50 years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone continued its descent into mediocrity with yet another attempt by Rod Serling to be funny. Yawn.
“Showdown with Rance McGrew” is an approximate inverse of season one’s “A World of Difference”: there, a man discovers that the self he knows is merely a movie character, and he’s the actor playing him; here, McGrew is the actor whose TV set surroundings become real, and he is forced to inhabit his role (and all that that implies). It’s unfortunate that the resultant episode is so lame, because it’s a pretty good concept. In going the comedic route, Serling sabotages yet another intriguing idea. The whole thing is just limp. See if you’re not checking your watch after about five minutes. Treated as straight drama, this could’ve been good, maybe even great.
Larry Blyden stars as the unfortunately-named (and unfortunate in general) Rance McGrew, arrogant TV western star who comes face to face with Jesse James, who doesn’t appreciate how he (and his fellow western outlaw legends) is being depicted. We last saw Blyden in season one’s “A Nice Place to Visit,” which is admittedly second-tier Zone, but is light years ahead of this week’s offering. “Showdown with Rance McGrew” is just another example that the show has slipped quite dramatically from those wonderful early days. But you know what? It’s not awful enough to make me angry. It’s just… well, damn it, I just don’t care. Your mileage may vary, but the episode just feels like a giant waste of time to me.
“Showdown with Rance McGrew” is one of six season three episodes adapted into short story form by Rod Serling, which were collected as New Stories from The Twilight Zone in 1962 (the third and final in a series of such collections). Since I bought all three books shortly after discovering the show, I actually read the story long before I ever saw the episode. I thought maybe I’d revisit the story as part of my 50th anniversary… um, celebration sounds wrong… acknowledgment of this episode’s premiere, but I didn’t bother. Again, I’m having a hard time caring here. In all fairness, this isn’t another “Mr. Bevis” or “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” fiasco. It’s just… blah.
1999's Galaxy Quest uses the same core concept: the aging cast of a Star Trek-like TV series find themselves battling space monsters for real. It's both a great development of the concept and a wry parody of Trek. Definitely worth seeking out.
One nice touch: the stock-scoring used is made up of cues by Fred Steiner from his work on Gunsmoke. A nice touch. I wonder if anybody who tuned in late in 1962 was confused.
Oh, and the sight of McGrew’s convertible cruising down the center of the old western town is cute. And the horse braying at him when he shows up…. yeah, that’s cute too. And I recall Arch Johnson was pretty good as Jesse James… so I guess perhaps it’s not a total loss. You know, I write these promos before I watch each episode, so I operate largely from memory. Trouble is, I haven’t seen some of these episodes in a long time (20+ years, in some cases), and my memory ain’t what it used to be. So who knows? Maybe I’ll have a different view of it when I watch it tonight. Remember, that happened for “The Passersby”…..
Next week: the old get younger and Bernard Herrmann’s “Walking Distance” score gets some replay value.
And hey, next time your stash is running low, pick up a pack of Chesterfields. Try 'em, they satisfy.