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Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Quick Touching of Bases


Hey gang (if indeed there are enough readers still out there to constitute a "gang").  I've been meaning to post an update for a while now, but.... well, life, y'now. I've been neck-deep in my Outer Limits blog, plus we just moved two weeks ago and we're still getting settled, and.... yadda yadda yadda.


Longtime reader Scott Stevenson writes:

Hello Craig.

Please tell me that you will be keeping your TZ blog active.


October 2, 2014 (55th anniversary) came and went with no news or updates from you.

I have also been enjoying your Outer Limits blog but it is not quite the same as the TZ.

Anyway, I hope all is well with you and your family and I am really dying to read your second review of "Where is Everybody"?


Peace/Out.


Regards,

Scott


Hello again, Scott, and thanks for the check-in. 

Yes, I totally missed the 55th anniversary this past Thursday, and I have very little excuse, except that I had to get that week's Outer Limits post done that night, and I was way behind. I guess I could justify myself further by pointing out that this blog has always been about the series' 50th anniversary, and I've similarly ignored the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th anniversaries, which sounds a bit snarky now that I see the words typed out before me, but I don't mean it to be.

I do plan to revisit most (if not all) of season one; the question is when. As I peruse my calendar and see what the next few months hold, I see a lot of commitments (the Outer Limits blog is a huge one, but there are other, non-blog and real-life things happening too). I think I can safely say that I won't be active much at all in these pages until February at the earliest. The Outer Limits' 50th anniversary run will be over in mid-January, and I refuse to do two blogs simultaneously again (I think back to September 2013-May 2014 and shake my head at how stressed and bleary-eyed I was. It's a lot to juggle when you've also got a full-time job and a family. Don't get me wrong, I love writing both blogs).

Truth be told, I'm also dying to revisit "Where is Everybody?" and the numerous other season one gems too. But it'll have to wait a bit. I want to approach the episodes fresh and interested, versus tired and distracted. The Twilight Zone deserves a much bigger chunk of my care and attention than I'm able to allocate at present.

In any case, these doors are far from closed. Promise.

Okay kids, let's stumble drunkenly down memory lane for a bit.

Longtime readers (all 2.75 of you) may recall that this blog originated from a home office/mini-theater we'd built in our garage. That room was my sanctuary, a place where my DVDs and action figures and liquor collection could roam freely and proudly (and keep my unique brand of nerdiness from infecting the rest of the house). I'd always dreamed of having my own office, and I enjoyed the hell out of it until we lost our house in the foreclosure crisis of 2010. My life since has been a crazy roller coaster of relocations, marital separations (and subsequent reconciliations) and assorted life changes (let's just say when I launched this thing in 2009, I had a full head of hair and now, five years later, I.... well, don't). I chronicled said roller coaster in these pages last fall, if you want the sordid details.

Through all of these changes, these rises and falls, I've remained haunted by the loss of that office, that glorious room that served as an extension of me, positively bursting at the seems with my interests and passions. I wondered if I'd ever have anything like it again.

We moved yet again two weeks ago. And two weeks ago, I got a new office.

Okay, it's technically an office-slash-guest room, but it's still gonna be filled with my stuff, my books and DVDs/Blu-rays and records and collectibles and movie posters. It will also eventually serve as a mini-theater as well, just like the original (the surround sound is already hooked up, but the TV won't be added til January). It's really bare bones at the moment, but have a look:



Luna approves.


So when I start revisiting season one, it'll be from this room, which by then will be tastefully decorated and otherwise adorned. Y'all come back now, ya hear?


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SyFy's 4th of July Twilight Zone marathon 2014





It's that time yet again. What better way to celebrate the anniversary of our independence than with several hours of commercial-ridden, beat-all-to-hell syndication prints? Here's the schedule:


08:00 AM Five Characters In Search of an Exit

08:30 AM Nick of Time

09:00 AM The Night Of The Meek

09:30 AM Kick the Can

10:00 AM Where Is Everybody?

10:30 AM It's a Good Life

11:00 AM Dead Man's Shoes

11:30 AM The Hitch-hiker

12:00 PM The Dummy

12:30 PM Third From the Sun

01:00 PM The Invaders

01:30 PM The Bewitchin' Pool

02:00 PM The Masks

02:30 PM The Howling Man

03:00 PM The Odyssey of Flight 33

03:30 PM Living Doll

04:00 PM The Obsolete Man

04:30 PM Eye of The Beholder

05:00 PM Time Enough At Last

05:30 PM A Stop at Willoughby

06:00 PM The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

06:30 PM To Serve Man

07:00 PM Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

07:30 PM Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

08:00 PM 4-hour block of other stuff (gee, thanks, SyFy)

12:10 AM The Midnight Sun

12:40 AM Night Call

01:10 AM I Sing the Body Electric

01:40 AM A Penny for Your Thoughts

02:10 AM Number Twelve Looks Just Like You

02:40 AM Stopover in A Quiet Town

03:10 AM A Most Unusual Camera

03:40 AM Long Distance Call


That's a great lineup, with only two glaring missteps: "The Bewitchin' Pool" and "A Most Unusual Camera" (which is particularly egregious since two of the series' best offerings--- "Perchance to Dream" and "Shadow Play"--- are nowhere to be found).

Some fans look forward to these marathons, even if they already own the series on DVD or Blu-ray. I never watch them, but I do understand the communal aspect of the ritual. I just can't stomach the sub-standard picture and the lobotomy-grade hack-job done to make room for more commercials. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Repeat Report: Summer 1964


The Twilight Zone got a bit of a jump on the summer rerun season by airing a repeat before its fifth and final season ended: “Steel” was rebroadcast on 6/12/64, then “The Bewitchin’ Pool” closed out the season (and the series) on 6/19/64. The reruns commenced the following week.


6/12/64


6/26/64



7/03/64



7/10/64



7/17/64



7/24/64



7/31/64



8/07/64



8/14/64



8/21/64



8/28/64
N/A (no episode broadcast)



9/04/64



9/11/64



9/18/64



As with previous seasons, some pretty baffling selections were made when choosing episodes to repeat. “A Kind of a Stopwatch,” but not “The Last Night of a Jockey”? “The Fear,” but not “Living Doll”?? “Uncle Simon,” but not “The Masks”??? The mind reels.

As previously reported, the hourlong fourth season episodes would make a surprise comeback for the summer of 1965 but, for all intents and purposes, The Twilight Zone’s network run ended with the repeat of “The Jeopardy Room” on 9/18/64… or did it end a week earlier, with the encore airing of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”? Accounts vary. Martin Grams Jr. (in his The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic) says “The Jeopardy Room” repeat was pre-empted, but “Dan Hollis” over at the TZ Café indicates otherwise in his exhaustive rundown of the network schedule. Who’s right? Perhaps the answer can be found only in…. well, you know.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Retrospectre: My Life in the Shadow of The Twilight Zone

When I started this blog back in 2009, I didn’t have a game plan, or a blueprint, or even a vague idea of what it would ultimately look like. It wasn’t my intent to review, critique or rate each episode, as that had already been done (and continues to be done to this day); rather, the blog was intended to chronicle my re-exploration of the series as each episode celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its original broadcast. My initial intent was to post a quick entry every week, a kind of pre-viewing announcement, and then maybe post some thoughts the next day if I felt inclined. I wasn’t writing it for an audience; it was just something for me to track my progress, and maybe record some memories of how the show had impacted my life.

As those of you who have been with me these last five years can attest, the blog sort of mutated as it went along. I started writing more about the specifics of each episode and, before long, a process of formalization slowly, almost insidiously, worked its way into the proceedings. By the end of the first season, the blog was starting to feel a bit like a glorified episode guide. I still wasn’t rating the episodes, but I was definitely critiquing them.

The second and third seasons brought more rigid formatting; I also found myself increasingly willing to spoil the plot twists. By the fourth season, I was constructing each episode spotlight from a fixed template: introduction, spoiler-filled synopsis, thoughts and musings, cast, music and soundtrack information, and a wrap-up at the end. This approach continued through the fifth and final season and, as I look back over these last five years, it seems that everything I intended this blog not to be somehow came to pass anyway.

But you know what? Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. I’m pretty proud of this beast, and not just because I somehow made it to the end. This blog possesses an identity that sets it apart; nobody’s gonna confuse it with the other TZ blogs out there.* And even if it’s ultimately just another episode guide/review blog, blipping feebly in the vast ocean of the internet, I think it’s a pretty cool one. However, if that’s indeed what this blog is… well, that means that my work here is most certainly not done.

Allow me to direct your attention to my other blog, My Life in the Glow of The Outer Limits, which launched in earnest last fall. Given this blog’s lack of uniformity over the years, it was vitally important to me that my Outer Limits effort arrive on the scene fully formed. When viewed in its totality (so far, anyway; it’s still got another year to go), it’s definitely much more cohesive than this much longer-toothed blog. I’m a bit OCD, so yeah, it bugs me. But the lack of organizational or cosmetic standardization doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that my early episode spotlights were so damned sparse and cursory.

So: my first order of business will be to revisit season one in its entirety. My initial inclination is to spotlight each episode on its 55th anniversary… but we’ll see. I’ll still be doing the Outer Limits blog until halfway through January, and doing both simultaneously for nine months straight proved to be really tough. So I dunno, we’ll see (I’m hoping to use these summer months to get ahead).  I’m not sure how all this will play out. Do I write entirely new entries, supplanting the originals? Do I keep the originals, but reformat them and incorporate the new content?  Or do I keep the new entries separate from the old, and tether them across the ether with hyperlinks? Yeah, that might be best.  But then again….

I imagine the new spotlights will look much like season five has looked, retaining the most recent stylistic change (which evolved throughout January and was finalized with, of all things, “Black Leather Jackets.” It was at this point that this blog more or less mirrored its Outer Limits sibling, with much larger pictures and expanded cast connections); however, I do have a couple of new ideas that I might play with as well. I’m also toying with the possibility of reformatting the other seasons to match (at least approximately), but I probably won’t add new content…. or will I? I’m very interested (okay, obsessed) with the home video histories of both series; this is definitely apparent in my Outer Limits blog, where I chronicle the VHS, LaserDisc and DVD releases. The Twilight Zone has a more complex home video history, which I’ve always wanted to explore more in these pages, so if I go down this road, I’ll add a “Home Video” section to all 156 episode entries. Oh, and I should probably add the cue sheets to every episode spotlight that currently lacks them, for you obsessive music fans out there. And the screencaps for the first two seasons are only DVD-resolution, so those will need to be replaced. Y’now, the further I get into this, the more I realize that I’ll be working on this blog for years to come.

It’s funny: as I slogged my way through the show’s fifth and final season, I found myself growing increasingly weary of the whole endeavor (both the blog and, to be perfectly frank, the series in general). Since wrapping up the first season of The Outer Limits a month ago, I’ve experienced something of a renewed interest in All Things Twilight Zone, and a corresponding (and unexpected) excitement about continuing on with the blog. Call it the "second honeymoon" phase of our relationship, which is to say: I’m not done with the old girl quite yet.





* A few of those blogs/sites are:

Exploring The Twilight Zone is a joint effort by Twitch Film and Film School Rejects, which stopped abruptly at “Stopover in a Quiet Town” in January 2012. That’s right, they stopped six episodes from the end.

The Onion’s A.V. Club just started on season five within the last couple of weeks. They tackle two episodes per week, so they oughta be done before too long.

Andrew Ramage’s The Twilight Zone Museum looks at each episode and offers what he calls “critical commentary.” He relies a bit too heavily on dialogue excerpts for my tastes but, as near as I can tell, he was the first of us to make it through all 156 episodes (online, anyway).

The Twilight Zone Vortex is easily the best of the bunch, and I daresay it’s got my humble efforts more or less beat. It's a bit early to call it (they're only partway through season two as of this writing), but I think they'll ultimately take the crown. I'm not jealous in the least, because they deserve it.




Friday, June 20, 2014

In Retrospect: Season 5 (1963-1964)



Well, what can I say about the worst season of my all-time favorite television series? That’s right, kids, I said worst. Maybe I should take a moment to duck and cover, to avoid the inevitable brickbats and flames headed my way.

I’m speaking from a mostly statistical standpoint. While I’ve eschewed rating the episodes, I still have a general reference system, comprised of three categories: good-to-excellent, mediocre, and lousy (not exactly scientific, I’ll grant you). The stats for Season 5 are as follows:

Mediocre:


Lousy:



Season 5 is made up of 36 episodes, which means that only 63.89% of the season falls under the good-to-excellent category. That’s a D, folks. And honestly, it could’ve been worse: “The 7th Is Made up of Phantoms” and “You Drive” both had me on the fence, but they ended up being just decent enough to escape the mediocre label (conversely, "Ninety Years without Slumbering" is just disappointing enough to earn it).

But here’s the surprising thing: before now, I hadn’t watched most of the fifth season in probably 20 years. Overall, I’d say most of the episodes were actually better than I’d remembered, so... I dunno, maybe I’m softening up in my old age. It’s still the weakest season, and it still pales quite painfully when held up against the brilliance of season one, but it’s not terrible. A D grade, after all, is still passing.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Bewitchin' Pool" (6/19/1964)




Season 5, Episode 36 (156 overall)
Originally aired 6/19/1964
Cayuga Production # 2619


Fifty years ago tonight, a television legend came to an end as The Twilight Zone aired its 156th and final episode.  Sadly, the series ended with a soft, weak whimper instead of going out with a powerful, brilliant bang.


The Sharewoods are an unhappy bunch. Gil and Gloria have two modes of interaction: passive aggression and just plain aggression, and siblings Sport and Jeb are constantly caught in the crossfire. One day a young boy named Whit appears out of nowhere in their swimming pool and invites them to come with him. They dive in after him, and emerge in a lake.





There’s a charming cottage on the lake’s shore, and several children are playing in the yard. Whitt introduces Sport and Jeb to Aunt T, an elderly woman who explains that her home is a sanctuary of sorts for sad and neglected children. Scout insists that they aren’t neglected; that their parents do in fact love them despite their fighting. Aunt T tells them that they should go home if that's the case.


The next day, Gloria angrily orders Sport to find her brother (who is nowhere to be found), so that all four can have a family meeting. Sport returns to Aunt T’s home and finds Jeb there, who refuses to leave. Sport lies and tells him that things will be different now, that their parents have promised not to fight anymore, and that they’ll be a happy family at last. Jeb reluctantly goes home with her, on the understanding that they can probably never return to Aunt T’s place.






Gil and Gloria tell Sport and Jeb that they are getting a divorce, and that the kids can choose which parent they want to live with. Sport balks, and she and Jeb return to the pool, calling out for Aunt T to help them. They swim toward the bottom, prompting Gil to in after them... but he comes up empty. The kids are gone.



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Earl Hamner Jr.’s “The Bewitchin’ Pool” (that’s right, the series finale wasn’t even written by Rod Serling) isn’t necessarily terrible… it’s just nothing special. Drop it in the middle of the third season and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But here, at the very end, it leaves me wanting… pretty badly, in fact. It’s yet another of Hamner’s down-home “city folk are wicked and country folk are good” efforts which, as a lifelong city-dweller, I find a bit offensive.



Occupying the director’s chair is Joseph M. Newman, who previously helmed “In Praise of Pip,” “The Last Night of a Jockey,” and the terminally goofy “Black Leather Jackets” (he also directed an impressive ten Alfred Hitchcock Hours). Sci-fi fans are probably aware that he also directed 1955’s This Island Earth, which co-starred TZ alums Russell Johnson (“Execution” and “Back There”), Jeff Morrow (“Elegy”), and Lance Fuller (“The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”). I can only assume this week’s episode was a quick paycheck for Newman and nothing more, since there’s really nothing notable about the episode’s direction. It just…. is.

Some of Mary Badham’s dialogue is regrettably dubbed by June Foray, who provided the voice of Talky Tina earlier this season in “Living Doll” (I can’t help but wish she said “My name is Sport Sharewood, and I don’t think I like you” at some point in the episode, preferably to her asshole parents), as Badham’s southern accent was reportedly thick enough to make her semi-unintelligible. The dub job is obvious and, frankly, a bit confusing since all of Badham’s dialogue in the Aunt T segments --- which wasn’t replaced --- sounds fine. History also cites “backlot noise” as an additional culprit, so I dunno. In any case, the episode’s post-production took longer than anticipated and, rather than airing in March as originally planned, it was held back until the very end of the season. So at least we know why such a limp offering ended up being the series finale.


Leave it to The Twilight Zone to throw us a curve ball in the final play of the final game. The entire prologue segment isn’t a prologue at all; it’s what we generally call a “teaser” over on my Outer Limits blog, which means it’s a scene from the episode shown out of order and out of context, intended to (wait for it) tease the viewer. The Outer Limits used this practice for most of its first season (at ABC’s behest) in order to show the audience the alien/monster of the week as fast as possible. “The Bewitchin’ Pool” has no such beasts to speak of, so I’m guessing the episode ran several minutes short (in addition to the sound problems detailed above), necessitating some creative editing. We do get the customary Serling intro at the end of it, but we don’t get the customary whip pan leading into it; rather, Serling’s face emerges from the swirling waters of the Sharewood clan’s swimming pool, which is admittedly a cool effect, hearkening back to the imaginative and unexpected Serling appearances in the show’s second and third seasons.

Rod Swirling?

A further indication that the teaser wasn’t part of the original plan can be found at the start of act one, where we hear another chunk of Serling narration (this is the only time in the entire series we hear him during the first act). I’m guessing (I don’t have the script, so guessing is all I can do) that the teaser narration was written at some later time after principal photography had wrapped.



I find myself a a bit hung up on the concept of Aunt T’s Refuge for Neglected Tykes; specifically, what’s the long-term plan? Does she return them to the real world when they reach the age of majority, after she’s raised ‘em up right 'n all? Aunt T explains to Jeb and Whitt that “all children need chores” to teach them responsibility and so forth, so this certainly seems possible. However, I get a very strong Neverland vibe from the whole thing, which might keep the kids young forever. So I dunno.



I’m reminded of the X-files episode “Closure,” in which the mystery of FBI Agent Fox Mulder’s missing sister is finally (sort of) solved: it turns out she was taken by “The Walk-Ins,” spectral beings who saved her from imminent harm and relocated her to an ethereal paradise for lost children.  Is Aunt T such a being?  Is Samantha Mulder with her now???



.
THE MUSIC



“The Bewitchin’ Pool” is stock-scored with selections from the CBS Music Library, a few of which are vaguely familiar (meaning they probably appeared in other episodes). Two cues of note are “Hope" and "Act Ending" by Bernard Herrmann, both from his sublime Walt Whitman Suite. I’m really glad that ol’ Bennie, who scored the series pilot “Where Is Everybody?,” is heard one more time in the series closer; it’s a nice musical bookend of sorts. If you'd like to obtain said Walt Whitman Suite, you can find on Bernard Herrmann at CBS, Volume 2: American Gothic from Prometheus Records.



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DRAMATIS PERSONAE


Mary Badham stars as Sport Sharewood in her only Twilight Zone appearance. Badham’s résumé is pretty sparse, but she did play Scout Finch (who is more or less a younger version of Sport) in 1962’s wonderful adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, so color me impressed as hell.





The cherubic and adorable Jeb Sharewood is played by Tim Stafford, who now works under the name Jeffrey Byron. I couldn’t find any of the usual genre connections for him; however, he did appear on The Fugitive in 1964 (“Tiger Left, Tiger Right"; below), my favorite non-genre series of that time. More recently, he administered the Kobayashi Maru Scenario test in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot.




Aunt T is played by Georgia Simmons in her sole Twilight Zone excursion. Simmons has no other genre credits to speak of, but she did appear in Fellini’s , so at least she did something worthwhile with her career (“The Bewitchin’ Pool” sure as hell ain’t it).







The Huck Finn-ish Whitt is played by Kim Hector, who only worked as an actor for six short years. In that brief amount of time, he managed to score this TZ gig and an Outer Limits (he played the afflicted child Johnny Subiron in “The Inheritors”)…. but his most impressive credit came with his role as Cecil Jacobs in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, so he already knew Mary Badham when he reported to the TZ set.

Kim Hector (right) squares off against Mary Badham.


If Dee Hartford (Gloria Sharewood) looks familiar, it may be because she also appeared on The Outer Limits (“The Invisibles,” which starred TZ alums Don Gordon and George MacReady). Hartford also showed up on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Day of Reckoning”) and Batman (she played Miss Iceland in “Green Ice”/”Deep Freeze”). Is she a TZ Babe? I’d say yes, despite her bitchy demeanor here.

Dee Hartford (left) with TZ alum Don Gordon.

The résumé of Tod Andrews (Gil Sharewood) doesn’t contain any of the usual genre connections; however, he did appear as “Skipper” in 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, so there’s a very tenuous Rod Serling connection (since Serling worked on the screenplay for 1968’s original Planet of the Apes. Don’t look at me that way; I said it was tenuous). Andrews also starred in 1957’s From Hell It Came which, despite a promising title, concerns a wrongfully-executed man who is reincarnated… as an ambulatory tree stump monster.




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The Twilight Zone served many functions during its five-year life span. It meted out cosmic justice by punishing the guilty, and allowed second chances to those deserving of them. It enlightened those who’d lost their way, and it provided escape for those desperate enough to seek it out. As its final noble act, it provided a haven for neglected children which, as a parent, I can definitely appreciate. But damn it, I wish the episode surrounding that promising theme was better. “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” taken strictly on its own, is mediocre at best. As the final Twilight Zone episode ever, it’s disappointing and anticlimactic.





Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What a Twit.




I'm a couple of years late, but I've decided to establish a presence on Twitter. So if you're Tweet-enabled, feel free to follow me @twizoneblog.