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 8 and 22 of the DVD collection. Episodes now tend to remind me of other episodes that we’ve already seen, while my daughter is becoming an expert at guessing the twist ahead of time. Still, we’re enjoying our project!
Third From the Sun (Season One, 1960)
Similar in some ways to the Probe 7, Over and Out episode, but far better. This is a tense and thrilling episode.
Will Sturka is an engineer at a nuclear weapons plant, and it’s an open secret at the plant that the government is planning to start a nuclear war that night. When Will expresses the thought that this might not be a good thing, Will’s boss becomes suspicious of his employee.
Back at home, Will tells his wife and daughter it’s almost time, and they should put a mysterious plan into action. Will’s neighbor, a test pilot, and his wife are in on the plan also. It seems there is an experimental faster-than-light spaceship at the plant that Will’s neighbor is involved with testing, and later that night they intend to steal it and escape the planet before the war takes place. Their destination is another, similar planet a few light-years away. But they can’t steal the ship until after midnight, when a guard they’ve bribed will come on duty, so in the meantime they have to act perfectly normal, eating dinner and playing cards. Will’s suspicious boss even stops by, and nearly discovers a sketch Will and his neighbor have made of the spaceship’s trajectory.
Finally, midnight comes and they drive to the restricted area of the plant. But instead of the bribed guard they’re expecting, it’s another guard at the gate–and Will’s boss. The launch of the initial nuclear missiles will take place in only a few minutes. Will they be able to make it to the ship in time?
Concept/Plot/Characters—Solid concept and almost perfectly executed. A thriller with high stakes and believable characters. Docked just a bit because the silly and laughably outdated special effects in the final scene break the mood a bit. Still, they don’t they fully undermine it, and the twist still holds plenty of power. (3.5 points)
Tone–The episode is tense throughout (except for the unfortunate special effects in that final scene), with tilted camera angles and a hot night causing everyone to sweat giving it all a paranoid tone. (1 point)
The Twist–My daughter called this one ahead of time, so it’s not a total surprise, but it’s still a great and highly appropriate ending. Sometimes even a predictable twist works if it feels fateful and inevitable. (2 points)
Total=6.5 points (Excellent)
A bit of disagreement between my daughter and me, as I thought this was Excellent and my daughter just Pretty Good. Still, we both agreed it was well worth watching.
The Fugitive (Season Three, 1962)
I have low confidence in my judgment of this episode. I did not like it at all, finding it to be sentimental goop (though with a partially-redeeming twist at the end), but it’s hard for me to point to anything actually wrong with the episode. I generally have low tolerance for sentimentality in my entertainment, so it may be others will like this episode fine.
Jenny is a girl of perhaps eight years old, and despite the brace on her leg, she still manages to play baseball with the boys in the neighborhood. There favorite playmate is Old Ben, a kindly older gentleman who takes part in their activities, watches over them, and is able to perform “magic tricks,” such as turning himself into a scary-looking Martian. Old Ben lives upstairs in the apartment building where Jenny lives with her mean-spirited aunt.
One day, two policemen come to visit Jenny’s aunt, wanting information on Old Ben. Her aunt is all to happy to tell all she knows about that meddling old fellow upstairs, who she’s always suspected was a bad egg. Jenny overhears what’s happening and runs upstairs to warn Old Ben. Surely the police have made a mistake, and Old Ben isn’t really a fugitive from justice, is he?
Concept/Plot/Characters—Ugh. The concept’s fine, I guess, and the plot’s fine, I suppose. Old Ben turns out to be more interesting than he appears at first. Jenny is the worst stereotype of a brighten-your-day-whether-you-like-it-or-not Shirley Temple-ish “golly gee” type of little kid which I have never seen in real life. Jenny’s aunt is depicted as being an old meanie, when her suspicion of an old man hanging around with children all day strikes me as well-founded. (1 point for Old Ben)
Tone–Goopy and sentimental, where I think it was meant to be more childhood-nostalgic. Lays it on way too thick. (0 points)
The Twist– I will say the twist in this episode really works. For one thing, while I sort of saw it coming, there was actually a second twist on the first, and then something of a third twist as well. And these weren’t just there for the sake of surprise, they actually did follow from what happened earlier. Not quite enough to fully redeem the episode, but if you’ve started this one, you might as well finish and see what happens. (2 points)
Total=3 points (Okay)
The multi-faceted twist saves it from the Skip category, but I would still not go out of my way for this one. Might simply be an episode that’s not for me, although I note my daughter agrees with me–and she’s only a little older than Jenny, so she’s in what I suppose was the intended target audience. Possibly the sentimentality will be too much for anybody who doesn’t cut out Ziggy cartoons.
Ring-a-Ding Girl (Season Five, 1963)
Like The Prime Mover, Ring-a-Ding Girl is a fairly lightweight episode that gets a lot of mileage from the charm of its dialogue and actors. Bunny Blake is a young, pretty Hollywood actress whose biggest fans are her fan club back in her small hometown of Howardsville. She’s known in the press as the Ring-a-Ding girl because of her ring collection, so the Howardsville fan club sends her a ring mounted with a large black stone. When she looks into the ring for the first time, she has a vision of her town’s residents telling her to come home.
Bunny decides to skip her flight to Rome where she’s due to start filming a new movie and returns for a day to Howardsville. The whole town is preparing for the Founder’s Day picnic at a park downtown, but Bunny’s ring gives her a vision that she should put on her one-woman stage show at the high school auditorium and invite the townsfolk to that at the same time the picnic is scheduled. Bunny’s sister and some other neighbors are appalled that Bunny is upstaging the annual picnic so she can draw attention to herself with her stage show. But the ring tells her to go ahead anyway, and nearly everybody in town ends up going to her show instead of the picnic. Is it true that Bunny is simply a selfish young woman who always needs the spotlight on her, or is there a reason she so desperately needs to put on the show at that exact time?
Concept/Plot/Characters—Not a whole lot to this one, and with a fairly similar theme to a number of other episodes. The draw here is obviously Bunny Blake as a flippant but beautiful and charming ingenue, an obvious Audrey Hepburn stand-in. Actress Maggie McNamara does a great job here, making Bunny into a Holly Golightly that we really care about, when she so easily could have been unbearable. Kudos to both the deft scripting and the actors playing Bunny’s sister and nephew and the town doctor back in Howardsville, who come across as real people a little in awe of their famous relative and neighbor, but also caring for her and concerned at her odd behavior. (3 points)
Tone–Maintains a fun, breezy atmosphere throughout the episode that’s well-suited to the subject matter. (1 point)
The Twist–A bit predictable–indeed, my daughter announced what she thought would happen several minutes before the end, and she was spot on. Still, a satisfying conclusion. (1 point)
Total=5 points (Pretty Good)
My daughter and I agreed this was a Pretty Good episode.