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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 Volumes 15 of the DVD collection.

A Kind of Stopwatch (Season Five, 1963)
Patrick McNulty loves to hear himself talk. He has lots of ideas that he freely shares with his co-workers, his boss, the guys at the bar when they’re trying to watch the ballgame. They’re not real good ideas or anything, but he presents them as if they’re gold and you’d be a fool to ignore them. One night, when he’s driven everybody else from Joe’s Bar with his nonstop drivel, he really connects with an older drunk. This man gives him a stopwatch as a gift.

McNulty discovers that when you hit the stop button on the stopwatch, it stops time. Everything freezes in place, including people. Surely McNulty has some great ideas for what to do with this newfound power? Well, not really. At first he simply rearranges people’s hats and things on their desks at work in “funny” ways. Before too long, he gets the notion to rob a bank. But it turns out that the stopwatch might not be all its cracked up to be….
Concept/Plot/Characters—The concept isn’t bad, but there seems to be a mismatch in themes here. McNulty is a loudmouth who won’t shut up, so shouldn’t the special gift the drunk gives him have something to do with that? The stopwatch should be for somebody who’s always in a hurry or always late, dramatically speaking. Or maybe the point is supposed to be that McNulty claims to have all these ideas, but then he can’t think of anything interesting to do with the stopwatch. But then, that means the viewers don’t have anything interesting to watch. (1.5 points)
Tone–
Played for laughs, but McNulty’s not as zany as either he or the episode think he is. In fact, it’s almost painfully unfunny. (0 points)
The Twist-
Basically reuses a variation of the twist for the first season’s “Time Enough At Last” (which we haven’t reviewed yet, but willl soon). Not nearly as shocking the second time around, although it fits the episode well enough. (1 point)
Theme–
Machines & Devices
Total=2.5 points (Okay)

Not terrible, but the jokes don’t hit and the twist is recycled from an earlier, more famous episode, making this one feel like bland leftovers. My daughter and I both thought this was just Okay.

Escape Clause (Season One, 1959)
The sixth episode of the first season. Walter Bedeker is a hypochrondriac, but more than that, he really loves being the center of attention, his persnickety attention to his own comfort requiring the constant awareness of those around him. The visiting doctor who can’t find anything with him is a quack, his compassionate and long-suffering wife probably wishes he was dead anyway. When he angrily orders his wife to leave the room so he can rest (likely only to call her back in a few minutes), a strange visitor appears: a cheerful, dapper man in a suit.

Where did he come from? Never mind that, the strange man offers Walter a contract–eternal life, health, and youth, in exchange for the small matter of Mr. Bedeker’s soul. Ah, Walter knows who the strange man is now, and he considers the offer a good one. After all, if he has eternal life, he need never turn his soul over, true? He accepts the bargain.

Walter sets off to discover the limits of his powers. Jumping in front of the train–no problem. Getting hit by a bus–why not? Plus, now he can sue the train and bus companies for running unsafe operations. To his wife’s horror, he drinks a concoction of household poisons, then heads upstairs. On the roof of his apartment building, he prepares to jump off. His frantic wife tries to stop him, only to lose her balance and fall instead of him. He doesn’t mourn her death for a moment, but gleefully turns himself into the police. “Let’s give the electric chair a whirl!” He’s a man who can’t die, so he has nothing to worry about…does he?
Concept/Plot/Characters—
Walter is a self-centered, unlikable man, but as played by David Wayne (also the Mad Hatter on the 1960s Batman series), he is entertaining to watch and the viewer can’t wait to see what this egomaniac is going to do next. The concept is excellent and the plot really follows through. (3.5 points)
Tone–
Expertly maintains a tone of black humor throughout. (1 point)
The Twist–
One of the all time great Twilight Zone twists, just immensely clever. I don’t want to say more than that. (2 points)
Theme–
Other
Total=6.5 points (Excellent)

As the sixth outing, this was the first really classic episode of the series, with one of the best twists the Twilight Zone would produce. My daughter and I agreed on the high quality of this one.

One Comment on “Ranking the Twilight Zone

  1. Pingback: Ranking the Twilight Zone – Nicholas Bruner

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