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Ranking the Twilight Zone

I’m engaged in a noble project with my twelve-year old daughter: watching every single Twilight Zone episode and ranking them. We watch and run them through a rubric to give them a score from 0 to 7. The episodes are graded in three categories: Concept/Plot/Characters (4 points), Tone (1 point), and The Twist (2 points).

The episodes this time were from Volume 29 of the DVD collection.

A Nice Place to Visit (Season One, 1960)
Rocky Valentine is a street thug shot by the police after robbing a jewelry store. He blacks out in an alley, and when he wakes up, he finds a well-dressed gentleman named Pip standing over him. Pip knows all about Rocky, and informs him that he’s there to provide whatever he wants. Rocky is suspicious, but soon finds Pip will indeed give him what he asks for–money, a swank pad to live in, good-looking broads, a winning night at the casino. Rocky figures out that Pip must be like his guardian angel, and that he’s gone to paradise. But what he can’t figure out is, what good deeds could a rotten guy like him have done to make it to heaven?
Concept/Plot/Characters—This is a fun concept, fairly well executed. Rocky is believable as a small-time hood, and Pip is appropriately servile without being unctuous. We’re given just enough of a glimpse of the mechanics of the afterlife (a “hall of records” where people’s sins are recorded in a big card catalog, a notebook Pip has to keep Rocky’s preferences at hand) to make it seem plausible, but not over-explained enough to lose its magic. (2.5 points)
Tone–
The episode does a good job balancing an ironic tone throughout. (1 point)
The Twist–
Sometimes even when you see a twist coming, it can still work if it’s delivered in a satisfying way, as it is here. (1.5 points)
Theme–
Afterlife, Guardian Angel
Total=5 points (Pretty Good)

This was a fun episode. I was a little surprised at how seedily the show depicted Rocky’s desires in the afterlife–at one point he requests a “broad who’s really stacked.” According to Wikipedia, CBS actually asked for some edits to the episode, so we’re even getting the tame version. Again, the twist is not unexpected, but the delivery is spot-on and does a lot to move this episode from “Okay” to “Pretty Good”.

I Am The Night–Color Me Black (Season Five, 1964)
Wow, I hate to put any episodes in the “skip” category, but I’m going to have to with this one. It’s set in a small mid-western town, where a man has been condemned to death. On the morning he is to be executed, the sky turns black. The sheriff and the editor of the town newspaper discourse a bit on how unjust the execution is, for they believe the man to have been acting in defense of a black man. The deputy sheriff, however, is unsympathetic and believes the prisoner is getting what’s coming to him. It seems the deputy sheriff may even have lied on the stand about the circumstances of the arrest to make sure the prisoner received the death penalty. A black preacher stops by the jail and thanks the prisoner for what the man did for “my people.” He offers spiritual counsel to the condemned man, but the man doesn’t want any. Later, before the execution, the townspeople jeer and the black preacher gives a little speech about hate and whatnot, I’m not real sure exactly, I was tuned out by that point.
Concept/Plot/Characters—This episode is so sure it’s on the right side morally, it doesn’t even bother giving us anything concrete. Characters are broadly sketched with no traits other than “self-sacrificing prisoner” or “racist deputy sheriff” or “noble black preacher.” The situation that led up to the execution is never described in any detail at all. Was the prisoner indeed railroaded at his trial? Who knows, we don’t actually get any details to figure it out for ourselves. It’s just a series of speeches about injustice or hate or whatever. It amounts to nothing more than “something bad happened, and we should feel bad about it.” I’m sorry, Rod, that’s not enough–if you want us to feel sympathy for a situation, you have to give us sympathetic characters and plot points. (.5 points)
Tone–
I’m sure the tone of this is supposed to be, oh, despair that man’s ability to hate is leading to our own self-destruction or some such thing. It comes across purely as preachy. (0 points)
The Twist–
The twist is way too heavy-handed and has very little surprise to it. (0 points)
Theme–
Execution
Total=.5 points (Skip)

My daughter and I are in agreement on this one. I know this aired in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and maybe in the context of that it didn’t need to provide any specifics–everybody would automatically know what it was really about. I don’t know, even if that was true at the time, the episode doesn’t hold up now. Today it feels like it’s claiming unearned moral authority for itself.


5 Comments on “Ranking the Twilight Zone

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