The Twilight Zone is, without a single doubt, one of the most iconic and ground-breaking television shows to ever hit the air. The anthology show before anthology shows were really a thing – the show would present a different unnerving and suspenseful story with each episode. Beginning in 1959, the show would last for five successful years, and in that time the show gifted us with some of the most infamous moments in television. Not only that, but it also boasted a talented writing staff, comprised of now legendary science fiction authors. Such as Richard Matheson, who you may recognise as the genius who crafted the harrowing, post-apocalyptic world of I Am Legend.
Since its final episode, the show has gone on to see several reboots, a film series and a whole slew of parodies and cinematic homages. Even if you are not a fan of the show, you cannot deny that it is a show that has left its mark upon the face of the planet – be that a good thing or a bad thing.
And with its loyal fanbase, I’m sure many people were overjoyed to hear that the show would be returning to the small screen this year, with none other than Get Out director, Jordan Peele, taking on the role of host and narrator, as well as show developer. And I must admit that I was excited to see what this new iteration of the show could deliver, however my reaction has been rather mixed. But, with this being an anthology show, I can’t really blame the season as a whole for my dissatisfaction, so I guess I’m going to have to do this one, episode by episode. Because I will not be watching these in quick succession, I’m afraid I can only deliver one review at a time. So here we go, let’s dive into The Twilight Zone.
Episode One: The Comedian
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Alex Rubens
Original air date: April 1st 2019
Our first episode of this new iteration, and it’s pretty weak. I do feel for the hardcore fans who sat down to watch this bland piece for the first time. Because if this is a sign of things to come, then maybe this show just wasn’t ready to be revived.
The episode focuses on a failing stand-up comedian called Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani), who, after another terrible performance, meets the legendary J.C. Wheeler (played by Tracy Morgan). Imparting some wisdom on the young comic, Wheeler tells Samir to use his personal life as the inspiration of his material. After an acclaimed set where Samir discusses the annoyances of his pet dog, he returns home to discover that his dog has blinked away from existence. What follows is a Midas narrative, of Samir realising the power he now holds, using it to blink away all the horrible people in the world.
Like any classic Twilight Zone story, this episode relies on a simple premise. However, simple premises in the old show often led to some of the greatest episodes ever written, in this case it pales in comparison. Although the episode is open to a variety of interpretations, I took it as being a commentary on the public’s relationship to an artist’s work. How, once a piece of art has been created and sent out into the world, does it still truly belong to the artist? Once Samir dispels some home truths about his family and friends, that information and those memories no longer belong to him, erasing them from his life in the process. It’s a strong message, but sadly one that the episode never really seems to grasp. For one thing, the material Samir delivers isn’t even funny in a fake television way, and Nanjiani’s performance hinges less on the cocky side and more on the confused. The episode also just becomes painfully predictable as the story continues, from Samir’s jealousy over his girlfriend’s attractive law mentor, to him eventually deciding to mention his own name in his act. The episode doesn’t deliver any thrills or surprises, instead we are treated to a hollow narrative concerning some rather unlikeable people. The final stinging moment of the episode, promising that the same cycle will replay itself only helps to further the pointlessness of the story.
The supporting cast give strong performances with what they are given, although that really isn’t saying much. Again, the characters are so terrible that it’s hard to even care about what could happen to them. The decision to have the almost god-like J.C. Wheeler played by SNL performer, Tracy Morgan, is also an interesting one. Morgan gives a solid performance, but it just doesn’t gel with the actor’s signature style. All I saw while watching the episode was Tracy Morgan trying to put on a straight face.
This episode proved something that I had feared about the show’s return, that it would only remind me of Black Mirror, but with Jordan Peele thrown in for some extra flare. This is also made clearly evident by the choice of episode director, with Owen Harris just so happening to be a Black Mirror veteran. In many ways this new iteration of the show is very much a product of our modern society, in that it seemingly embodies two of our most successful properties at the moment, a comedian turned horror director and a British anthology show, that is still releasing streaming content to this day.
As an opening impression, ‘The Comedian’ feels like a poor attempt of someone trying to recreate a Twilight Zone classic, shame that the same thing will also happen in the very next episode.