November 17, 2019

Analyzing the Debut of the Modern Twilight Zone

posted on: Thursday April 11, 2019

by Joshua Carone ’22 A&E Staff

Here is a sentence you never thought you would read: Tracy Morgan using a vape is terrifying.

However, The Twilight Zone was always known for pushing the boundaries of reality, so this seems about right. The hit series from the 1960s was announced to be developing a reboot earlier this fall, and audiences finally got to cross over this past week as CBS debuted the first two episodes. 

Hosted by horror connoisseur Jordan Peele, the show develops a fresh look with the classic eeriness the former installment delivered week after week. It is a tough reputation to uphold, as the Rod Serling version terrified millions of Baby Boomers during the Big Three era of television.

“The Comedian” stars Kumail Nanjiani as Samir, a struggling comic whose political jokes continue to fall on deaf ears and crickets every night. However, he accepts advice from comedy legend J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan), who tells Samir to make his material more personal. The classic Twilight Zone twist is that everyone Samir talks about in his act is erased from the world.

It is a riff on the success versus happiness mantra and the belief that fame ultimately comes at a cost. There is little suspense or terror, but Nanjiani manages to keep audiences tuned in with his portrayal of a character wrestling with what he values most in life. 

The second episode, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” is a reprisal of the William Shatner-led episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which an anxious Shatner is the only person to see the monster on the side of his plane.

The modern-day take sees Parks and Recreation legend Adam Scott as a journalist with PTSD listening to a podcast describing the disappearance of the flight he is on, because what 21st century remake would be complete without a podcast episode? It is a tale of fate that delivers more of a punch than the first episode and pays homage through a few Easter Eggs to one of the more loved episodes of the old show.

The Peele-produced remake has not captured critics or audiences as of yet; its Rotten Tomatoes score hovers around 75 percent but the audience score is closer to 60 percent. The complaints seem to come from the lack of direction the show seems to take. James Poniewozik of the New York Times notes, “ ‘a Twilight Zone’ without a specific perspective on the nightmares of its time is just a collection of creepy stories, an exercise in nostalgia.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLLING STONE

It is easy to compare the show to its predecessor, but that seems like an impossible act to follow considering the success of the previous installment and the completely different social climate Peele’s version is airing in.

The Cold War and America’s countercultural revolution are no longer trending topics in the United States, so the 2019 Twilight Zone has the difficulty of capturing the essence of the first series with modern-day substance. 

However, audiences know it can be done. Shows like Black Mirror and The X-Files have successfully proved creepy anthologies still have a place in entertainment. It is just a matter of if the modern-day adaptation can develop a distinctive voice that crosses over a whole new generation into The Twilight Zone.

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