Thursday, July 29, 2010

TZ Repeat: "Walking Distance" (7/29/1960)

For many, "Walking Distance" is the greatest Twilight Zone episode ever. For me, this wistful tale of a man whose longing for his younger days is so intense that he manages to transcend the barrier of time and actually visit said younger days... well, is really good, but somehow just falls short of greatness. I can't explain why. A recent viewing of Toy Story 3 is proof that my heart has not hardened with age: I bawled like a baby.

All the elements are here: a brilliant Serling script, fine direction by Robert Stevens, a marvelous performance by Gig Young, an achingly beautiful musical score by Bernard Herrmann... And yet, I'm not as moved as I should be (by contrast, season 5's "In Praise of Pip" chokes me up every time I see it). Maybe I'm not quite old enough yet to truly feel the power of nostalgia. Or maybe my childhood wasn't quite as idyllic as Martin Sloan's. I dunno.

Regardless, I have no beef with those who adore the episode. It's quite lovely. It's just not my favorite (it is, however, in my top 40 favorites, so there). "Walking Distance" premiered on October 30, 1959, and was repeated 50 years ago tonight. See my previous entries here and here.

Next week: One of my favorites from season 1. It's also one of my favorites, period. It's also the first Twilight Zone episode I ever saw. I'd say that more than justifies a repeat!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TZ Repeat: "Third from the Sun" (7/22/1960)

Television during the summer was different in 1960. The viewing public wasn't offered an endless parade of second-tier reality shows (wait, is there such a thing as top-tier reality shows?). No, we actually got repeat telecasts of shows that were aired during the other nine months of the year. You know, in case we missed a few. We didn't have VCRs. We didn't have DVRs. We didn't have On Demand. So yeah, we got reruns, and we didn't mind at all. Imagine not being able to simply grab a DVD off the shelf, or download an episode of your favorite show onto your iPod. Imagine having to wait until it's shown on network TV. And not every episode got reran, either. If you missed it the first time, you might never see it.

Back then, television series actually ran for the entire year, and The Twilight Zone was no exception. 50 years ago tonight, a pretty great episode from the series' inaugaral year was repeated. "Third from the Sun" premiered on January 8, 1960, and was spotlighted on that same date this year, on its 50th anniversary, here. The episode is a true classic, and comfortably resides in my Top 40 favorite episodes.

Next week: One of the all-time great episodes is repeated. What if, in your darkest nostalgic hour, you could simply take a walk... into your past?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TZ Spotlight: Kanamit bobblehead (Bif Bang Pow!)

Regular readers of this blog are already aware of my affinity for The Kanamit, the alien ambassador from season 3's "To Serve Man," which first aired 3/02/1962. He's tall, he's enigmatic, and he's... really hungry. Bif Bang Pow!, already responsible for three stellar Twilight Zone bobbleheads (The Mystic Seer, The Invader, and talking Talky Tina) are back with their rendition of this iconic character. How did they do? Let's have a look...

Well, he's just about perfect. It's all here: The bulbous forehead, the deceptively docile expression, that mysterious (and, as it turns out, plot-twisting) book.... and then there's the base, which represents the Harryhausenesque flying saucer seen in the episode! With any bobblehead, you're not necessarily looking for accuracy (in terms of proportions or actor likeness). The character should be recognizable, and the sculpt should possess both charm and whimsy. On these fronts, Bif Bang Pow!'s Kanamit succeeds brilliantly.

The Twilight Zone logo sits at the front of the saucer base. It's not that obvious in the above picture, but the logo appears to be springing forth from the base in 3D. A nice touch. The white paint is a bit sloppy, but nothing some black paint and a tiny brush can't fix in about thirty seconds. At this price point, it's a VERY minor quibble. The rest of the paint --- particularly on the face --- looks good.

Hello, my pretty. You look good enough to eat...!

The Bif Bang Pow! logo can be found on the underside of the base, along with the requisite copyright information. Oh and look, he's Made In China. A Chinese food joke seems appropriate, given the culinary aspect of the episode in question, but I'll hold my tongue.

At 12.5 ounces, The Kanamit ties with The Mystic Seer as the lightest of the first 5 bobbleheads, but that doesn't make him (it?) a lightweight. A well-aimed throw would almost certainly result in a big bruise.

Attention to detail? It's here in spades. Check out the alien language on the book:

..and compare it with shot of the original prop. Or it could be replica, I dunno. With Google Images, you take your chances. Anyway --- we've got a match!

The verdict? Bif Bang Pow! is four for four. Their Kanamit bobblehead is an absolute knockout. They're kinda like the Pixar of the Twilight Zone merchandise realm.... they can do no wrong.

As much as I love the TZ bobbleheads, I view them as something of a precursor to my true Twilight Zone heart's desire: action figures. As previously reported, Bif Bang Pow! is answering my prayers with several action figures, soon to be released, including my beloved Kanamit:

Wow, talk about accuracy. Here's the real (well, you know what I mean) Kanamit:

Next: It turns out Tribbles aren't William Shatner's only furry nemesis. Before he ever stormed the galaxy as Captain Kirk, he ran into a rather ugly character on a fateful airplane flight. That character, commonly referred as The Gremlin, has arrived in bobblehead form. How did the little furball turn out? Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

TZ Repeat: "Time Enough at Last" (7/08/1960)

50 years ago tonight, "Time Enough at Last," written by Rod Serling and starring Burgess Meredith, had its encore broadcast, the first of 11 repeats sandwiched between The Twilight Zone's first and second seasons (it premiered on 11/20/1959, the 8th episode aired). I've already written quite a bit about this particular episode (see here and here), so I don't have much to say. I don't like it much, despite its iconic status. As always, your mileage may vary.

Next week: Well, nothing. No episode was shown on 7/15/60 due to CBS's coverage of the Democatic National Convention, from which John F. Kennedy emerged as the party's Presidential nominee. Even a hardcore Zone fan like me can't deny the fact that this piece o' history trumps a Twilight Zone rerun. Here's a shot of the festivities (thanks, Wikipedia!):

Friday, July 2, 2010

In Retrospect: Season One (1959-1960)

I must admit, I feel a bit sad that the 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone’s first season has now passed. It is, you see, my favorite of the five seasons. Don’t get me wrong, the other seasons have much to recommend them (even the lesser fourth and fifth seasons manage to produce amazing episodes here and there), but there’s nothing that compares to season one. Even season two (which we’ll dig into in a few months), while including top-tier efforts like “Eye of the Beholder,” “The Obsolete man” and “Shadow Play,” isn’t as consistently marvelous as the first season.

My Top 40 Favorite Episodes of All Time features 11 season one episodes (a number which will likely increase when I revise it to include “The After Hours,” which somehow got excluded; a criminal oversight, to be sure). My Top 10, meanwhile, features 4 season one episodes (that’s nearly half!).

So yeah, season one is my favorite. And it’s glorious. Well, with the exception of “Mr. Bevis,” which may very well be the worst single episode in the series’ five-year, 156-episode run. Fortunately, the bulk of the season is so luminously brilliant that a hairy wart, even one as hideous as “Mr. Bevis,” is fairly easy to ignore. The only other questionable efforts are “Elegy” and “The Mighty Casey,” but each has its charms (“Elegy” evokes Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and “The Mighty Casey” has an undeniably fascinating production history). Those three aside, that leaves 33 out of 36 are either really good or, in most cases, excellent. That’s a 91.67% success rate, people.

The remaining four seasons won’t have stats like that. There is still a wealth of great episodes to come, but nothing like the reliable excellence that season one gave us.

As a final look back, I thought it might be nice to post some screen captures that I didn’t post before, usually because they gave away either crucial plot points or, in many cases, surprise endings. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

TZ Promo: "A World of His Own" (7/01/1960)

The Twilight Zone ended its historic first season 50 years ago tonight with “A World of His Own,” a comedic tale in which the creative power of the writer is taken to supernatural extremes. The writer (here a playwright) in question uses a Dictaphone to record his ideas; those ideas, in turn, magically come to life. We never learn if the Dictaphone itself is enchanted, or if the writer himself has extraordinary powers (like little Anthony Fremont of season 3’s “It’s a Good Life”), but either way… well, the whole affair is a writer’s wet dream. Serling himself was famous for writing his scripts verbally using a Dictaphone; it’s a bit surprising, therefore, that this episode WASN’T written by him.

The Twilight Zone’s attempts at comedy are usually failures (“Mr. Bevis,” which we looked at a few weeks ago, is the most glaring example, but there others: “A Most Unusual Camera,” “Cavender is Coming,” and “Once Upon a Time” are all terminally unfunny). Happily, “A World of His Own” manages to beat the odds, likely due to a sharp and clever script by Richard Matheson. Matheson’s original short story, it should be noted, wasn’t a comedy at all: his seminal tale focused on the horror of the writer’s unique talent, not the comic potential. I think the tonal shift was a good idea in this case…. otherwise, we wouldn’t have that delicious ending, which provides us with Serling’s first on-screen appearance and a delightful breaking of the fourth wall as Serling interacts --- for the first and only time in the series --- directly with the characters.

The cast is flawless. Keenan Wynn (son of Ed Wynn, seen previously in “One for the Angels”) is the perfect anchor for the increasingly chaotic proceedings. His Gregory West, “one of America’s most noted playwrights,” is calm and collected, always in control, a veritable master of his own universe, an untouchable playboy with real power on his side. Phyllis Kirk shines as his high-maintenance rich-bitch wife. Mary La Roche, who will appear later in the series in “Living Doll,” essentially plays it straight as West’s secret (well, until about thirty seconds into the episode) lover, soft and feminine, the ideal alternative for the unhappy husband.

And then there’s the elephant. What can I say? It’s a real big-as-life elephant, right there in the goddamned house. It's not an optical effect.

“A World of His Own” is a nice capper on a stunning season, and its final scene suggests an enhanced self-awareness that was certainly ahead of its time in 1960. It still snaps and buzzes, 50 years later.

Next: 12 weeks of summer reruns, then season 2 starts. Wow, imagine only having to wait 3 months before your favorite show started up again. A season these days is usually 16 episodes, tops. The times, they sure have a-changed. My plan is to watch the repeats as they occur, but I probably won’t post entries about each one. Well, maybe I will. Damn it, I dunno. I guess I can decide as I go. I am, after all, the one holding the Dictaphone when it comes to this blog.