Best 5 Episodes from The Twilight Zone
Since the much anticipated revival of the acclaimed and beloved TV series, now hosted by Jordan Pelee, turned sour for us fans, here are the best five episodes from the classic TV series The Twilight Zone.
Why five and not ten, you might ask? Well, because five is the magic number. Three and you run short. Ten and you are obligated into throwing a few extra that aren’t quite as exceptional as the rest, just to fill the quota, or entertaining to watch… and that is the word here, isn’t it? Entertaining.
As with any other genre, science-fiction first needs to be entertaining. Not educational, not full of sermons about war, life, and death, but entertaining. Each of us knows already too much about the facts of life, don’t we?
We are big fans
It is true. Here at The Free Bundle, we are big fans of The Twilight Zone. From the radio drama show to the comics, back to the TV series that started it all and even the many attempts to revivals (yes, we sat through those too!).
In fact, we know so much about the Twilight Zone, that we are going to give you a never-seen-before behind the scenes from the production of each one of the five episodes in our list.
Will the revival of the beloved science fiction anthology by the now Super Bowl-famous Jordan Pelee become a success? Or will the fandom be forced to watch in stupor how gold gets to turn into clay as it happened with the 2002 TV series?
We, of course, will be writing an in-depth analysis of the first couple of episodes once they air, but after seeing the two revivals and the 1983 movie, we can only place our most educated guess:
There will be wonderfully written episodes by some of the most talented writers of the moment, perhaps we even get a surprise or two with a nearly perfect reboot (such as the promised Nightmare at 20,000 feet, already masterfully executed by John Lithgow in the 1983 movie of the Twilight Zone), which is always a delight for us science fiction fans.
But the rest? Let’s just say we cross our fingers.
In the meanwhile, without further ado and submitted for your approval, the very best five Twilight Zone episodes from the classic TV show.
5) “The Hunt”
Season 3, Episode 19
The Hunt, The Twilight Zone
An old man and a hound dog named Rip, off for an evening’s pleasure in quest of raccoon. Usually, these evenings end with one tired old man, one battle-scarred hound dog and one or more extremely dead raccoons, but as you may suspect that will not be the case tonight. These hunters won’t be coming back from the hill. They’re headed for the backwoods of the Twilight Zone.
This episode gives us Hyder Simpson, an old man with a very special friend: an old hound named “Rip”. Hyder and Rip’s story begins with them dying after Rip gets into a nearby lagoon while hunting raccoons with his master. Hyder goes after his friend, only to wake up next to Rip in limbo, which is no different than what they already know as home. After visiting his wife, Hyde and Rip wander around the countryside until they come across what looks like the Gates of Heaven.
Hyde gets invited inside, of course. The poor fool has not an inch of malice in his good heart. But before he can agree, there’s a catch. He will have to leave Rip behind: dogs are not allowed into Heaven.
The Hunt is one of the most emotional episodes of the classic series and perhaps the only one featuring a theme that touches a chord very close to home for any animal lover.
Written by Earl Hammer, Jr and directed by Harold Schuster, with Arthur Hunnicutt as Hyder Simpson and Dexter Dupont as the angel. Although at the time this episode was deemed as poorly produced, badly directed and amateurishly acted by some, it ended up into becoming a favorite for many Twilight Zone aficionados. Years later, Hammer created a series called The Walltons with similar characters which he based on the old woman and his wife from this episode. “The similarity is not accidental," he says, “at the time I was working on a series of short stories called ‘The Old Man and the Old Woman.’ Those characters which I used in ‘The Hunt’ also were later to become the Grandma and the Grandpa Walton for my new series’.
Towards the end, The Hunt has one memorable moment. The old fool, Hyder Simpson, walks away from entering into what he is being told is heaven when the supposed angel at the gate refuses to accept his dog, only to find out he was in fact about to enter into Hell and that the angel is no other than the Devil, trying to lure into damnation.
When Hyder asks one of the angels why they don’t let dogs into Hell, the reply he gets becomes one of the most heartwarming lines of the entire series: “You see, Mr. Simpson, a man, well… he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open–but even the Devil can’t fool a dog!"
4) “A Stop at Willoughby”
Season 1, Episode 30
A Stop at Willoughby, The Twilight Zone
This is Gart Williams, age thirty-eight, a man protected by a suit of armor all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt, and Mr. Williams’s protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliatiion, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target and blown him apart. Mr. Gartt Williams, ad agency exec, who in just a moment will move into the Twilight Zone–in a desperate search for survival.
Gart Williams, a man who used to love his job now can’t wait to get away from it. His boss, his colleagues, even the woman he married to appear to constantly bring him down. Like many others in this position, Mr. Gart Willams can’t quit his job or leave his wife. He feels trapped, without options, near the breaking point. The man longs for a simpler life every night on his train ride back home.
And it will be during one these late night trips home that Mr. Gart Williams will take a detour the Twilight Zone when he runs into a stop that shouldn’t be on his commuter train line: Willoughby.
A small town where time doesn’t seem to have passed and folks warmly greet each other by name, kids go fishing on Sundays and where a man can sit back, ease the foot off the gas pedal and enjoy life at his own pace.
Just what Mr. Gart Williams needs.
Directed by Robert Parrish, written by Rod Serling, with James Delay as Gart Williams and Jason Wingreen as the train conductor. A Stop at Willoughby is perhaps the only other episode, besides Walking Distance, where we can see how Rod Serling went back to his roots as a screenwriter for Hollywood. He was, after all, well known for presenting audiences with subjects such of the raw competitive world of corporate executives, such as The Velvet Alley, played by legendary actor and comedian Leslie Nielsen (Naked Gun), playing a much more grim role for Serling.
There is also a very real possibility that Velvet Alley had been Rod Serling’s first attempt to produce something of the caliber of A Stop at Willoughby. Sadly for us, most of Mr. Serling’s old productions from these days were lost, since Playhouse was a live show and tape recorders were rare back then.
It is possible that from all the episodes of The Twilight Zone, A Stop at Willoughby, along with Walking Distance, will always resonate very deeply with the middle-aged viewers. After all, there is no way not to be immediately taken by surprise by the rawness of Mr. Williams story. A “must-watch” episode for all those who have blown thirty candles on their cakes.
3) “Time Enough at Last”
Season 1, Episode 8
Time Enough at Last Twilight Zone
Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself, without anyone.
Henry Bemis is a myopic avid book reader. Everything good old Henry wants to do in life is to be left alone so he can read his books. The thing is, neither his boss nor his wife (who ends up by blacking out every line in every page of Henry’s personal library to keep him away from reading) seems to accept mild-mannered Henry has a passion for fiction.
One day, during lunch hour, Herny sneaks down into the bank vault hoping to escape a world of interruptions so he can read undisturbed. Sadly for Mr. Henry Bemis, no quiet awaits for him down there, only another page in the book of the Twilight Zone.
Starring two-time Oscar nominee Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Batman’s Penguin) as Henry Bemis. Directed by John Brahm and Written by Rod Serling, but based on a six-page short story of the same name by Lynn Venable. The story appeared in the January, 1953, issue of the If magazine. In Lynn’s version of Time Enough at Last, a bookworm by the name of Henry Bemis survives a nuclear blast only to found himself without glasses.
2) “To Serve Man”
Season 3, Episode 24
To Serve Man, The Twilight Zone
Respectfully submitted for your perusal – a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment, we’re going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone.
A race of aliens called the “Kanamit” arrive earth bringing a pace offer: they wish to aid mankind in every possible way by sharing their superior technology. Within a short span of time, the Kanamit end famine, provide a planetary defensive force field and supply a cost-effective power source to all the nations of the world. Their peaceful intentions are supported by a book the Kanamit left behind at one of their meetings in the United Nations. Once translated, the book title reads To Serve Man.
Written by Rod Serling. Starring Lloyd Bochner as Chambers, Richard Kiel as Kanamit and Susan Cummings as Pat. Directed by Richard L. Bare. The story was adapted by Serling from a story by Damn Knight by the same name. To Serve Man became an instant classic for its plot twist and a cult classic that follows the show’s reputation to this day.
About the story, Damon Knight said: “To Serve Man was written in 1950, when I was living in Greenwhich Village and my unhappy first marriage was breaking up. I wrote it in one afternoon, while my wife was out with another man”.
One of the things Rod Serling changed from Damon’s script was the way the aliens looked. In Damon’s story, the Kanamit resemble pigs. Rod Serling instead went for a more sci-fi look, dressing the tall aliens in large robes so they could bring angels to mind. Richard Kiel (Jaws, from James Bond movies) ended up being perfect for the role.
There have been some rumors about the name given to the aliens, but “Kanamit”, contrary to popular belief, never was thought as a pun on ‘cannibal’ (or at least that’s what Damond said).
1) “Walking Distance”
Season 1, Episode 5
Walking Ddistance Twilight Zone
Martin Sloan, age thirty-six. Occupation: vice-president, ad agency, in charge of media. This is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan. He perhaps doesn’t know it at the time, but it’s an exodus. Somewhere up the road he’s looking for sanity. And somewhere up the road, he’ll find something else.
Walking Distance might be the highest rated episode in the entire history of the TV series. While driving his car in the countryside, Martin Sloan, a modern corporate executive, stops to have his car serviced at a gas station near the hometown of his youth. While waiting for the mechanic to fix it Martin decides to take a stroll to kill some time and visit the old neighborhood, see how things changed since he left.
Only they didn’t.
After walking into town, ordering some ice cream and going to the town’s square, Martin will realize he inadvertently traveled back in time to his own childhood.
Starring Gig Young as Martin Sloan, written by Rod Serling and directed by Robert Stevens. About how Walking Distance was born, Rod told Kay Gardella of the New York Daily back in 1959: “I was walking on a set at the MGM when I was suddenly hit by the similarity of it to my home town. Feeling an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, it struck me that all of us have a deep longing to go back–not to our home as it is today, but as we remember it. It was from this simple incident that I wrote the story.
Ronnie Howard (Happy Days) was cast as a neighborhood child. The houses we see on the set were originally built on MGM’s Lot 3 for the movie Meet me in St Louis. The carousel was rented and set up on a backlot park. This is perhaps the most “Bradburyesque” script by Rod Serling, who definitely found himself more comfortable writing with a more dark and realistic style (_Velvet Alley, Where is everybody, The Lonely). In Walking Distance, Rod Serling dips his toe into fantasy and does it masterfully.
The cast was one of the best (Gig Young is simply brilliant in this one), the director was a class act as well and the production, for some screwy reason, didn’t have any major problems–which all lead to one of the most remembered and discussed episodes of the series. It shows what speculative fiction can be when treated with respect and not as simple “cheap entertainment”.
# BONUS EPISODE
We know, we know. We only said five of them: but the original Twilight Zone series hosted by Rod Serling was a bomb, really. Writers such as Richard Matheson (“I Am Legend”, “The Shrinking Man”, “Button, Button”), Ambrose Bierce (“One of the Missing”), Jerome Bixby (Star Trek “Mirror, Mirror”, “The Man from Earth”), Damon Knight (“Masks”, “To Serve Man”) and even Ray Bradbury (“I Sing the Body Electric”), besides the ones Rod himself wrote (“The Howling Man”), are some of the best science fiction stories of all times.
With that in mind, here is one episode that didn’t make it into the list, but it really should have.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
Season 5, Episode 3
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet Twilight Zone
Portrait of a frightened man: Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father, and salesman on sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home—the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson’s flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he’s traveling all the way to his appointed destination, which, contrary to Mr. Wilson’s plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.
There are a lot of iconic episodes in the Twilight Zone, but Nightmare at 20,000 Feet makes it for the most memorable one (and well deservedly so). In the middle of a lightning storm, passenger Bob Wilson spots a gremlin ripping up one of the wings of the plane he travels on with his wife. He struggles to convince, first everyone else that there is a sort of animal trying to destroy the plane, then himself that he’s hallucinating due to his fear of flying, Bob Wilson will fight a battle with his own fear at 20,000 Feet, in the Twilight Zone.
Starring William Shatner (Captain Kirk, Star Trek the Original Series) as Bob Wilson, with Christine White as Ruth Wilson and Nick Cravat as the Gremlin. Written by Richard Matheson and based on one of his short stories of the same name originally published in the anthology Alone by Night (Ballantine, 1961) and included in Matheson’s Shock III (Dell, 1966).
About the greminlin (which was a man with a plastic mask on a stock flurry suit) Matheson said: “I was not pleased to say the least. You know, I was actually hoping for them to use the man who was inside the gorilla suit. (Nick Craver) Oh man, he looked exactly as I described the man on the wing of the plane: all they had to do was use him!"
The episode was a sudden success, mostly due to Shatner’s impeccable portrait of the character: a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
Rod Serling tells a cute story about the whole thing:
“Matheson and I were going to fly to San Francisco. It was like four weeks after the show was on the air. I had spent around three weeks in constant daily communication with Western Airlines preparing a given seat for him, having the stewardess close the curtains when he sat down, and I was going to say, “Dick, open it up”. I had this huge, blownup poster stuck on the outside of the window, so that when he opened it there would be this gremlin staring at him. So what happened was we get on the plane, there was the seat, he sits down, the curtains are closed, I lean over and I say “Dick–” at which point they start the engines and it blows the thing away. It was an old prop airplane… He never saw it. And I had spent hours in the planning of it. I would lie in bed thinking how we could do this.”
After hearing Rod Serling unsuccessful prank on Richard Matheson, we couldn’t help but prank the readers of The Free Bundle in the same spirit.
One last note: did you ever noticed that strange triangle airline planes have on the seat near the wing?
Stewardesses and crew members use that symbol for several reasons (such as to mark the best spot to check for ice on the wings or other problems), but did you know that the mysterious triangle gets nicknamed, to this day, as the “Shatner seat”?
Something to keep in mind the next time you choose your seat on a plane.