Rod Serling's series "The Twilight Zone" stands alone that way, though many have tried to imitate its existential impact in the 51 years since its debut. We all think we know what this half-hour anthology show is about - creepy, compact stories of aliens and unnatural happenings, fantasy turned feverish, twist endings and pointed irony. So we're lucky that Syfy mounts occasional marathons of Serling's show to remind us this is far from some superfluous spookfest.
WHY IT'S CLASSIC: "The Twilight Zone" is about ideas, and their power. It's about the way our minds work, and the intensity of emotions, assumptions and suspicions. As Serling's voice-over intro conveys, "This is the dimension of imagination."
Not everybody "gets it," but it's there, in allegories about rash judgments, searches for scapegoats, demonizing the unknown and lapsing into the mob mentality. People set themselves up as arbiters of beauty (tomorrow's 7 p.m. "Eye of the Beholder") or security (tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"), only to learn how deceptive or dangerous their judgment - our judgment - can be.
If Serling's "Twilight Zone" episodes still scare us, it's because his are cautionary tales not about aliens or monsters, but about our own behavior: The monsters are us. These tight little half-hours remain not just emotionally but cerebrally provocative.
They truly are writer's tales, which is why, more than his hosting duties, we remember Serling's name 35 years after his death in 1975 at age 50. It's for his incisive allegory and signature twists, where getting exactly what you wish for turns out to be the biggest nightmare of all. Serling's directness and clarity have never been matched, which is why these plain black-and-white tales continue to cast a spell over viewers three generations later.
Best marathon episodes in prime time
Syfy's marathon has scheduled some of the 1959-65 series' best episodes in prime time:
7 p.m. - "Eye of the Beholder"
7:30 p.m. - "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
(8-10 p.m. - WWE Smackdown)
10 p.m. - "The Hitch-Hiker"
10:30 p.m. - "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
7 p.m. - "The Invaders"
7:30 p.m. - "Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
8 p.m. - "The Odyssey of Flight 33"
8:30 p.m. - "Where Is Everybody?" (series premiere episode)
9 p.m. - "To Serve Man"
9:30 p.m. - "Time Enough at Last"
10 p.m. - "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
10:30 p.m. - " Living Doll"
For the complete lineup, visit syfy.com/schedule.