[June 11, 1961] Until we meet again… (Twilight Zone Second Season wrap up)

When Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone debuted in October 1959, it was a fresh breeze across “the vast wasteland” of television.  Superior writing, brilliant cinematography, fine scoring, and, of course, consistently good acting earned its creator a deserved Emmy last year.

The show’s sophomore season had a high expectation to meet, and it didn’t quite.  That said, it was still head and shoulders above its competitors (Roald Dahl’s Way Out, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, etc.) The last two episodes of this year’s batch were par for the course: decent, but not outstanding:

Take Will the Real Martian please stand up.  A pair of policemen track the survivor of a flying saucer crash into a remote coffee house.  None of the folks inside will confess to being an alien, but it is certain one of them, all seemingly human, is no Terran.  Paranoia ensues, heightened by some electrical hijinks.  The show keeps you guessing to the end, and then there’s a bit of a twist. 

I think I’d have liked this piece more if it hadn’t been done better in first season’s The Monsters are due on Maple Street.  The episode was also a bit padded, with some unnecessary expository exposition.  I guess I’ll call it three stars, if only for getting to see John Hoyt again.  Jack Elam, who trades on looking weird, was also fun to watch.

I liked this episode a lot, even if it was slow.  It was similar to a previous episode of Twilight Zone, but the difference was this one almost turned the idea of people going crazy out of mistrust on its head (resolving the problem rather than going insane). 

The whole plot of the episode hinges on the fact that “There were only six passengers on the bus, and now there’s seven at the diner!”  At first I thought the twist was that there were only six passengers and the driver, a total of seven, until I did a headcount about halfway through the episode.

Something funny: earlier today I’d been watching the sit-com Angel, which had James Garner as a guest star!  Towards the end they had an in-show commercial for cereal.  In this Twilight Zone episode, one of the men was talking about how good his cigarettes tasted, and I thought for a moment he was going to break into an advertisement.  Of course that didn’t come until the end — when Rod Serling recommended Oasis cigarettes “for the freshest of tastes”.

I would give this episode a solid four.  It wasn’t perfect, and the pacing was a little slow, but I still loved the kooky special effects and funny story.  Even though it was simple, the story had me wondering the whole time.  I was hoping for a little more of a twist out of the end, but over all it was a good episode, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself.

The last episode of the second season, Obsolete, was a morality play.  A meek librarian endures a show trial under a regime clearly informed by Nazi Germany.  In it, he is declared “obsolete” and sentenced to execution.  The defiant man’s sole remaining right is to choose the method of his execution.  The librarian’s choice ultimately places the sentencing chancellor’s life in jeopardy as well.  Let us just say that one faces death more nobly than the other. 

It’s a beautifully shot piece, and the first half genuinely engages.  But the latter portion drags and is so monochromatic in its allegory that there is no room for pondering.  The God-loving, book-toting little man is right.  The Hitler-analogue is wrong.  Aren’t we glad that’s not us?  I give it three stars, but that comes from averaging the two halves.

I thought this episode was only okay.  The concept wasn’t that interesting and it was a pretty predictable episode overall.  The episode starred Burgess Meredith, who has already starred in two other Twilight Zone episodes.  The acting was alright, but the concept was so simple that the episode was almost bland.

The episode was about a society built on the idea that, if you were obsolete, you were killed.  There really wasn’t much else to the episode.  The man was tried, declared obsolete, and killed.  It felt even more drawn out than Martian.

I would give this episode a two and a half.  It was entirely mediocre and predictable the whole way through.  I would recommend skipping this one, because, to put it bluntly, it’s just not good.

And that’s that!  Next week’s episode is a summer rerun of the first of the first season, Where is Everybody.  Go check it out if you want to see where it all began.  Until next time,

This is the Traveler…

And, this is the Young Traveler, signing off.

9 thoughts on “[June 11, 1961] Until we meet again… (Twilight Zone Second Season wrap up)”

  1. Thanks for sharing.  For the last, perhaps the writer was tired; or perhaps he wanted to see if something new would work, and it generally doesn’t.

  2. I quite liked “Martian”. The hook may have been similar to “Maple Street”, but it did rather different things with it. Indeed, it’s almost an inversion. The old episode was about paranoia making monsters of us all, while this one showed rationality de-escalating the situation (and yet there really was a threat). Thinking about it, the twist makes this a very different story than Mr. Serling likely intended.

    “The Obsolete Man” was certainly well acted, as it must be with Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver. Alas, it was too heavy-handed and obvious with its symbolism, a not uncommon failing in Mr. Serling’s work.

    All in all, I’d say the second half of the season saved the show after a very rocky start. Let’s hope that CBS realizes what the show could be and doesn’t play budget games again. On top of not using video tape, that might let them use a few more writers. Serling isn’t bad, but it seems to me that the more scripts he writes, the weaker the stories get. Scripts by Beaumont and Matheson always stand out, so more from them and perhaps others would be a big help. I’ll plan on having the show in my viewing schedule, I just hope it gets a decent time slot and isn’t on at the same time as something more popular.

    1. How do you like the current slot?  I like my current ritual of going out Friday night, coming home, enjoying (usually!) an episode, and then going to bed.

      But I suppose the young’ns stay out later than me…

      1. Well, Friday late isn’t the greatest. I’m pretty pooped by the end of the week and the younger folk are likely to out. I understand why they have it on so late, some of the stories could be a bit intense for younger viewers (and alas not all parents watch these shows with their kids the way you do). Could be better, could be worse, I guess.

  3. Well, I thought the Martian episode was just too silly.  Nicely acted, yes, but the story didn’t grab me at all.  (And I thought the title was a bit too “cute.”  I’m a fan of panel shows like “To Tell the Truth,” so I thought the reference was kind of sophomoric.)

    As others have already noted, “The Obsolete Man” was far too heavy-handed.  “Subtle” is not a word in Serling’s vocabulary.  Again, nicely acted, and visually striking at times.

    (By the way, I am behind on my reading, so comments on the new issue of “If” will have to wait a while.)

    1. Re: TV, I enjoy To Tell the Truth, too, though I think I more reliably tune into What’s My Line.

      Re: IF, I am always eager to see your commentary when it arrives!

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