There is always a certain charm when people talk about old television shows. Whether it’s the simple stories, the family values or the stars who acted their way into the hearts of viewers, there is always something the show said that hooked people. Shows like Leave It To Beaver showcased what was thought at the time to be the ideal family. Bonanza gave viewers a glimpse into a fictionalization view of country living, simple and serene. Add in I Love Lucy’s fun and at the time extremely progressive views of funny and strong women along with a vision of an inter-racial couple before their time, to give us comedy all around.
But there is a show that not only was commercially successful but was also laden with some of the most powerful political and human messages that are still relevant today. This show was the Twilight Zone. Under the radar of aliens, mysterious happenstances, futuristic worlds, and unseen monsters hides multiple timeless lessons. In almost every single episode there is some sort of hidden meaning wrapped up in a seemingly innocuous storyline. Rod Serling took what could have been a mindless exercise in sci-fi story telling and turned into a silent opus.
Like many of the great sci-fi writers, Serling was not just a futurist but also a historian. Not in the academic sense but in the social sense. The stories not only go far into futures, some of which are idealistic or horrifying but also into the past. There are stories that not only take place in the past(A Hundred Yards Over the Rim) but also take notes from the past and what was the present, in a war-weary late 50’s. Even dealing with people trapped in their own seemingly small struggles over their true selves(Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room) and being acceptable to and ever-shifting society (The Eye of the Beholder). He also had a knack for finding other talented writers and stories. Remember the episode about the civil war era escape of a war prisoner(An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge) which left us with a surprise ending that has since been repeated multiple times in film and television. That was actually a short story by American author Ambrose Bierce, later adapted by a French director and then aired on the Twilight Zone in 1964 after winning multiple awards and obviously getting the attention of Serling.
Here are 3 of those Twilight Zone episodes that are not only significant in their own right but also completely apt for the time we are living in. Now more than ever it seems as though great minds in the past have left us a trail of clues to show us that things have changed but are not all that different. After watching these episodes it will become terribly apparent that we might already be living one of these stories… or perhaps all of them.
I Am The Night, Color Me Black
When justice becomes muddled and the hateful hearts of men are revealed. This episode taught me that hate is hate and in any of its forms becomes a cancerous entity that once accepted simply consumes all that it is fed. Set in a small town it tells a take that could just as well take place today. The results of which are wholly heart-wrenching. Watch here. Deals with – racism, justice, hate, judgement, guilt, murder, collective hate
The Obsolete Man
A frightening view into what happens when the value of human life is no longer recognized. This episode allowed me to better appreciate human life in its essence, no matter the perceived value to society. In this dystopian world, the efficiency mentality is taken too far and the costs are shown to be far too high. Note the same actor in this and the next episode I chose is actually Burgess Meredith a.k.a. “Mickey” from the Rocky(Possibly my favorite older actor of all time). Watch here. Deals with – government, fascism, tyrants, oppression, humanity, injustice, philosophy, religious freedom, value of life
Time Enough At Last
Getting everything you want is not what will make life great. This episode allowed me to cast off persistent additions to productivity. To ultimately realize that life without other people is not life at all. Even gaining perfect solitude has its own hardships and downfalls. This episode exemplifies why you should be happy NOW and make the most of today. Watch it here. Deals with – selfishness, family, humanity, war, loneliness, nuclear proliferation, fragility
Obviously, this show is a bit before my time but growing up as a Sci-Fi geek I was introduced young and never fell out of love. I actually remember watching it on a small black and white television at my Grandmothers house somewhere in Ohio. The masterful storytelling by master script writer Rod Serling, which can be enjoyed by any layperson from 5 to 95, is deftly weaved with political and moral messages. As I got older, though, it became apparent what the messages were. As I re-watched marathons(Sci-Fi used to run 24hrs on New Years before streaming was a thing.) and eventually started re-watching on Netflix the lessons quickly became apparent and profoundly affected me yet again.
I hope you can also gain some insights and lessons from them in these trying times. What do you think of these episodes? Of the Twilight Zone? Let me know in the comments.