Jordan Peele is the Narrator of The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone, Season 2

Dept. of Reboots and Revivals


Many years ago, Joe Haldeman, the award-winning author of The Forever War, was talking to me about the difficulties of writing science fiction when he made the most astute observation I’d ever heard about the craft. He asked me to imagine every science fiction concept I could think of as buttons on a giant switchboard. Whenever a book, or a movie, or a TV show introduced one of those concepts, its corresponding button would be pressed. It could never be unpressed. It was done. Aliens invading earth? Done. Time travel? Done. Sentient robots? Done. There were a finite number of ideas from which every other story was derived. Which is what made science fiction so hard. That with every new addition to the genre, it became increasingly impossible to give the audience what it wanted: “originality.”

This revival of The Twilight Zone was never going to be easy. Jordan Peele was now playing in Charlie Brooker’s sandbox, and the big question was how his new version would stand out. Would it be like Black Mirror, but different? Which was, in turn, like The Twilight Zone, but different. Was there still room within our discourse for something as subtle and nuanced as parable?

Jimmi Simpson as Phil in The Twilight Zone episode "Meet In The Middle".

Black Mirror, for all of its brilliance, is still very much “feel bad television.” It is such a bleak reflection of humanity that the vast majority of its episodes will leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. (It says something that Brooker himself wasn’t working on any new episodes during this pandemic because he felt that the world was depressed enough already.)

Rod Serling, on the other hand, took something of a biblical approach to The Twilight Zone. His were morality plays that often asked more questions than they answered. They were faustian nightmares that were designed to make the audience think. Their endings, open ended enough to serve as enduring allegories, as opposed to being rooted in any one time or place.

The thing people often forget is that the original series was also very hit and miss. Not every one of those 156 episodes was a winner. In fact, having pored through all five seasons, I can tell you that quite a few of them don’t really hold up. They haven’t aged all that well. Which is why I feel that the response to this series has been unduly harsh, with many critics judging the it based on the original’s legacy and impact (which, by itself, is an impossible bar to clear), as well as a handful (and then some) of truly memorable episodes. 

The Twilight Zone is an unfortunate victim of its own nostalgia. The original came at such an impressionable era of television (maybe even the most impressionable era) that our fond memories of it often serve to bolster its greatness. Not that I’m saying it isn’t. But rather that your nine-year-old self, whose mind was so convincingly blown by poor Henry Bemis’ fate at the end of “Time Enough at Last,” is still looking to recapture that feeling of shock, awe, and intellectual arousal.

Thomas Lennon as Drew and Jurnee Smollett as Jasmine in The Twilight Zone episode "Ovation".

This version of The Twilight Zone is still very much a work in progress. Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg, learning from some of the missteps of the previous season, have further fine tuned the series. 

For starters, they are shorter. Running between 31 minutes and 46 minutes, each of these 10 episodes feel like they’ve been edited down to a length that best suits the story they’re trying to tell. Admittedly, some of them would work a lot better at a tighter 25 minutes, but they’re getting there. They’re also a lot less preachy. 

On the whole, the 10 episodes that make up Season 2 feel a lot stronger that the first season’s offerings. All of them fulfilling that absolute minimum standard of being clever and entertaining, with just enough mystery to keep you guessing until the end.

Gretchen Mol as Mrs. Warren in The Twilight Zone episode "You Might Also Like".

The strongest episode of the season, conceptually, is one that’s called “You Might Also Like.” Written and directed by Osgood Perkins, and clearly inspired by the classic “To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24), the episode introduces us to Gretchen Mol’s Janet Warren, a woman living in a dystopian society where everyone is waiting for this one item – an “egg” – that promises to make “everything better again. And this time, it’s forever.” A harsh critique of how fickle and grasping we are as human beings – always looking for the next best thing, always holding out for the bigger, better promise – the episode is everything that good science fiction should be. It is universal. It is timely. It is visually arresting.

And then there’s Downtime” and “The Who of You.” Episodes that have taken on different meanings in this age of quarantine and #BlackLivesMatter. With their individual messages now shifting in significance to match our current condition. Which, mind you, is the hallmark of what makes for a great episode of The Twilight Zone.

Topher Grace as Mark; Kylie Bunbury as Claudia in The Twilight Zone episode "Try, Try".
Sophia Macy as Irene in The Twilight Zone episode "Among the Untrodden".

My two favourites, however, are “Among the Untrodden” and “Try, Try.” The former, being a new take on M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable that’s set in a boarding school. The latter, an incredibly smart subversion of a classic movie. I won’t tell you which movie as that would be a spoiler. But I will tell you that it’s perfection.

Joel McHale as Keith in The Twilight Zone episode "8".

I love that The Twilight Zone is back on our screens. I still get giddy with excitement every time the narrator makes his appearance and gives us his cryptic warning.

I like that there is a place where more and more of these sorts of stories can be told. These sorts of stories. Which are different from the dark, and edgy, and cynical ones that Charlie Brooker tells in Black Mirror. Which are different from the saccharinely sweet tales of hope that Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz tell in Amazing Stories. The Twilight Zone straddles an unclaimed niche that lies somewhere in between the two.

It would be wrong to look at this series as a “reboot.” To do so would be to view it through a somewhat narrow critical lens. Employing the limited vocabulary that usually comes with such appraisals. Because this is neither a new take nor an homage. Instead, the best way to approach this series is to think of it as yet another season of the series that began all the way back in 1959. Because it still feels like the same thing. It is still driven by the same inspirations and values. It still exists in that preternatural grey area between our deepest desires and our greatest fears.

The Twilight Zone
CBS All Access/HBO Asia, Season 2, 10 episodes
Showrunner: Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg
Directors: Osgood Perkins, Ana Lily Amirpour, JD Dillard, Peter Atencio, Christina Choe, Tayarisha Poe, Mathias Herndl, Justin Benson, Alonso Alvarez-Barreda, and Jennifer McGowan
Writers: Win Rosenfeld, Glen Morgan, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Alex Rubens, Osgood Perkins, Emily C. Chang, Sara Amini, Anne Campbell, and Jordan Peele
Cast: Gretchen Mol, Greta Lee, Joel McHale, Brandon Jay McLaren, Damon Wayans Jr., David Krumholtz, Natalie Martinez, Paula Newsome, Topher Grace, Kylie Bunbury, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Tawny Newsome, Sky Ferreira, Paul F. Tompkins, Thomas Lennon, Morena Baccarin, Colman Domingo, Ethan Embry, Daniel Sunjata, Billy Porter, Jenna Elfman, Chris Meloni, Tavi Gevinson, Abbie Hern, Sophia Macy, Jimmi Simpson, Gillian Jacobs, and Jordan Peele

All 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone, Season 2 (as well as Season 1) are available exclusively on HBO GO.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong.
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