On October 2nd, 1959 Rod Serling first invited American viewers to cross over into that shadowy realm called The Twilight Zone. Now, sixty years later, audiences are once more enticed to use the key of imagination to unlock the door to a dimension that’s as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. The Twilight Zone’s influence is far-reaching and undeniable. The most obvious comparable influence being Black Mirror, and even The X-Files, but with two less than successful revivals having failed to capture the original show's success, is this version of one of television’s most revered series in danger of being subsumed by its own influences?
With Jordan Peele producing and hosting it’s unlikely. After all his directorial debut Get Out and his follow up Us, which is currently unsettling cinema audiences around the world, are essentially feature-length Twilight Zone episodes themselves. This inaugural episode is titled The Comedian and stars Kumail Nanjiani as Samir, a struggling comic whose idea of comedy is to bore his audience with earnest observations about gun control. However, Samir encounters his idol, the legendary J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan), who suggests that audiences aren’t interested in what Samir thinks. They want to see the personable side of Samir, and so he follows the advice to great success, but at a horrifying price.
There is much to commend in this episode. All the performances are pitch-perfect, particularly Morgan who’s creepily subtle as he strikes the Faustian pact on an unsuspecting Samir. The cinemaphotography is gorgeous, and the production value is stunning. Jordon Peele’s opening and closing narration are a genuine highlight, delivering them in a Serling like style while deftly avoiding the dangerous territory of mimicry. Other than being in colour and there being a liberal use of profanity, all contextual within the story, this contemporary reiteration of the much-revered classic has captured the essence of what made the original show so iconic. The unmistakable Marius Constant theme is present, as is the door and eyeball in the opening credits. So why is this merely good, not great?
The main problem is that there just isn’t any sense of suspense or jeopardy. It’s essentially a cautionary tale about achieving fame and success for the sake of being famous at whatever the cost, a story that is overly familiar in this day and age. And as we all know, that cost is always way too high.
So is this an ominous beginning to one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the year? Not at all. It’s just a shame that a good episode was chosen to begin the series rather than a great one. But as with all anthologies, some stories are great, some are simply good, and some… not so good.
With Peele and prolific producer Simon Kinberg at the helm, it would be surprising if after this season there weren’t more forays into the fifth dimension.