Monday, April 6, 2015

The Twilight Zone

"You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop—The Twilight Zone."

The Twilight Zone, the anthology series that all anthologies shows must be compared to. The brainchild of creator, writer, and executive producer Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone originally ran for five seasons, from 1959 through 1964, each episode its own self-contained story. Revived twice, once in the eighties and again in 2002, as well as adapted into a feature-length movie, its impact and quality can't be overstated. Many of its moments are enshrined in pop culture immortality.

The classic theme music composed by Bernard Hermann, Sterling's opening and closing monologues, the iconic black-and-white photography, the memorable twist endings, and the deeper social meanings beyond its narratives all helped define the show. Made at a time before filmmakers and television crews had access to the kind of special effects we take for granted, The Twilight Zone depended on strong writing, memorable performances, and sharp direction to give us stories about aliens, monsters, giants, nuclear wars, angels, ghosts, astronauts, and other strange and fantastical beings and events, often with a message or lesson for us to consider back in the real world. 

Serling had a reputation in Hollywood as the "angry young man." A workaholic, he wrote more than 90 of the show's episodes and often clashed with executives and sponsors over its direction and what he could and could not do. Serling used the trappings of the science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to convey strong social critiques about a wide array of issues he otherwise might not have been able to discuss on television at the time, including racism, war, censorship, the government, and the human condition. The world (or worlds) The Twilight Zone took place in may be a strange, wonderful, and frightening place, but we can recognize the people there.

Serling's wife, Carol, reportedly said that her husband considered "the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic," and looking at just about any episode of The Twilight Zone, you can see that theme shining through. Compassion, equality, love, hope, courage, these are the traits we should pursue; they are our common connections that should unite us regardless of nationality, race, gender, or religion. To cast that aside, to oppress people, hurt them, divide them, or ignore them, costs us our humanity. Serling used the show to speak his mind on a variety of topics he felt strongly about, and more than anything else, he seemed to want to remind us of what we all are: human. 

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