Season 3, Episode 36 (101 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4827
Hey, remember season one’s “Mr. Bevis?” That silly, light-hearted story of a quirky guy with terrible luck who gets some unexpected help from a guardian angel? Remember that? I sure do. Who could forget it? It’s by far the single worst Twilight Zone episode in the entire five-year run of the series, and I absolutely hate it. Nah, “hate” is too kind a word. My despising of it is passionate and eternal, a seething ember that never quite dies out. It’s so bad that I opted to barely discuss it when it reached its 50th birthday two years ago (see for yourself here). Rod Serling gave us some of the series’ greatest episodes. He also gave us many of its worst, and “Mr. Bevis” is the worst of the worst. Two years on, and what does he do? He rewrites the same goddamned story with different characters. And yes, it still sucks.
“Cavender Is Coming,” the penultimate episode of the show’s third season, turns 50 tonight. It stars the delightful Carol Burnett as Agnes Grep (ugh, wotta name), a luckless charmer who can’t hold onto a job because, well, she’s a clitzy dutz.* Harmon Cavender (Jesse White) is a guardian angel desperate to get his wings, so he tries to reverse her misfortune by bestowing upon her a fortune. Hilarity (or not) ensues.
Yes, “Cavender Is Coming” is the latest in a (seemingly endless) stream of attempts at comedy by Serling, in a series that really has no business trying to be funny. When you think of The Twilight Zone, you think of mystery, suspense, supernatural intrigue, terror. Are any of those things funny? Nope. Almost every attempt at humor by Serling falls flat on its ugly face, and this week's installment is no exception. Maybe that’s why they slapped a canned laugh track onto it, to trick us into thinking it's funny. Yup, that’s right, folks: it’s a Twilight Zone sitcom. Christ on a cracker. Worst… idea… ever.
Carol Burnett is of course wonderful here, like she is in everything she's ever done. Despite the narrative wreckage all around her, she remains arrestingly radiant, charming and adorable, impossible not to love. It’s a testament to just how truly shitty the script is that even her considerable talents can’t save things.
The depiction of Heaven, with its 3rd Celestial Division (Angel Placement Bureau; foreshadowing The Adjustment Bureau by half a century!), is a bright spot amid all the muck (you’ve gotta love a cloud with a door!). Howard Smith, the boss-from-hell Mr. Misrell from season one’s “A Stop At Willoughby,” returns to The Twilight Zone as Cavender’s boss Polk. He’s still gruff, but not nearly as loathsome this time around. And John Fiedler, delightful as always (but unfortunately underused here), appears as “Field Representative #3” (we last saw him in season two’s “Night of the Meek,” as Henry Corwin’s boss-from-hell… hey, how are all these bosses from hell getting into heaven…?).
I guess all things considered, “Cavender Is Coming” isn’t irredeemably awful. It’s just…. well, really really dumb and, since we've already seen this tale unfold in "Mr. Bevis," it's 100% unnecessary. It’s not the bottom of the season three barrel (which is where you’ll find “The Gift” and “Four O’clock," not to mention "The Mirror"), but it dwells awfully low. Watch it once, and then move quickly on to better things.
Next: “The Changing of the Guard” closes out season three with a snow-swept tale of sad old men and merry ghosts. No, Dickens didn’t write it.
* The (admittedly semi-offensive) term “clitzy dutz” is a vulgar tongue-twisting play on “clutzy ditz.” I have a dim memory of a friend and I bandying the term around in the 6th grade, and it pops into my head every so often even at this late date.