UK TV review: The Twilight Zone (2019)
Ivan Radford | On 25, Feb 2020Reading time: 4 mins
“You’re travelling to another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.” That’s the sound of Rod Serling’s iconic introduction to The Twilight Zone being rebooted, retooled and revamped for the Facebook and Instagram era. Stepping into Serling’s shoes? None other than Jordan Peele, the shrewd mind behind the creepy, timely, scathingly observed social thriller Get Out.
It’s a prospect that’s enough to get any fan of his or the original series excited. The Twilight Zone, after all, was the topical satire of its day, smuggling political messages and social critiques into McCarthy-era living rooms in the form of science fiction. Famed for its twists and turns, all wrapped up in bundles of eerie storytelling no longer than 30 minutes, The Twilight Zone was a genre-bending classic with a playful wit and ambitious scope. The biggest surprise twist of the all-new The Twilight Zone, based on the opening episodes, is that it may not always have much to say at all.
We begin with Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, which follows a passenger (Adam Scott) as he listens to a podcast on a flight that predicts their eventual disappearance. A magazine journalist with a nose for investigation, he can’t resist the chance to work out what’s really going on – and it’s no spoiler to say that his nosey behaviour doesn’t go down well. Freak out air hostesses, passengers and himself alike, the episode does well to tap into modern anxieties about flying and safety, but compared to the original out it’s inspired by, which starred William Shatner and explored trauma and PTSD, it’s a quick flight but one that’s a little thin on the ground.
The same is true of Episode 2, The Comedian, which sees Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) play Samir, a stand-up whose failing routine suddenly gets supercharged by a mysterious figure and an equally mysterious power. A guest turn from Tracy Morgan brings a nice dose of menace, which Kumail is eminently likeable as the would-be comic who faces a dark cost to achieve fame and success. But the Faustian theme is one that’s as old as “Knock, Knock” jokes, even with its more contemporary setting, and if the episode is trying to say something about the challenge of political comedy today, it’s not a particularly clear message.
There’s more substance to Replay, which sees a woman use a time-travelling video camera to avoid a racist cop – a neat fusion of genre tropes and real life context to produce a tense piece of telly. That episode shows promise for the series to embrace the same role as its predecessor in this new decade, even if the rest of it primarily places the focus on affectionately homaging the original show.
The directors all bring a slick, glossy quality to the episodes, while Peele pops up at the beginning and end as a suitably enigmatic and imperious narrator. The cast, too, are uniformly convincing, with Adam Scott in particular making his somewhat cliched character feel genuine.
But The Twilight Zone not only returns to our screens in the age of #MeToo and Donald Trump, it also returns to our screens in the age of a growing number of anthology series, from Inside No 9 to Black Mirror. The former, which also uses genre trappings to tell twisted, funny stories, sets the bar very high for any new TV compendium, and The Twilight Zone struggles to meet it, in terms of tight pacing – some episodes here are too long, clocking in at 50 minutes – and, crucially, in terms of consistency. Black Mirror, meanwhile, manages more disturbing darkness in the horror of its more immediately modern concerns.
The result is an impressive-looking, if lightweight reboot, but this excursion needs more time in The Twilight Zone to fully find its feet. Fortunately, with a second season ordered, Peele still involved and a cast that includes John Cho, DeWanda Wise and Rhea Seehorn and directors including Ana Lily Amirpour and Owen Harris, it’s a return trip that still feels worth making.
The Twilight Zone (2019) is available on SyFu UK. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.