PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

The late Rod Serling was one of the most prolific and prodigious talents of what we might term as the early TV age entering the industry at a period when the new media’s appetite for original material was at its most rapacious. Perhaps it’s frustrating that his most enduring legacy is the classic late 1950s/early 1960s American anthology series The Twilight Zone (although he also co-wrote the script for the original Planet of the Apes in 1968) and yet tucked away in the depths of his CV is Night Gallery, a barely-remembered second anthology show which ran for three seasons between 1970 – 1973 (Serling passed away the following year). Night Gallery is, despite superficial similarities (Serling introduces the episodes with his rich, evocative tones) a very different beast to the groundbreaking Twilight Zone and its content is generally much more patchy and hit-and-miss.

Serling strolls around a sparse art gallery setting and displays a series of paintings, each of which depicts the content of the stories that make up a typical instalment of the series. The emphasis in Night Gallery is on the occult and the mysterious, odd little yarns with twists which range from the clever and quirky to the utterly mundane and/or ridiculous. Apart from the odd vampire in later episodes, monsters and aliens are out, special effects are kept to a very bare minimum and the emphasis is on tight, tense narratives often predicated on the vanities, weaknesses and foibles of the human condition. Season one, commissioned after the success of a pilot screened in 1969, one segment of which was directed by a young Steven Spielberg,  consisted of just six fifty-minute episodes split into two or three  vignettes, many of which are forgettable and predictable. There are a couple of gems here though, including a macabre tale which sees Larry Hagman using black magic to replace his wife’s cold personality with that of his cheery housekeeper and in another Burgess Meredith, TV’s Penguin from the 1960s Batman series, plays a down-and-out doctor who finds a cure-all-ills medical bag which has accidentally made its way back in time from the 21st century.

The expanded second season often saw as many as four short stories crow-barred into each episode with the result that very few of them have much time to establish themselves much less allow viewers to invest in the extraordinary dilemmas of their characters. But the mix of stories remains much the same, albeit with an appearance by Count Dracula (Cesar Romero, another veteran from Batman) and the usual assortment of ghosts and haunted houses alongside the odd Gothic grotesquery.  Season Three’s episodes are reduced to twenty-five minutes in length, all but two now consisting of just one rather more focussed story. Throughout the show’s run there’s a massive variety of tall tales on offer and certainly in the earlier seasons it’s easy to sit out one duffer – although we’d happily steer you in the direction of the (unintentionally) hilarious The Nature of the Enemy from Season One in which a lunar astronaut discovers a giant metal mousetrap on the moon’s surface - in the hope that something better will come along in the next few minutes.

Star spotters will enjoy early appearances from the likes of Diane Keaton and frequent turns by veterans such as David McCallum, Vincent Price, John Astin (who also directed several segments), Edward G. Robinson, Mickey Rooney, Patrick Macnee and The Munsters’ Al Lewis whose participation often lift half-hearted, clunky material. Completists might be frustrated that the episodes don’t run as broadcast but are accessible via each disc’s menu under their own title which gives the collection the appearance of a random grab-bag of short stories. Perhaps that’s the best way to appreciate this odd, slightly underwhelming series which time might have forgotten but which is, if you’ve the patience and inclination, worth at least a casual re-evaluation over forty years after its original broadcast. Night Gallery is available as a ‘complete series’ ten-disc boxset or as three individual season collections.



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