Posts tagged Episodes
With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD every day, it gets harder and harder to keep up with new shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. If you watch these 10, you’ll have a better idea of what that series was about, without having to watch the whole thing. These are not meant to be the 10 best episodes, but rather the 10 most representative episodes.
Rod Serling was a smart, skeptical man—smart enough to know where his talents lay and skeptical enough to doubt that those talents ever rose to the level of art. In the last few years of his life, before he died of a heart attack in 1975 at age 50, Serling gave college lectures in which he encouraged his students to rip his legacy apart. Serling had become a sensation at 30, thanks to his Emmy-winning teleplay “Patterns,” and he went on to win Emmys in successive years for his scripts “Requiem For A Heavyweight” and “The Comedian,” both of which are still considered among the highlights of live TV’s “golden age.” Serling then created the science-fiction anthology series The Twilight Zone, and won writing Emmys for its first two seasons. But throughout his rise, Serling battled with network executives and sponsors and worried that he capitulated too easily. Serling wrote some of the best-loved, most powerful television dramas in the history of the medium, but he also worked so quickly and so constantly that he failed to make the most of some of his best ideas. And he knew it. When Serling met with those college kids in the ’70s, he accepted their assessment that even his best scripts were moldy. “They’ve aged like bread,” he nodded.
It’s that awareness of his own human weakness that made Serling’s Twilight Zone so great so often. The idea for the show came to Serling after he got tired of seeing his most politically and socially conscious scripts get gutted by the network suits. Regarding his poorly received 1956 teleplay “The Arena,” Serling wrote, “To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited… In retrospect, I probably would have had a much more adult play had I made it science fiction, put it in the year 2057, and peopled the Senate with robots.” So after Serling had an unexpected hit with his sci-fi drama “The Time Element” on a 1958 installment of Desilu Playhouse, he sold CBS on a weekly dose of the uncanny, in freaky half-hour episodes shot on film, derived from original stories and adaptations of some of the best fantasy fiction on the pulp market at that time. The Twilight Zone’s format suited Serling’s purple prose and punchy moralizing, and with the help of some talented writers, directors, and character actors, the show quickly became the standard against which other science-fiction shows were measured.
Emmys and fan esteem aside, The Twilight Zone was never a huge hit during its original run, and Serling ultimately found himself fighting with his bosses again. The production briefly shifted from film to videotape to save money, and after a brief cancellation, Serling got The Twilight Zone back on the air by agreeing to fill an open one-hour time slot. Neither of those compromises served the show well. Neither did Serling’s habit of using a dictating machine to “write” whole scripts in mere hours, which encouraged him to be unsubtle and unoriginal. Serling swiped ideas from other writers—unconsciously, he always claimed—and sometimes, his Twilight Zone episodes had little more to offer than a crazy twist ending or a heavy-handed message.
Yet there’s a reason why The Twilight Zone is still a favorite in syndication, and why it inspired a hit-or-miss movie and pretty good revival series in the ’80s (plus another not-so-good revival in the ’00s). Even the worst Twilight Zones—and there are plenty of those to choose from—are rooted in Serling’s understanding that it doesn’t take much for the normal to shift just a bit and become abnormal. Serling turned small towns, suburban homes, and city streets into staging grounds for the nightmares his audience was already having, often suggesting that the human capacity for superstition and paranoia could be more powerful than any magic spell or alien invasion. The deep creepiness of The Twilight Zone sprung from Serling’s cynicism about institutions, human nature, and himself.
Eventually, entire generations would gorge on the Twilight Zone marathons that local UHF stations would broadcast throughout the ’70s and ’80s on Halloween, Friday the 13th, or New Year’s Eve, and these marathons were a major force in securing Serling’s reputation. In single doses, The Twilight Zone can offer a little eerie drama with a pleasant tingle at the end. Taken in bulk, it has the power to knock viewers off their moorings, pushing them to see irony in every uncanny twist—on the show, and in real life.
As our own Twilight Zone TV Club Classic reviews return February 23, here are 10 episodes designed to explore all the darkest corners of Serling’s show.
“Where Is Everybody?” (season one, episode one): In October 1959, Serling introduced The Twilight Zone to American TV audiences with “Where Is Everybody?,” an episode starring Earl Holliman as a man who wanders through a recently abandoned town until he flips out, driven mad by loneliness. The big climactic reveal of what exactly caused Earth’s population to vanish established a Twilight Zone tradition of starting with the bizarre and ending with the plausible. “Where Is Everybody?” ends with an unexpected but realistic—and poignant—explanation for how the world went topsy-turvy. (Another prime example of this approach comes in the Richard Matheson-penned second-season episode “Nick Of Time,” which stars William Shatner as a man who believes his destiny is being controlled by a roadside diner’s tabletop fortune-telling machine, until he realizes it’s really his own superstition and paranoia guiding his decisions.)
“Walking Distance” (season one, episode five): Serling was keen enough to realize that science fiction didn’t always have to involve rocket ships and rubber monsters. He won over less genre-friendly critics early in The Twilight Zone’s run with “Walking Distance,” starring Gig Young as a man who’s transported back to his own past and given the opportunity to talk to himself as a boy. As always, there’s a twist ending, born of the common Serling idea that time is a closed loop, unalterable. But what stands out more is the call of nostalgia in “Walking Distance,” as a grown-up walks through his childhood idyll—a town that Serling would acknowledge was inspired by his own hometown of Binghamton, New York. The Twilight Zone would continue to play with this notion of the past pulling characters back, most notably in Serling’s “A Stop At Willoughby,” in which a neurotic executive escapes in his mind to an imaginary turn-of-the-century small town, and Matheson’s “Young Man’s Fancy,” in which a mama’s boy visits the house of his late mother, and reverts to childhood right in front of his new wife’s eyes.
“Time Enough At Last” (season one, episode eight): Easily one of the top five most remembered Twilight Zone episodes, “Time Enough At Last” was adapted by Serling from Lynn Venable’s short story about a henpecked bookworm (played by Burgess Meredith) who survives an apocalypse and is finally left alone to do as much reading as he likes. This being The Twilight Zone, complications occur—because more often than not on this show, when people get what they think they want, they’re profoundly unhappy with the results. (See also: Serling’s cruel season-five episode “Uncle Simon,” in which a woman who’s been waiting her whole life for a mean, rich old relative to die gets a rude surprise when he finally passes.) “Time Enough At Last” is a classic not just because of its O. Henry ending, but because when the meek Meredith steps out onto a depopulated city street, his reaction encompasses all the loneliness—and paradoxical yearning for loneliness—that was one of the show’s recurring motifs.
“The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” (season one, episode 22): One of the reasons Serling created The Twilight Zone was so he could tell stories about real-world social problems without calling those problems by name. “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” tackles foolish human prejudice, showing how neighbor turns against neighbor when a power outage leads some to suspect an alien invasion. The madness of crowds has long been a staple of thrillers, and it’s a premise that The Twilight Zone would tackle often—as in Serling’s more ham-fisted season-three episode “The Shelter,” in which neighbors come to blows over space in a friend’s fallout shelter. “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” is more pointed than most. From its location—a backlot that had previously been used for the wholesome Andy Hardy movie series—to its “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you” ending, this episode argues that even when there’s a real external threat, ordinary Americans will overreact and do the enemy’s job for it.
“The Eye Of The Beholder” (season two, episode six): It’s hard to describe some of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes to newcomers without revealing their endings, and since sometimes the ending is the best part of a Twilight Zone, it’d be unfair to spoil them. (Warning: The book To Serve Man in “To Serve Man” is… well, no, best not say.) But sometimes, even when the best Twilight Zone sucker-punches are fairly obvious, there are other redeeming qualities. In “The Eye Of The Beholder,” a woman awaits the results of a plastic surgery designed to make her look “normal”—a word that turns out to have a very different meaning in the place where she lives. Because all the characters’ faces are carefully hidden from the audience for nearly 20 minutes, it’s clear early on that some reversal is coming, but the expressionistic lighting and the meditation on the significance of “beauty” make “The Eye Of The Beholder” powerful regardless. It’s another one of the Twilight Zone episodes that often leaps to mind immediately when casual viewers talk about the show.
“The Invaders” (season two, episode 15): Though the Matheson-penned “The Invaders” has one of the most genuinely surprising twist endings in Twilight Zone history (albeit one that the show tried more than once), that’s not what makes it a series standout. No, what’s remarkable about “The Invaders” is how effectively stripped-down it is. Agnes Moorehead plays a mute woman who fights off a tiny flying saucer manned by creatures in bulbous space suits. And that’s it. There’s almost no dialogue and not much in the way of setup or story. It’s just one lone person fighting for her life for 20 minutes: an exercise in raw terror.
“Long Distance Call” (season two, episode 22): The Twilight Zone wasn’t cheap to produce, with new sets every week and often-fantastical makeup and special effects. To cut costs, CBS asked Serling to try shooting on video in the middle of the second season, and while Serling’s years of working in live TV had made him familiar with writing and staging for video, the show never really felt right with the constrictions that the medium demanded. Still, there are a few winners among the six video-shot Twilight Zones. The first of the batch, “The Lateness Of The Hour,” is another of Serling’s irony-filled examinations of prejudice, following the comeuppance of a young woman who resents her family’s android servants. And the last of the batch, “Long Distance Call,” is one of the show’s creepiest half-hours. Written by William Idelson and Charles Beaumont, “Long Distance Call” is about a toy telephone through which a child receives messages from his dead grandmother, urging him to join her in the afterlife. The limited setting pays off here, in an episode where drab reality contrasts with the imagination of people and places beyond.
“Person Or Persons Unknown” (season three, episode 27): One of the reasons why The Twilight Zone resonated as it did is because Serling and his writers touched so often on common anxieties. In the Beaumont-written “Person Or Persons Unknown,” an everyman played by Richard Long wakes up to discover that none of his friends or family members recognize him, and instead consider him a dangerous lunatic. It’s not just that there’s no record of the man’s existence; the hell of it all is that he has unshakeable emotional attachments to people who now regard him as a stranger. That’s what sets up this episode’s devastating twist ending, where circumstances are inverted and the protagonist becomes lonelier than ever.
“Miniature” (season four, episode eight): The Twilight Zone was effectively canceled at the end of its third season, when the show had trouble attracting a sponsor. CBS gave Serling a reprieve when he agreed to let The Twilight Zone be a mid-season replacement, taking over a timeslot vacated by an hourlong drama. By then, Serling’s co-producer, Buck Houghton, had decided to move on, and Serling himself was contributing fewer scripts. Generally speaking, the 18 hourlong episodes of season four are significantly hobbled by the extra screen time. The Twilight Zone was a show that relied on the simple idea and the quick hit, neither of which was suited to sprawl. But they’re not all losers in season four. Beaumont’s touching “Miniature” stars Robert Duvall as a social misfit who becomes obsessed with a doll he watches at a museum, convinced that the toy is leading a sad little life, just like him. Duvall’s performance is full of nuance, and Beaumont’s script is more like the film Marty than a typical Twilight Zone. The episode makes a nice companion piece to Serling’s season-one classic “The Lonely,” in which an isolated prisoner of the future has to choose between his robot companion and a full pardon. Here, Duvall has to decide whether to live in an ersatz world or commit to the real one.
“Living Doll” (season five, episode six): Though primarily a science-fiction series, The Twilight Zone developed a reputation as one of the scariest shows on TV, dating back to season one’s horrific ghost story “The Hitch-Hiker.” In its fifth and final season, The Twilight Zone went to the horror well more often, producing several of the series’ most memorable episodes (including “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,” in which William Shatner plays a nervous flyer who sees a gremlin on the wing of a jet airliner). Among those memorably scary—and funny—season-five episodes is “Living Doll,” written by Beaumont and Jerry Sohl, and starring Telly Savalas as a crank who resents the money his wife spends on toys for his stepdaughter. When one of those toys—a talking doll voiced by the legendary June Foray—threatens to kill him, the stepdad initially laughs it off, and then learns that an inanimate object can be pretty dangerous. The Twilight Zone wasn’t as sharp in its final round of episodes as it had been over its first three years, but “Living Doll” is true to the show’s mission of taking the ordinary and making it seem alien.
And if you like those, here are 10 more: “Third From The Sun” (season one, episode 14), “A World Of Difference” (season one, episode 23), “People Are Alike All Over” (season one, episode 25), “A Penny For Your Thoughts” (season two, episode 16), “The Silence” (season two, episode 25), “It’s A Good Life” (season three, episode eight), “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit” (season three, episode 14), “The Changing Of The Guard” (season three, episode 37), “The Old Man In The Cave” (season five, episode seven), “The Masks” (season five, episode 25)
Availability: Four of the five Twilight Zone seasons (all but the hourlong fourth season) are available on Netflix Watch Instantly, among other streaming services; all five are on DVD and Blu-ray, and also available to purchase digitally from Amazon and iTunes.
Up next: Kyle Ryan contemplates another kind of unreal nether-realm: the late-night talk show, as depicted in Garry Shandling’s landmark HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show.
This time of year brings out a lot of holiday programming. Much of it is made for TV movies and holiday specials, some from the past and some new, such as the classic from my childhood, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Last year I wrote an article about 5 TV Holiday Shows on My Nice List.
This year, I want to focus on something a little different, namely holiday episodes of regular TV programs. The two biggest holidays for these types of episodes seem to be Halloween and Christmas. Sometimes they are just part of the regular lineup and are broadcast near to the actual date of the holiday. Other times, they are standalone episodes shown especially during the month of the holiday. I look forward to these episodes for many reasons which are listed below.
When my kids were little, I heard many times that children think their teachers live at school. This conclusion is reached because the children have no other frame of reference and only see their teachers there, hence the assumption. Similarly, on TV it seems that many characters live at work, since we mostly see them in their work setting or at least performing their jobs.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this, since that is the point of many shows, notably crime procedurals. It would be extremely boring to watch these folks grocery shop or do the mundane errands we all watch TV to escape from! After all, the shows are about action. But, the holiday themed episodes integrate real life relatable and interesting activities into our favorite shows, making it easier to connect with the characters on a personal level, such as on the season 6 episode of The Closer, “Living Proof, Part 2,” when they all sat down to celebrate a holiday meal together after solving the latest crime.
Many episodes from the TV programs I watch stand out in my mind, but the ones I remember the longest are the ones that have fun with the holidays. For instance, NCIS has done several episodes which made note of Halloween and the one that is most memorable for me was “Witch Hunt” in season 4. It was still a crime mystery, but threw in so many fun references and jibes that I laughed out loud. Plus, there was a Klingon! What’s not to love?
Castle also seems to really enjoy Halloween, having done multiple themed episodes in Octobers past. My favorite Castle episode remains “Vampire Weekend” from season 2, where Nathan Fillion dresses up as Mal. But, let’s not forget that Castle also dresses up as Edgar Alan Poe in a nice homage to the famous writer.
Eureka, while on hiatus, had two Christmas themed episodes, in December of 2010 and December of 2011. And in 2011, Warehouse 13 and Haven joined in on the fun, with all three episodes showing back to back on the same night. The writers were so very creative for these episodes, blending real life mythos with science fiction – the result was amazing!
Eureka, in particular, really did some amazing things with these holiday episodes. The first one, named “O Little Town,” involved Taggart exploring Santology, and trying to come up with devices to explain the magic of Santa Claus. Add in mini fruitcakes and Carter telling the kids a story in front of a fireplace, and it certainly sounds like Christmas in Eureka to me!
The second episode, “Do You See What I See,” involves a transformation of the characters so that they become drawn in the style of classic Looney Toons. As the characters work to fix the problem, they are also drawn in anime style, Simpson style, Peanuts style and last but not least, in the old Claymation style. All of this is blended creatively into the story line.
Warehouse 13′s episode, “The Greatest Gift,” was a variation on “It’s A Wonderful Life,” where Pete is the character that never existed. Of course, it was not an angel, but rather an artifact that caused his disappearance. Haven’s episode, “Silent Night,” involved people mysteriously disappearing and Christmas decorations around town despite the fact it is July!
Watching TV shows, it is sometimes hard to get a sense of the passage of time. Even on programs that toss in references to “so you did not make it home last night” to help us understand it is the next day, it can still seem like they are all happening over the course of a day.
Figuring out seasons can be difficult, and in particular on shows set in warm climates, it is impossible. The best example I can think of is Burn Notice – Florida really does not experience seasons, so you really have no idea if it is August or December. For programs in northern climates, this is not such an issue, because they are wearing coats in the winter months.
Another good example is Royal Pains, which originally started as a summer program about the Hamptons and the population of wealthy people that use it as a summer home. However, starting with the second season, we got the tail end of the season being broadcast in the winter or fall, but apparently still portraying summer activities.
Enter the holiday themed programs which give us context as to what season the episode is operating in. I like this contextual clue which for me helps make the program more enjoyable. I am certainly looking forward to the standalone episode of Royal Pains being broadcast this month featuring Evan and Paige’s wintertime wedding, “Off-Season Greetings.”
So there you have them, my reasons for enjoying holiday themed episodes of regular programs. Do you look forward to these episodes as much as I do? If so, do you have other reasons I did not mention? Please tell me your reasons or to discuss mine in the comment section below.
10 Amazing Halloween Television Episodes!
When the Halloween season arrives, there’s nothing better than turning on your television and learning what your favorite characters will dress up as for their Halloween festivities.
Ironically, Halloween television is rarely about scaring viewers and almost always ends up focusing on Halloween parties. There are so many Halloween episodes out there that crowning ten best would be impossible.
Instead, here are nine favorites with one The Deadliest Warrior entry added for good measure.
Roseanne – “BOO!”
There are many great Roseanne Halloween episodes, but the first remains the best. The costumes aren’t as outlandish as they’d later become, but nearly every joke hits on one Halloween theme or another and it’s delivery is totally earnest and fun. Even before the big party, we have all the wonderful pranks and dark puns. Plus, you have to love a show where a mother asks her Halloween-resisting daughter, “Do you want to go upstairs and get dressed, or do you just want to go to Hell?”
Community – “Epidemiology”
Can a weekly sitcom about community college pull off a zombie episode without resorting to an ending where Star-Burns wakes up and finds it was all just a bad dream? Community’s great halloween episode, “Epidemioligy,” argues “yes” as the entire school (except for Dean Pelton) runs into a form of food poisoning that turns victims into zombies before frying their brains (or something). No one can remember what happened afterward, but the show never forgets as this episode introduced Shirley’s season two pregnancy plot. Chang, you sly dog.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Halloween”
The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fun, but the show doesn’t kick into high gear until season two, especially during this episode which supplies both laughs and drama while introducing major elements to the Buffy mythology.
Sunnydale unravels as everyone magically takes on the personality of their costume thanks to mischievous Ethan Rayne. Xander learns military training which comes in handy for the rest of the series. We get our first indications of Giles’ dark past. Plus Willow totally takes control of the Scoobies. It’s everything you’d want from an early Buffy episode, and it’s plenty Halloweeny as well.
The Simpsons – “Tree House of Horror V”
Like Rosanne, The Simpsons has a reputation for awesome Halloween episodes thanks to their annual Tree House of Horror anthologies. We may all have our pet favorites, but the hands-down winner has to be “Tree House of Horror V,” which includes a story where the Springfield school system consumes children literally as well as a parody of The Shining, and Ray Bradbury’s time travel mind-warper, “A Sound of Thunder.” It doesn’t get much cooler than this.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Who Got Dee Pregnant?”
Judging from the title, you wouldn’t think this Rashomon-style episode would have anything to do with Halloween. But since the story of who got Dee pregnant takes place at a Patty’s Bar Halloween party, we get our first ever It’s Always Sunny Halloween episode. The costumes aren’t as clever as on other shows because the people wearing them aren’t as clever. It’s worth it just to hear Charlie’s cannibalistic misinterpretation of The Phantom of the Opera or everyone’s inability to name Viggo Mortensen when referring to Mac’s Aragorn costume. And that’s saying nothing of the moment where we’re treated to a real life ostrich in Dee’s place.
The Office – “Halloween”
Every generation needs a sitcom to really knock it out of the park on Halloween, and right now that title goes to The Office. Annually, fans prepare for witty costumes galore and uncomfortable hijinks usually in some way revolving around said costumes.
This season two episode marks their most memorable attempt, simply because the story is so sad and horrible. Michael has to fire one employee before November and of course waits until the last day to make his choice. So while everyone has a good time on Halloween (relatively) one worker will be going home with their life ruined. Also, Michael has two heads.
The Walking Dead – “Day’s Gone By”
The Walking Dead’s opening episode, “Days Gone By,” was not the kind of Halloween episode where all your favorite characters dress up in really creative costumes for you to steal a week later as your own costume. Instead it was a chilling, gory feature-length episode of zombie apocalypse that just so happened to premier on Halloween night. So, actually, it’s more a Halloween episode than any other episode on this list. Plus: Disassembled horse!
American Horror Story – “Halloween 1 & 2″
American Horror Story is so cartoonishly dark and bizarre that almost every episode counts as a Halloween episode. And in pure American Horror Story fashion, the show’s first season aired not one but two Halloween episodes, one right on time, the other a week late. I could tell you what they were about, but it likely wouldn’t make any sense and might even over-titilate (it had something to do with American Horror Story’s wonky rules setting Halloween as the one day a year where ghosts can walk around like normals, so Rubber Man can finally go see Marilyn Manson or whatever). Let’s not kid around: American Horror Story is not a very good show. But it’s also the most awesome show.
The Deadliest Warrior – “Vampires vs. Zombies”
This particular episode of The Deadliest Warrior may have aired in September, but you’ll never convince me a show quasi-scientifically examining who would win in a fight between vampires and zombies does not belong on this list. Their methods may be hilariously arbitrary (vampires apparently have the strength of ten men; zombie hands are somehow three times human strength), but it’s still pretty awesome to see mock vampire jaws rip open a mock zombie skull jam packed with mock zombie blood and brains.
Family Matters – “Stevil II”
You might think the original Stevil episode, in which Steve Urkel gets a dummy version of himself that terrorizes the Winslows, was crazier than it had any right to be (Laura gets dismembered, after all), but the sequel, Stevil II, is even better. Not only is the dummy just as oddly terrifying as before, but this time there’s a scary Carl Winslow to join the child-traumatizing fun. Neither episode offers an explanation as to why Stevil looks like Urkel yet speaks with the voice of an evil bodybuilder, though.