Jordan Peele’s ‘Twilight Zone’ is a Great Homage to the Original
...But It May Not Be Worth Paying for Another Streaming Service
CBS’s third revival of The Twilight Zone, hosted by Jordan Peele, premiered on their new exclusive streaming service, CBS All Access. Subscribers can tune in to the rookie online service and catch the first two episodes of the revival with some commercials spaced throughout for $5.99/month, or $9.99/month for completely ad-free. Also, if you’re not too sure you’re ready to make the plunge and pay for All Access, the first episode has been made available completely for free on YouTube. So, how exactly does the 2019 reboot fair when compared to the 1959 original? Sorry to say, but it tends to come up a bit short.
That’s not to say that the 2019 rendition is bad by any means. The show’s new direction under Jordan Peele is strikingly reflective of our modern times with allusions to our recent debates over gun control, conflicts overseas, and the #MeToo movement. It’s a modern show for a modern era, and Peele makes full use of this caveat to deliver on some contemporary stories. Tracy Morgan’s character in the first episode, “The Comedian,” is often seen with a vape whenever he appears; Kumail Nanjiani’s character researches stand-up material and potential targets by using his list of friends on social media; and Adam Scott’s character in the second episode (a remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) is caught in a paradox when he comes across a podcast that seemingly predicts the disappearance of the plane he’s on. It also features unexpectedly strong performances from some traditionally comedic actors. Nanjiani is able to capture the essence of a person struggling between their desires and their morals when granted supernatural abilities, while Scott plays a convincing psychotic breakdown in the face of possible imminent death. They’re reminders that although this is the third revival of the series since the original has aired, it is its own creation that comes with its own unique sense of storytelling. At the same time, Peele makes sure to pay homage to the series that started it all.
The format of each episode is a love letter to Rod Serling’s creation with Peele taking Serling’s place as the omniscient and unseen narrator. The opening title sequence is hauntingly reminiscent of season four and five title sequence but updated with modern computer animation and visuals. The political overtones subtly signaled in the two available episodes are parallel in tone to the social allegories Serling showcased in the original with lessons pertaining to the price of fame, the pursuit of vanity, paranoia, and confirmation bias. Even the music and its instrumentals sound like they were ripped straight from an old episode from the 1960s. Peele has created something that will please any fan of the original series, while still placing his own ideas on full display.
As a result, this makes it all the more painful to say that the 2019 series doesn’t quite stand in comparison to the cornerstone series it’s based on. To be fair, it is difficult to match the quality that came with the first Twilight Zone. It’s one of the pioneers of adult science fiction and fantasy as we know it in the modern day and popularized the concept of the twist ending. It was a groundbreaking entry in the anthology genre, and shows like Black Mirror owe a lot to their predecessor. The new show has big shoes to fill, so it can’t be faulted for not sticking the landing as well as what came before. The show’s freedom by virtue of airing on an online streaming service allows it the chance to flesh out its characters and plots in a way that the original show never did. However, the bloated runtimes (the first episode is an hour long) instead seem to fluff the show up without offering much in the way of character development— and even with the extra minutes, some events and climaxes happen too quickly to feel properly earned. The original series was limited in the fact that they were restrained to telling an original story each week in only twenty minutes, but that led to tight and compact plots that didn’t leave any room for middling moments or seemingly pointless interactions. The benefits of a streaming service that grant the show its breathing room are also hurting its overall performance.
To that end, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the 2019 revival of The Twilight Zone as an incentive to subscribe to CBS All Access. There are surely some enjoyable elements to the show, such as updated social issues, great performances from the cast, and some genuinely funny lines that are to be expected out of a comedy veteran like Peele. However, those good moments don’t add up to a reason to pay for yet another streaming service in an already saturated field. If the show had been released on the CBS network properly, my initial impressions would have been much more lenient and I would have praised it as something viewers should keep up with on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, the knowledge in the back of my head (as well as many others) that this new rendition of the classic sci-fi anthology is locked behind a six dollar paywall puts me off. CBS was able to score a hot commodity in Hollywood with Jordan Peele, but it’s just a shame that they didn’t know how to use him during a time where he could have helped them the most.
-Derek Luat Tran