Ranking the Twilight Zone

I’m engaged in a project with my twelve-year old daughter to watch every single Twilight Zone episode and rank 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 17 and 34 of the DVD collection.

I Dream of Genie (Season Four, 1963)
I was excited about this one-hour Season 4 episode because I thought it might be a pilot for the “I Dream of Jeannie” sitcom that debuted a year later. Boy, was I way off!

George Hanley is a meek office worker. When we first meet him, he’s shopping for a birthday gift for the attractive office secretary, Ann. He settles on an antique oil lamp. Back at work, the office swell, Roger, has also bought a birthday gift for the secretary–the negligee George didn’t have the guts to purchase. She’s thrilled to receive it, so George doesn’t even bother presenting his lackluster gift. Plus, he and Roger are both up for a promotion, but only one can receive it. George knows that even though he does better work, Roger’s in good with the boss, and is sure to win it.

Back at home that evening, George sits with his dog, Attila, his only real friend. Absentmindedly, he wipes some dust off the oil lamp, only for a genie to appear. (What a surprise!) The genie offers George one wish. George can’t decide whether he’d rather have Ann’s love, a lot of money, or real power. The genie gets fed up and says he’ll be back the next day and George had better decide by then. That evening, George has three fantasies about his three potential wishes, but finds that none of them would really satisfy him. So what wish would make him happy?
Concept/Plot/Characters—It’s obvious writer John Furia (who I don’t recall scripting any other episodes) was really struggling to fill out the hour length. We get the picture after George’s first fantasy, but unfortunately have two more to go. Nothing wrong with the episode’s premise, a moderately clever riff on The Monkey’s Paw, but it’s just too slow-paced. Plus, Howard Morris really does too good a job making George Hanley a meek, boring guy, if you know what I mean. I was pretty bored with George after the first ten minutes. (1.5 points)
I think the episode’s going for whimsical, but doesn’t quite hit it. (.5 points)
The Twist–
The twist was unexpected, and did follow from the rest of the episode. Unfortunately, like everything else, it was just kind of…underwhelming. (1 point)
Total=3 points (So-So)

I see that other Twilight Zone reviewers rate this as one of the worst episodes. Geez, I didn’t think it was that bad! It’s definitely on the slow and boring side for the series, though. Also, still disappointed Barbara Eden didn’t appear in this episode–she definitely would have livened things up!

What’s In the Box (Season Five, 1964)
Joe and Phyllis have been married a long time, and unhappily for much of it. Joe doesn’t make enough money driving a cab for a living, and Phyllis suspects he’s fooling around on the side. They live in a tiny apartment in New York where watching TV is Joe’s main entertainment, aside from bickering with his wife.

When the TV breaks, they call a TV repairman (played, oddly, by frequent Disney voice actor Sterling Holloway). Joe gives him a hard time over how long it’s taking and how much it’s likely to cost, so the irritated repairman gives him a special bonus: an extra channel. Joe discovers the extra channel after the repairman leaves. The new channel is even more fascinating than Joe’s usual wrestling program, for it shows scenes from his and Phyllis’s marriage. At first these scenes are from the past, but as he keeps watching, the channel shows him things that haven’t happened yet. When some of the scenes depict a highly unpleasant outcome to the marriage, Joe wonders if it’s too late to change his ways.
Concept/Plot/Characters—Not a bad premise, and the script by Martin Goldsmith is serviceable, as is the acting. Sterling Holloway’s voice is very distinctive and well-known so it’s distracting to put him in a fairly minor role. If you’re going to use him in a Twilight Zone, episode, give him a major role that makes use of his unique voice! (2.0 points)
I think the episode’s going for black humor here but it’s not quite funny enough to work. (.5 points)
The Twist–
Well, there are really only two ways it can end, and sure enough, it ends one of those ways. Appropriate, if predictable. (1 point)
Machines & Devices, Predictions
Total=3.5 points (So-So)

No reason to think much about this episode, except to regret that they couldn’t find something more interesting for Sterling Holloway to appear in.

The Mirror (Season Three, 1961)
Now this is an interesting one. By this point, my daughter and I have seen more than 70 episodes, but this one is unlike any of the other Twilight Zones so far. Ramos Clemente (played by Peter Falk) is the new ruler of a small Latin American country (with a beard not totally unlike Fidel Castro’s…). With him are his four comrades who have fought with him in the revolution since the beginning. Now they’ve succeeded in their goal and are toasting each other with wine in the presidential palace while the crowd chants “Viva Clemente!” outside.

Clemente orders the former president, General de Cruz, to be brought in. But rather than groveling or acting arrogant, as Clemente expects, General de Cruz gives him a warning. He tells Clemente that he too started off idealistically, but he soon realized that he was surrounded by assassins, and that the same fate awaits any man who takes power. But fortunately, a peasant once brought General de Cruz a gift: a mirror that shows you who is plotting against you. In fact, it’s the mirror hanging near the door right now.

Clemente orders the old president to be carted off for torture, ignoring his superstitious nonsense about the mirror. But later, when looking in the mirror, he sees one of his comrades behind him, pointing a gun at his head. When he spins around, all his comrades are simply drinking wine. But now he “knows” that the one comrade, whom he has known for years, is plotting against him. Surely with the aid of the mirror, he will be able to safeguard his rule and the revolution….
A great premise and an excellent script, along with a completely believable performance by Peter Falk. Unfortunately, some of the other actors come across a lot like regular guys with fake beards and bad Spanish accents. No matter, Falk is the main attraction here and he carries it off. (3.5 points)
Perfectly captures the hot-house paranoia of a dictator who believes everybody around him is plotting his death. (1 point)
The Twist–
This can really only end one way, but sometimes a twist is not so much predictable as the inevitable fulfillment of fate. (1.5 points)
Total=6.0 points (Pretty Good)

One of Rod Serling’s morality tales that comes across as profound rather than preachy. Not quite one of the best episodes, but in the tier just below that.

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