Saturday, April 30, 2016

Top 10 Best Twilight Zone Episodes

This was, by far, the most difficult list to assemble. There are simply too many fantastic and legendary episodes in this series that narrowing it down to only 10 was extremely hard. Due to this elimination process, many classics had to be left off, and I don't entirely love episodes that the critics favor anyway. If you're curious about any particular episode you can always check out my full reviews for each. Of course, these are my personal opinions, and, if you have a problem with that, I'm sure there is a hugbox somewhere you can retreat to. Now, without further ado, I present the best episodes of the Twilight Zone!

Usually I will go through each honorable mention and explain why they missed the cut, but, this time, there were so many I'm simply listing all the possible contenders. Suffice it to say, each episode that didn't make it was just shy of the number 10 spot for tiny reasons. I consider all the honorable mentions to be amazing episodes worthy of high praise.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): A Penny for Your Thoughts, A World of His Own, A World of Difference, The Howling Man, A Stop at Willoughby, People Are Alike All Over, Perchance to Dream, The Night of the Meek, The Obsolete Man, The New Exhibit, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, I Shot an Arrow Into the Air, Twenty Two

10: Nick of Time (Season 2, Episode 7)

Kicking things off would be my most contentious pick. Realistically, any honorable mention could have fit this slot, but I had to go with something. What's so great about this episode is the dark, paranoid tone enhanced by tremendous intrigue. The fear the characters experience is palpable as they don't know if the events are truly supernatural or they're seeing what they want to see. William Shatner adds a lot of conviction to the main role back when he still cared about his acting. The escalation of the events might be a tad fast, but this story hits all the right notes.

9: The Masks (Season 5, Episode 25)

Though it's not subtle at all, the symbolism here is awesome. This episode addresses the superficial masks people use to hide their true selves. But, in typical, TZ fashion, the characters are forced to confront their true selves when the masks come off both literally and figuratively. On top of that, you have the whole Mardi Gras angle that spices things up too. It's hard to address what makes this episode spectacular in just a mere paragraph so check it out for yourself!

8: Eye of the Beholder (Season 2, Episode 6)

An obvious classic, "Eye of the Beholder" is more than just an episode, it's a general statement about life itself. Exploring themes about what constitutes normalcy, conformity, totalitarianism, etc. this episode goes all over the place quite successfully. This is, of course, not to ignore the wondrous use of camera trickery and an infamous twist. Honestly, few episodes in the series are able to pull off so many incredible plot elements simultaneously. This episode definitely deserves its place among the classics and certainly has its place in TZ 101: essential viewing.

7: A Most Unusual Camera (Season 2, Episode 10)

You really can't go wrong with this amazing episode that seamlessly blends horror and humor. The premise is already cool with a camera that shows the future, but the way the characters banter about its usage is what seals the deal. One minute you are laughing from the jokes, but, at the same time, you're on edge with what the camera will show after a picture is taken. The way this episode was put together is nearly perfect from start to finish. It really is no wonder why many have ripped this story line off over the years.

6: Living Doll (Season 5, Episode 6)

This episode is the clear contender for scariest episode of the series. While TZ is quite tame by today's standards, this story still holds up surprisingly well. Under the right conditions, I think you could still freak people out especially when the story is no-nonsense when it comes to playing it straight. Even the ending is freaky with Talky Tina as the forerunner to Chucky--making him look like the one for the kiddies.

5: To Serve Man (Season 3, Episode 24)

I cannot stress the deserved legendary status for this episode enough. As I mentioned in my original review, you have all the best elements of TZ wrapped up in this episode. The themes are timeless as little would have to be changed in the plot to make it apply to today's world. Plus, you have a 4th wall break and that notorious twist. IT'S A COOKBOOK! Oh man, it never gets old. You absolutely cannot go wrong with this episode in any shape or form.

4: A Game of Pool (Season 3, Episode 5)

TZ may be known for crazy twists and sci-fi stories, but this episode thoroughly demonstrated that's not the only thing they had to show; you don't always need to rely on TZ staples to tell a compelling and thought-provoking tale. This is simply the challenge of one man against another in order to prove who is the best. The banter between the two leads is priceless, and the tension is hard to surpass. The themes and lessons of the episode are timeless, important, and applicable to all aspects of life and even people. It may be overshadowed by other classics, but definitely do not ignore this gem of the series.

3: Walking Distance (Season 1, Episode 5)

The winner of my Top 10 Underrated list, it should come as no shock this episode makes a triumphant return. There is just something magical about this episode that encompasses what TZ is all about. The exploration of both nostalgia and the longing for youthful innocence and happiness creates a kind of touching and emotional experience. I think any audience can relate to the main character as he longs for simpler days when his life was carefree. The story's retrospection is complemented well by the music, and this episode really nailed a topic that TZ would retouch upon multiple times. I can never get enough of this episode which is why I bring it up all the time.

2: Five Characters in Search of an Exit (Season 3, Episode 14)

Now this is how you tell an anthology tale: a beautifully crafted mystery that completely sucks the viewer into the speculation and intrigue. Who are these characters and where are they? The reveal is definitely startling and should have anyone questioning their own reality. TZ has many reality-bending episodes, but this is the one that truly succeeded in leaving a lasting impression. Besides all of that, this is simply a badass premise to begin with that only gets better as it goes. It also helps that this is a timeless tale--making it that much more powerful and relevant.

And the best episode in the entire series is...(Drumroll!)

1: The Hitch-Hiker (Season 1, Episode 16)

For me, this episode is in a league of its own. You have numerous plot elements at play that come together perfectly to tell the series', hands down, best episode. The somber music, a dark and ominous atmosphere, a mind-blowing twist--all pulled together masterfully by the beautiful Inger Stevens as the lead. Ms. Stevens brings such conviction and a genuine sense of dread to the role that it transfers readily to the viewer. The entire weight of the episode was carried on her shoulders, and she successfully pulled it off and then some. If the atmosphere weren't enough, the mystery keeps you totally entranced as you arrive with Ms. Stevens at the surprising revelation at the end. As I stated in my review, this episode resonates with me on a different level altogether, and I absolutely adore and love this episode to no end. If you can only watch one episode of TZ in your life make it this episode! You will not regret it one bit.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Top 10 Worst Twilight Zone Episodes

This list is sponsored by Chesterfields: nothing says smooth like a hit from a cocaine-laced Chesterfield cigarette...which is what you're on if you enjoy these episodes. Although the Twilight Zone is known for timeless classics and legendary stories, there were unfortunate episodes that make you realize why the show was cancelled...twice. Whether the episode was bad from a technical standpoint or was incoherent from start to finish, these are the stories that serve as a blemish on TZ's glorious legacy. Once more, if you're curious about any particular episode you can check out my full reviews for each. Finally, these are my personal opinions, and, if you have a problem with that, I'm sure there's a "safe space" at some college to seek comfort in. Now, without further ado, I present the worst episodes of the Twilight Zone!

Dishonorable Mentions (in order):

Elegy (Season 1, episode 20) - The first legitimately bad episode in the series. The plot is predictable and overshadowed by shoddy camerawork involving the supposedly dead extras.

The Arrival (Season 3, Episode 2) - Starts off incredibly promising but shifts into an incoherent mess only to linger onward to a miserable conclusion. Of all the episodes on this list, this is the one that could have easily escaped this fate had they put a tad more work into the ending.

The Gift (Season 3, episode 32) - There was certainly potential here, but it's as if they only had enough material to fill 5 minutes of the running time.

The Last Night of a Jockey (Season 5, episode 5) - I can appreciate the approach, and I did like the miniature set, but nothing makes any sense and the conclusion is moronic.

10. Spur of the Moment (Season 5, episode 21)

We have a time loop, a horseman of the apocalypse-lookalike, and an attempt at a plot twist...yet this episode still falls face first into the ground. The love triangle is presented horribly, and there doesn't appear to be a point to the story. On top of that, the time loop is pointless, unexplained, and the main chick is too stupid to figure out how to change the past even though she knows where her past self will be and how she will react. That's a good one.

9. Mr. Dingle, the Strong (Season 2, Episode 19)

I would have rated this episode lower on the list, however, the story appears to be, at least, slightly self-aware. The comedic elements just don't work due to the overly cornball nature of the plot. The aliens look utterly abysmal and demonstrate TZ's budget limitations. If the resolution weren't so lame, I would have actually forgiven the shortcomings.

8. Sounds and Silences (Season 5, Episode 27)

This episode mostly fails due to not taking the material seriously enough. The background characters serve no purpose, and the main guy is not properly fleshed out. Had the story taken a darker turn you might have sympathized with the main guy or it would have made his comeuppance more satisfying. Instead, we are left with one of the more irrelevant episodes in the entire series.

7. Ninety Years Without Slumbering (Season 5, Episode 12)

Similar to "The Gift," there was, realistically, 5 minutes of material to work with. Unlike "The Gift," however, the general premise of this episode is idiotic. Some old guy thinks he will die if a clock stops? Okaaay...except it's not true, and the old guy is conversing with his own ghost or something? Whaaat? In a nutshell: this plays out like a spitball idea cooked up in the TZ offices that somehow was taken seriously.

6. Come Wander With Me (Season 5, Episode 34)

This is what happens when the TZ writers puff away a little too hard on those Chesterfields. I can appreciate trying to incorporate a musically-themed episode into the mix, but the story is a complete mess. Once again, nothing makes any sense but in an extremely annoying way. The audience is left in the dark with only faint hints as to what the hell is happening.

5. The Mirror (Season 3, episode 6)

I kind of understand what they were trying to convey, but it's all too stupid and pointless. Oh noooo...a magic mirror that might show the future. There is no clarity, and the attempt to depict paranoia fails monumentally. Maybe if this episode were from season 4 it could have worked given the extra running time. On the other hand, that would have probably been a bad idea, because they would have dragged it out to create an even more torturous experience.

4. Black Leather Jackets (Season 5, Episode 18)

What a debacle. The tone is completely off with that goofy music, and why would aliens, covertly trying to take over the world, dress so conspicuously? To make matters worse they add a love story to the mix that occurs over the course of a few hours? Whaaaat? And the final nail in the coffin is the unbelievably rushed and lackluster ending that has absolutely no resolution. My goodness...

3. The Jungle (Season 3, episode 12)

This episode is just bad. On the surface, the idea of a corporate asshole getting his comeuppance after disregarding locals sounds mildly interesting. The execution of that idea is terrible. Cheap sound effects, moments of sheer idiocy, and a pitiful ending cement this as one of the worst. If there were simply more buildup or explanations this could--COULD--have worked.

2. The Hunt (Season 3, episode 19)

I hate this episode. The retardation is palpable during every single second. It's almost like the story is a slightly edgier (yet less funny) episode of "Scooby Doo." I can't get over why TZ thought this would work or how anyone could take this material seriously. The afterlife is just some shitty dirt road in the middle of oblivion? AND you can get tricked into going to hell unless you have a dog with you?! Riiiight. Hey, at least it's not number one on this list, am I right?

And the worst episode in the entire series is...(Drumroll!)

1: The Bewitchin' Pool (Season 5, episode 36)

Well this shouldn't have come as much of a shock--this episode is painful...utterly painful. No other episode could possibly occupy this prestigious position. Besides being the worst episode on a technical front, as well as one of the dumbest stories ever depicted in TZ (or any other fiction for that matter), this episode sours TZ's entire legacy by having (what should be) the honorary position of the series finale. Argh! It frustrates me to no end that this is the bookend to the franchise--the worst fucking episode of them all! Shit audio, horrendous voice dubbing, reused scenes, laughable acting, a creepy pedophile grandma, a ridiculous divorce plot line, and a goddamn hidden world under a swimming pool?! Get the hell out of here! I refuse to ever watch this episode again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top 10 Most Underrated Twilight Zone Episodes

With so many classic and legendary Twilight Zone episodes to sift through, a few, fantastic stories are bound to fall through the cracks. Whether the stories were not appreciated in their own era, or have simply succumb to the passage of time, these are the underrated episodes that deserve a second look. It's important to note the distinction that these episodes are good--sometimes incredible--but they are not necessarily among the absolute best in the series. Of course, if you are curious about any particular episode, feel free to check out my full review for each. Finally, these are my personal opinions, and, if you have a problem with that, you can complain about it to the Ministry of Truth on Twitter. Now, without further ado, I present the most underrated episodes of The Twilight Zone!

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

A Passage for Trumpet (Season 1, Episode 32) - Some great ideas here, and I love the implications throughout, but it's not quite remarkable enough.

Judgement Night (Season 1, Episode 10) - A man stuck in a hellish loop due to his own misdeeds in WWII. It's great all around, but this episode does receive fair recognition.

Showdown with Rance McGrew (Season 3, Episode 20) - This is an exceptionally funny story, but, if you don't have the cultural context to understand the jokes, it falls flat.

Probe 7, Over and Out (Season 5, Episode 9) - A novel twist for the time, but it's hindered by the sheer implausibility of the scenario's setup.

You Drive (Season 5, Episode 14) - Could have been one of the scariest episodes in the series, however, they decided to tone it down with borderline comedic moments.

Stopover in a Quiet Town (Season 5, Episode 30) - An all around intriguing plot that keeps you guessing to the end; unfortunately it's not quite memorable enough for the list.

Once Upon a Time (Season 3, Episode 13) - As for this last contender...I really wanted this episode on the list due to the unique episode format and the humor, but, alas, it falls shy of the tenth position.

10: And When the Sky Was Opened (Season 1, Episode 11)

There are few things in fiction to compare this episode to. Hell, I still can't tell you what exactly was happening. What I can tell you is that the story gets you thinking. Few episodes can match the intrigue present here as you try to figure out what's happening to the characters. Is it supernatural? Is time and space warping around them? Are they dead? It's tough to say, but there's nothing quite like it.

9: I Shot an Arrow into the Air (Season 1, Episode 15)

I can't believe this episode is so rarely mentioned by fans and critics. You have a somewhat cliched story of betrayal and survival, but the revelation that everything has been for naught is awesome. In particular, the irony is that harshness other episodes receive credit for. Why not here?

8: Perchance to Dream (Season 1, Episode 9)

This episode is simply "Inception" before there was "Inception." Sure, the execution isn't quite where it needed to be, but it deserves significantly more acknowledgement. I love the notion that the entire episode's events pass by within a minute and, of course, that attempt at a titty squeeze. Plus, that title is always amazing--you have to admit that.

7: A Penny for Your Thoughts (Season 2, Episode 16)

I want to say this episode has fallen under the radar due to the comic elements. Most of TZ's regarded classics are serious and offer some critique of humanity. This episode doesn't tackle any major themes, but it does offer an entertaining premise that incorporates the supernatural aspects perfectly. Besides, you can't go wrong with Dick York.

6: Twenty Two (Season 2, Episode 17)

There are a lot of original ideas going on in this episode. And, let's be honest, this outright inspired the creation of "Final Destination." The tone and atmosphere are captured near perfectly with excellent lighting tricks. The only noticeable drawback is the shit quality of the footage. Considering how ballsy the ending was, I can't believe this episode rarely receives praise.

5: A World of Difference (Season 1, Episode 23)

Imagine finding out your life is nothing more than a movie, and you're only an actor. I love that premise, and the episode pulls it off admirably. There are a ton of implications to be drawn and ways to look at the story meaningfully. While I don't like TZ deciding for the viewer which is the true reality, you cannot deny the creativity employed here. The lack of recognition for this episode baffles me.

4: A Stop at Willoughby (Season 1, Episode 30)

This is an episode far, far ahead of its time. Long before the midlife crisis was understood, there was this episode and it's insightful look at married life coupled with wage slave hell. I adore the introspection of this story, and the realization that you have lived a life everyone else told you to live. The ending also leaves things just ambiguous enough that you can draw whatever conclusion suits you as the viewer. For me, I have to give credit to a youtuber who wrote (I'm paraphrasing), "Every man should find his own Willoughby." You're damn right, my friend.

3: The New Exhibit (Season 4, Episode 13)

What really holds this episode down is being one of the hour long episodes. Naturally, season 4 episodes do not receive the same kind of airing frequency as the others due to this time change. Because of this, a lot of people are missing out on one of the creepiest and most disturbing episodes. The references to "Psycho" and the actual psychological terror work well. The ending is somewhat predictable, but it's still marvelously put together.

2: A World of His Own (Season 1, Episode 36)

This is easily one of the best episodes in the entire series despite its unforgivable lack of acknowledgement. Again, the comedic aspects probably hurt this tale's legacy, but the overall ideas are imaginative. Besides, this is the one and only episode with the distinction of having Rod Serling as an actual character. What a perfect ending and it doubled as a season finale to boot. How can you not love this episode?

And the most underrated episode in the entire series is...(Drumroll!)

1: Walking Distance (Season 1, Episode 5)

I don't think this pick should come as a shock to anyone who has followed my reviews; I mention this episode frequently. That whimsical tone, introspection, nostalgia, and serendipitous longing...ahh...these are the kind of themes the TZ writers excelled at examining. Sure, there is no mind-blowing twist yet I feel this story captures the aura of TZ better than most. More so, this episode demonstrates that TZ can tell wonderfully heartfelt stories without relying on a twist to pull it together--the story alone speaks for itself. I'd highly recommend revisiting this episode with fresh eyes.