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 41 of the DVD collection.

Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (Season Two, 1961)
Two state troopers are at the side of a highway on a snowy night, investigating a call about a flying saucer. The saucer apparently crashed into some trees and landed in a pond, and a set of footprints from the icy pond leads to a lonely diner. When the state troopers enter the diner, there is only a bus in the parking lot. Inside are several people who just got off the bus, the only customers the man behind the counter has had all day. The bus driver says there were six passengers on the bus, but there are seven people (besides he and the counterman) in the diner. One of them must be the creature from the flying saucer. The phone rings, giving the state troopers the news that the blizzard has closed the nearby bridge. They’ll be stuck at the diner all night, and one way or another, they’ll discover which one of them is the alien.
Concept/Plot/Characters—The concept here is great, and set up perfectly. The characters are stuck in the diner, and have all night to figure things out. Everybody plays their parts to a tee, with the exception of a kooky old man who lays the kookiness on rather thickly, although I suppose the idea was that he should be the main suspect to be the alien. (3.5 points)
This is a tense one, with just the right amount of paranoia. (1 point)
The Twist-
I was afraid when it came time for the big reveal, the episode would wimp out on giving us an alien. Well, no wimp out here–yet the way the ending is done is still unexpected. The twist here really pays off. (2 points)
Total=6.5 points (Excellent)

My daughter thought this was pretty good, but after running it through the rubric, I come up with Excellent. I don’t think this is one of the better known TZ episodes, but it’s a hidden gem.

Come Wander With Me (Season Five, 1964)
Starts off as a very interesting episode (directed by Richard Donner, who would later direct Superman, Lethal Weapon, etc.!). Floyd Burney is the Rock-a-Billy kid, a fast-talking slickster folk singer searching the countryside for original folks songs, and he’s willing to pay top dollar. He comes to an old barn way down a dirt road where an old man stands behind the counter of a rustic music store where wooden instruments hang from the rafters. He offers the old man money for any original songs, but the man tersely tells him, “no songs.” Floyd believes the old man’s just driving a hard bargain, but while he’s making progressively higher offers, Floyd hears a beautiful woman’s voice from the woods singing the song “Come Wander With Me.” The old man warns Floyd not to investigate, but Floyd ignores him, headed for the source of the intriguing song that he knows could be his biggest hit ever. In the woods, he finds the mysterious young woman, Mary Rachel, who also warns him to forget about the song and leave without getting involved, but of course he doesn’t follow her advice.
Concept/Plot/Characters—The premise of this episode is promising, the plot starts off well, and Floyd Burney is a believable character. The woman singer he encounters in the woods, Mary Rachel, is well done as a pretty country girl who is ignorant of the world beyond her rural mileau. The first half of the episode is great. Unfortunately, the second half bogs down in needless complications. One other mattter–this episode is different in that it includes an original, and quite interesting, folk song (apparently it’s been used again in episodes of other TV shows, but it was composed specifically for this episode of the Twilight Zone). This is not usually a musical show! Points off for the mess the script turns into during the second half, but another point added back for the lovely song. (2.0 points)
Has an appropriately dreamy tone throughout, as Floyd wanders the woods searching for the girl and the song. (1 point)
The Twist–
A real mess. I sort of feel like writer Anthony Wilson (who I don’t recall writing any other episodes) thought, “Oh, it’s the Twilight Zone, it needs a real twisty ending,” and just went overboard. Seriously, had he simply picked one direction to go in it would have worked fine. Unfortunately, the twist(s) squander what was a good episode to that point. (0 points)
Total=3.0 points (Okay)

This is a tough one to grade, as it ends up an incoherent mess, and thus really should be a “skip.” Yet my daughter and I both agree that the lovely “Come Wander With Me” song makes it worthwhile to watch. I suppose it averages out to “Okay.” Maybe just watch the first half and then turn it off?

5 Comments on “Ranking the Twilight Zone

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