Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek

Every year on Christmas, during the family party, my Uncle Joe puts on this classic episode of The Twilight Zone. It stars Art Carney as Henry Corwin, a normally unemployed drunk who plays the department store Santa Claus, but one Christmas Eve, shortly after getting fired, he finds a magic bag of gifts. Well, it's definitely better than the other holiday special Carney appeared in.

To describe "The Night of the Meek," I'm going to use a word I don't use often in my reviews: magical. I don't normally use the term because, unless I'm referring to wizards and witches and whatnot, it can be a vague, wishy-washy term to describe quality. But for a show famous for twist endings, dark ironies, and frightening aliens and monsters, this is an uplifting and hopeful story, and I can't think of a better way to say it other than it's enchanting.

In an Oscar-winning career that spanned decades, this is one of Art Carney's best performances. He's boozing, pathetic, heartbroken, defiant, overwhelmed, and finally cheery, giving, and hopeful, a man with nothing given the chance to give happiness to others, and for a TV episode, not even half an hour long, it is an extraordinary range for a character. Carney is great as both the beaten-down bum, despondent about all the children he's disappointed and unable to help, and the whimsical, big-hearted representative of St. Nick. Without Carney at the center, this episode wouldn't play nearly as well.

The fantasy elements of the episode are not overblown or over the top. The magic bag, with its unending supply of gifts for people, whatever they want, is pretty much it until the end. No explanation is offered for where the bag came from or how it works. It just appears, and Corwin unselfishly uses it to spread joy. It's so simple and direct, like a fairy tale from Charles Dickens by way of Rod Serling. When Corwin gets his wish at the end, to be the "biggest gift giver of all time" and able to do it every year, it is a touching finale

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