker;” and the terrorizing “Living Doll,” starring Kojack himself. Part of the fun is seeing well established and retired actors show up in black and white with bright baby faces, like Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford. Conversely, you will see aging actors taking final bows, such as Buster Keaton. All in the same crazy series chock full of martians, space travel, hell breaking loose…absolute FEAR..
But they weren’t afraid to experiment and take chances. From hackneyed depictions of the future to outright soapbox preachy-ness, one could even consider the series as a trailblazer in showing what and what NOT to do. It’s safe to assume that, despite the writing, shooting some episodes on video to cut costs was a dismal failure. Indeed, the very last episode suffers from a case of the “fuck its” where Scout from “To Kill A Mockingbird” plays a little girl with a crumbling home life. When the outside shoot had to be voiced over due to technical difficulties, they decided it would cost too much to fly her back to Hollywood, so her lines were dubbed by June Foray. So, sometimes the little girl sounds like Scout, other times she sounds like Rocky the Flying Squirrel from the Bullwinkle show. Not kidding.
The series also failed at producing two very important elements: funny scripts and showcasing minorities. Not even the comedy timing of Carol Burnett in “Cavender Is Coming” could float the terribly unfunny ship that had to resort to goofy music cues to tell the audience when to laugh. And despite the importance of entries like, “The Big Tall Wish,” we didn’t get any others with an all-black cast. This quote from Serling makes me feel like he’s not at fault for that:
“Television, like its big sister, the motion picture, has been guilty of the sin of omission… Hungry for talent, desperate for the so-called ‘new face,’ constantly searching for a transfusion of new blood, it has overlooked a source of wondrous talent that resides under its nose. This is the Negro actor.”
But, the series is legendary because of its triumphs. It spawned a movie and 1990’s revival. And though the comeback was unsuccessful, it gave us the fine sequel to the epic “It’s A Good life” starring original key cast members. So if you’re not revisiting this fantastic series or checking it out for the first time out of curiosity, then you’re missing out on a great example of TV’s strong childhood.