Your next stop… The Reboot Zone.
The first two episodes of The Twilight Zone are available to stream on CBS All Access now. You can watch the first episode, “The Comedian,” for free.
It’s no small task, rebooting The Twilight Zone. Yes, it’s been attempted before — to varying degrees of success. But unlike many other pop-culture classics that have been retooled over the years with new actors, new writers, new characters, and all the rest, efforts to relaunch The Twilight Zone have always lacked one key ingredient: the original show’s creator and host, Rod Serling.
So intrinsically tied to the show was Serling that other programs bearing the Twilight Zone name have never quite felt authentic, even when they were good productions in their own right. Without Serling’s presence — he died back in 1975 at the too young age of 50 — the question became one of what makes a project The Twilight Zone rather than just another anthology genre series?
So does CBS All Access’ new Twilight Zone work? The answer — so far at least based on the first two episodes — is yes, somehow it does.
Jordan Peele has stepped in for Serling as an executive producer and the new host of this Twilight Zone, and there’s something about his presence, a certain knowing twinkle in his eye that goes perfectly with his well-pressed suit and quickly growing resume of big-screen horror street cred. Add to that some talented and recognizable faces in front of the camera and a pair of tales that feel appropriately Serling-esque — but with a 21st-century spin — and this new Twilight Zone is off to a good start.
The first episode is called “The Comedian,” which perhaps not coincidentally was also the name of one of Serling’s Emmy-winning teleplays, pre-Twilight Zone. Kumail Nanjiani stars as the comic of the title, whose jokes about the Second Amendment are getting him nowhere fast… until he meets Tracy Morgan’s famous if mysterious comedian, who gives him some advice. In order to succeed, he has to truly put himself out there on stage — his humor needs to be personal to him, whether it’s about his dog, his coworkers, his girlfriend, or some other aspect of his life.
Taking up this suggestion, Nanjiani’s character not surprisingly starts to get the laughs he so desires. But, of course, there’s a price, as he realizes that reality is reshaping itself around him with each successive comedy set that he performs. Soon enough, that classic Twilight Zone feeling kicks in as the comedian — and the viewer — ponders just how far he might go in order to become a sensation. Who doesn’t want to go viral, after all? But what price a blue checkmark?!
The second segment dropping as part of the premiere is “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” a story ported over from one of the most famous original episodes. Adam Scott stars as a passenger boarding a flight with a ton of baggage — of the emotional kind. He’s a journalist who has, for lack of a better term, seen some s#!t. Not unlike William Shatner’s character in the original episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” this is a troubled guy who is about to be put to the ultimate test.
This new iteration of the story deviates sharply from the original beyond that set-up, however, with Scott’s character stumbling upon a Serial-like podcast that seems to be retracing the final hours and minutes of Flight 1015… which is the very flight that he’s on.
And while rubber-masked gremlin fans might be disappointed by the episode’s divergence from the source material, “30,000 Feet” hits many of the same beats as the Shatner story, as Scott’s character finds that pretty much no one will believe his claims that they’re all in grave danger. Growing increasingly desperate and eventually becoming completely alienated by those around him, he races to beat the podcast’s pre-determined course no matter the cost.
Alas, as Flight 1015 careens towards its inevitable fate, the episode crashes and burns with a head-scratching final scene that really just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s as if the episode just felt like it had to insert some kind of twist in the end… and that’s a dangerous way to go about approaching The Twilight Zone.
One more note: The episodes reviewed here dip into foul language and some adult topics at time… which is fine. And yet, for fear of sounding prudish, couldn’t the show achieve the same effect that it’s going for while also toning these elements down a bit? Sure, not being on a network gives the makers of The Twilight Zone more leeway in this regard, but how are they going to freak the kids of 2019 out if said kids aren’t allowed to watch their show?