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 22 of the DVD collection.

Back There (Season Two, 1961)
This episode is one of my personal favorites. Nonetheless, I will try to be even-handed!

Peter Corrigan has spent his evening playing cards and discussing interesting things with his partners at the Potomac Club in Washington, DC. The most recent topic of discussion was time travel, and whether, even if you could travel back in time, you could actually change any events. But it’s getting late and Peter has to return to his home. On the way out the door, the club butler accidentally runs into him and spills wine on his dress shirt. Peter is momentarily disoriented from the collision, but he recovers and leaves.

Outside, cars have been replaced by horse-drawn carriages, and everybody is dressed in clothes from the 19th century. When Peter returns to his home, it has become a boarding house. He seems to have traveled back in time. He’s confused, but after some discussion with the landlady, he discovers the date is April 14th, 1865: the day of President Lincoln’s assassination.

Peter rushes to Ford’s theater to try to warn people there that an assassin is planning to kill Lincoln. His erratic behavior leads a policeman to arrest him and take him to the station on charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. But though what he says sounds crazy, and he’s dressed oddly for the time period, he’s so convincing that one of the police officers seems to believe him, as well as a stranger in the police station who asks for Peter to be released into his custody, as he thinks he can help him. Finally, Peter will be able to return to Ford’s Theater, stop the assassination, and change history…won’t he?
Concept/Plot/Characters—A great concept, and really well done. Peter Corrigan is superb as a man who finds himself with a chance to right a great historical wrong, and is willing to go to almost any length to do so. Other characters are also well-played and given sharp dialogue. Unfortunately, while not terrible, the ending doesn’t quite do the rest of the episode justice. (3.5 points)
We really feel the urgency of Peter’s situation, with the chance to stop Lincoln’s assassination, if only he can get someone to believe him. (1 point)
The Twist-
Just misses sticking the landing. Actually something of a double twist, the first of which takes place in the past and is dramatic though somewhat predictable, the second of which takes place back in the present and is less predictable and appropriately ironic, but anti-climactic after the intensity of the episode to that point. I think Rod Serling should have found a way to end it after the first twist. (1.5 points)
Time Travel
Total=6 points (Pretty Good)

A great episode that just misses excellence due to a slightly weak ending.

A World of Difference (Season One, 1960)
Arthur Curtis is a businessman with his own plush office and secretary, and he’s planning a fun vacation getaway with his wife. However, he’s unable to get through to her on the phone. When he swivels his seat, he discovers there’s no wall on the back of his office, instead finding a cameraman, a director, and numerous technicians who refer to him as “Gerald Raigan.” They seem to believe he’s a film and television actor, and that Authur Curtis is just one of his roles. He flees the office/movie set, searching for the different familiar aspects of his existence, but finding only Gerald Raigan’s world wherever he goes.
Concept/Plot/Characters—Killer concept and the first two minutes are perfect. In fact, I feel like the twist is really at the beginning when we find out Arthur Curtis is an actor, not an actual businessman. The episode doesn’t really know what to do after that, though, so we get Curtis wandering or driving around to different places he knows, finding out they aren’t really there, and yelling at the people around him. There’s some attempt made to show that Gerald Raigan’s life wasn’t so great–alcoholism, a declining career, a shrewish ex-wife trying to wheedle more alimony out of him–and that the Arthur Curtis identity may just be a way for him to escape. It’s mostly just the yelling, though. I feel like a great premise was wasted here. (1.5 points)
My daughter said at one point “this music is certainly dramatic,” and she made a good point. A subtler touch might have helped; this episode pours it on way too thick. (.5 points)
The Twist–
Like I said before, the big twist is really at the beginning; the twist at the end is pretty much what you expect, and not especially shocking, edifying, or mind-blowing. (.5 points)
Total=2.5 points (Okay)

A terrific premise doomed by not knowing what to do with it afterwards. Not awful, I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on, but just Okay.

One More Pallbearer (Season Three, 1962)
Paul Radin is a very wealthy man who has gone to considerable expense to build a bomb shelter in the basement of his luxury apartment building in New York. Not only that, he’s outfitted it with screens and speakers, and paid for sound and video recordings of an atomic explosion that he can play with the touch of a button. Now he’s invited three people from his past to join him in the shelter one evening–a high school teacher, a priest, and his commanding officer from World War II. No, this isn’t the beginning of a gag! Or is it? For it seems Mr. Radin has gone to all this expense to pull off what may be a highly elaborate practical joke. But why?
Concept/Plot/Characters—An intriguing premise, a great script that lets the three characters gradually reveal what they know of Paul Radin and why he might have invited them, and a plot that is interesting all the way to the end. I might have liked a bit more background on Radin and how he’s made his money, or on his three antagonists, especially the priest. Still, those are quibbles. This was a mysterious and suspenseful episode that could easily have played on the Alfred Hitchcock show, instead. (3.5 points)
Maintains a sinister and mysterious atmosphere as we try to figure out just what Mr. Radin is up to. (1 point)
The Twist–
A dark, ironic ending, though I found it a bit of a cop-out in that it wasn’t the most creative twist. Still, it definitely fits the subject matter. (1 point)
Nuclear War
Total=5.5 points (Pretty Good)

My daughter and I agreed this was a Pretty Good episode.

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