Sunday, July 01, 2007

From the vault: The Twilight Zone Seasons 2 and 3 (1986-89)

• Unlike the cold 2000s revival, The Twilight Zone was fun in the '80s.

Genre: Quirky-twisty drama, anthology
DVD released: June 28, 2005
Cast: Tom Skeritt, Joan Allen, Joe Mantegna, Gina Gershon, Fred Savage, Norman Fell, Shelley Duvall, Jeffrey Tambor, Louise Fletcher, William Sanderson, Janet Leigh, Terry Farrell, Dean Stockwell, et al
Verdict: &&1/2

The 1985-1989 version of The Twilight Zone, also known as The New Twilight Zone, rates more stars / medals in my heart than I can give it in a review. A handful of episodes captivated me when I was around 12 to 14 years old and likely shaped my interest in dark and clever tales that often don’t end happily — I wouldn't be surprised if a young M. Night Shyamalan was also a fan. Season one of the '80s Twilight Zone is stronger than the two subsequent seasons included here — the short bit of season two that aired on CBS before cancellation and the third, which consists entirely of 30-minute episodes. After CBS axed the show, the additional episodes were produced to pad the series for a syndication package. These featured different writers and Robin Ward taking over the narration previously done by Charles Aidman. One could argue that the best thing about the series was its creepy, mysterious imagery during the opening title sequence combined with The Grateful Dead's outstanding take on the theme music. Another strength was in casting; in addition to top-tier television talent, the series lured impressive names like Janet Leigh, Shelley Duvall and Joe Mantegna. Behind the camera, there's early directorial work by horror workhorse Wes Craven. Many of the scripts are undeniably beneath the starring talent, and the shift to 30-minute episodes didn't help. The hour-long format had allowed flexibility for segments as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour, and the constricting half-hour format seems a likely factor in the uneven quality — a number of installments simply feel under-written. High points among the episodes include "The After Hours," in which a shopping mall's mannequins have an after-hours life; "The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon," in which an eccentric old man's junk collection keeps the universe in balance; "The Hellgramite Method," in which an alcholic tries an unorthodox cure; and, particularly, "Cat and Mouse," the story of a woman scorned who exacts a very clever Twilight Zone kind of revenge. One story, "Special Service," feels like a forerunner of a mediocre '90s movie, The Truman Show, as an ordinary man played by David Naughton discovers his life is voyeuristic entertainment for others. A number of installments, including "Something in the Walls" and the unimpressive "A Game of Pool," are rehashes of original Twilight Zone stories. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but anyone who enjoyed watching this as a child of the '80s will enjoy being in the zone again.

// DVD notes //
This seven-disc set contains a wealth of episodes but scant extras. A very small selection of deleted scenes are included, and about a half dozen installments feature commentary by directors and writers such as Craven, Philip DeGuere and Alan Brennert. The attractive set's booklet offers a synopsis and writing and directing credits for each episode.

// Related //
• Season 1 Jeblog review
• Postcards from the Zone - an episode guide for The New Twilight Zone

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