SERIES "The Twilight Zone"
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Monday on CBS All Access.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jordan Peele ("Us") is the latest to re-imagine the Rod Serling classic (1959-1964), which he also narrates. Four episodes were offered for review, two of which start streaming Monday. In the first, an investigative reporter (Adam Scott) on a flight to Israel is forewarned about his plane's impending doom while he listens to a mysterious podcast. In the second, a stand-up comic (Kumail Nanjiani) sells out his values — and material — when he learns that his other material can actually make people, including hecklers, disappear. (Tracy Morgan has a cameo.).
In the two later episodes (which will drop on Thursdays): A mom (Sanaa Lathan) taking her son (Damson Idris) to college learns that her old camcorder can rewind time — helpful because both are tailed by an evil cop (Glenn Fleshler); next up, in an episode written by the X-File's Glen Morgan, an Inuit state trooper (Marika Sila) stationed in a remote Alaskan outpost brings her own brother to jail on Christmas Eve so he can be freed by her corrupt boss (Greg Kinnear) who frees an inmate the same time each year. A mysterious stranger (Steven Yeun) appears in a jail cell, too.
MY SAY Not long after the invasion of the Philippine island of Leyte late in the Second World War, Army paratrooper Rod Serling was relaxing under a palm tree with his close friend and fellow soldier Melvin Levy a few feet away. Silently and suddenly, a food crate fell from the sky and onto Levy who was decapitated.
This is a famous story, suffice it to say horrifying, and well known to Serling fans who understandably interpret it as formative. Wracked with PTSD, driven by fury and boundless creativity, he would go on to establish TV's purest expression of paranoia to that point or since. That "The Twilight Zone" arrived and thrived at a moment in American history when Armageddon seemed just around the corner, or down Maple Street, added to both its legend and meaning.
Who in their right mind would want to reboot this? Who possibly could?
As the other half of brilliant comedy team Key and Peele, this latest aspirant would have seemed a long shot a few years ago. Then came "Get Out," followed by his Oscar, and most recently the smash hit "Us." Success like this has a way of focusing both attention and respect. Peele has certainly earned both.
But "Twilight Zone?"
Here's where Peele could have gone wrong: Update this as just one more horror series with some nice special effects and few touches to establish the 2019 setting. Instead, here's where he went right: By embracing the true spirit of "Zone" then applying his own worldview to that, he's made this version ineradicably his own, just as the original classic was ineradicably Serling's.
The episodes launching Monday are the most obvious incarnations of the original, and Serling could have almost written these himself, in a sense almost did (the first is an adaptation of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which aired Oct. 11, 1963.)
But over the next couple of weeks, Peele forces the viewer — much as Serling did — to absorb someone else's reality. How might you feel if you were a black mother taking her son to college, while at every turn and twist of the road, or rewind of the camcorder, the same sadistic cop arrives to complete the nightmare? Serling believed in a world where food crates could drop out of the sky. Peele clearly does too, but the food crate here is a brutal cop, and the political framework is Black Lives Matter.
The next episode explores the consequences of cultural effacement and self-effacement, while wondering: What happens when the myth you sold out to becomes the lie that will condemn you?
Don't be too surprised at an answer that is both inevitable and unforgiving. But with these two, Peele locates that Serlingesque disconnect of the world as we'd like it to be and the world as it really is. The latter is scary enough.
BOTTOM LINE Fine reboot that gets better in two later episodes.