What makes quality television? No, that’s not an oxymoron, despite what anyone might tell you. Sure, there are plenty of vapid game shows, variety shows, soap operas, situation comedies. The techniques and technology are primitive–sometimes, it feels as if I’m watching a local junior high troupe in their multi-purpose room.
But there are those occasional gems that stand out, the shows that bridge the gap between the small and large screens. They feature top notch storytelling, acting, cinematography, and scoring.
I’m talking, of course, about I Love Lucy.
No, I’m not. I’m talking about The Twilight Zone, as you might have expected since I do a monthly wrap-up after four episodes have gone by. This latest batch is another good one. It is a show that has found its feet, that reliably entertains and provokes thought every Friday night.
First up is A Nice Place to Visit, a well-executed if unsurprising tale about an utter wretch of a criminal with no redeeming qualities. He dies in a police shoot-out and finds himself in what can only be described as paradise. All the best food, the best drink, the prettiest dames, neverending good fortune at gambling. But no challenge. No sense of accomplishment. No element of risk. Is it Heaven? Or the other place?
While the episode won’t leave you guessing, it is fun to watch. The actor playing the criminal does a fine job, as does the overly genial “butler” who caters to the dead man’s every whim… until the very end.
Perhaps the best of the bunch (certainly the most cleverly titled) is Nightmare as a Child. A young schoolteacher finds herself haunted by a menacing, yet strangely familiar little girl. The girl seems to know all about the woman, even things the teacher seems to have forgotten, including a dark secret.
I won’t spoil this one at all. It’s nicely creepy, and it goes unexpected places. It’s also fun to watch with a daughter who happens to be the same age as the guest star, and who shares a fondness for hot cocoa.
A Stop at Willoughby is classic Twilight Zone. A harried, ulcered ad executive has grown weary of his fast-paced world, his materialistic wife, and his hounding boss (“It’s a Push Push Push business! Push Push Push!”). While on his nightly train commute from New York to Connecticut, he drops to sleep and wakes up on a train in 1888, stopped at the idyllic town of Willoughby.
The most thoughtful bit of this episode involves the mystery of what happens to the exec in the event he decides to get off at Willoughby. Is it a dream? A genuine journey?
Finally, we have the rather unpleasant, The Chaser, in which a desperate young man endeavors to seduce an uninterested young woman with the aid of a love philter. It’s the kind of story that unfailingly disturbs me, as it involves a variety of rape. It’s also a Deal-with-the Devil tale, and one is given the impression that the whole affair was orchestrated by Lucifer-as-storekeeper: from the purchasing of the potion, to the inevitable aftermath where the woman is reduced to cloying adoration, to the ultimate end where the young man will do anything to rid himself of his beloved.
Not badly done; just not my cup of tea. But what I wouldn’t give for a house with that kind of bookshelf set-up! Oh wait… I do have that house.
By the way, it looks like the expected has come to pass: The four-party Summit in Paris ended catastrophically on the same day it began, May 16, thanks to a grandstanding Mr. Khruschev. He demanded that we stop overflying Soviet airspace. Ike agreed to a temporary suspension of flights, but that wasn’t good enough, and the Soviet Premier stormed out. It is pretty clear that this was Khruschev’s sole reason for attending, and one wonders just what he would have talked about had we not given him an excuse to torpedo the conference (i.e. one U2 pilot named Gary Powers).
Lest this sound hypocritical (i.e. “We’d have done the same in their shoes”), recall that Ike didn’t raise a stink when the Soviets started sending beep-beep satellites over the American continent. Espionage is part of normal foreign relations. To sabotage world peace on such a thin thread smacks of diplomatic cynicism, not genuine outrage.
That’s just my two cents.