The Twilight Zone Through the Eyes of Jordan Peele

The idea of being able to watch The Twilight Zone as if one were seeing it for the first time is very compelling. Hearing only two or three bars of  Marius Constant’s chilling theme (actually two different compositions he wrote mixed together) triggers a Pavlovian response that floods my mind with mystery, fantasy and the macabre. To this day, whenever I hear Rod Serling’s monotone voice the hair on my arms still stands up.

I was a young boy when I first discovered the original Twilight Zone and it made quite an impression on me. Serling made all the difference. First, it was what Serling said, then how he said it. Then his appearance.. The trim suit, a trail of smoke from a cigarette seemingly attached to his fingers, and of course, the manner in which he nonchalantly appeared on the set as if he was introducing a nursery rhyme. He was always with us on these short and troubling journeys, but somehow it made no impact on him.

Rod Serling in one of his trademark introductions

The latest Twilight Zone reboot has the formidable Jordan Peele (also an executive producer) doing the introduction and closing orations. He tries hard to not just stand in for Mr. Serling, likely realizing he was walking into a cultural land mine. The result is not as impactful, but Mr. Peele is straight ahead; no nonsense. His use of props from the episode (Samir’s notebook and bar glass) are an excellent, bringing him and us closer to the character. At the writing of this post there have been only two episodes released; The Comedian and Nightmare at 30,000 Feet. Of the two I preferred The Comedian. It gave me hope this project has a chance to live up to it’s lofty aspirations.

The new episodes, thanks to streaming, run almost twice as long as the original series installments and can vary to match the story. The budget CBS has bestowed on the producers is rich and can be seen on screen. The original TZ budgets were around $70,000 per episode and the actors were seldom allowed more than one take to save money. In this reboot everything feels handmade and bespoke in a way a feature film would be produced. Sets, costumes, cast, music, along with top shelf production values make these very watchable. Of course these are in color.

In behind-the-scene clips the actors and filmmakers describe their personal connection to the original series and it’s clear that passion was brought on set.

The Comedian is the story of Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani) trying to get his stand-up career off the ground. It’s obvious he’s not a fit for the job. After bombing on stage he contemplates his future and finds himself sitting next to the premier comedy talent of the time, J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan). He asks for advice. His first mistake. His second mistake is taking it.

The results are immediate and strict which makes most of the story elements predictable even before Mr. Peele’s introduction. We know what’s happening, we just don’t know how it will hit Samir. This is where the beauty of the cinematography and lighting take over as uncredited stars. It’s gorgeous to look at and listen to.

Jordan Peele introducing Episode 1, The Comedian

Mr. Peele’s style fits nicely with Mr. Serling’s proclivity to entangle the audience, and main character, bit by consuming bit until everyone is up their eyeballs in peril. Lots of homages to the original work throughout.

Episodes air only on CBS All Access which is free, unless you want commercials.

A Great Online Experience is like The Twilight Zone

Updated: February 8, 2009

5 years, 156 episodes

The classic 30 minute television drama is all but extinct, having given way to reality shows and various forms of forensics and autopsy programs. Thanks to

Me TV and Nick at Nite numerous classic (and not so classic) shows still live. There is one show from television past that has a unique brand, The Twilight Zone. A full 40 years after it first aired, the mere mention of its name takes everyone almost universally to the same place; ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. A dimension where things are just a little bit askew. The thought of TZ might even elicit chills. It’s one of the few programs that has sustained life outside the cathode ray tube. Rod Serling was the mastermind and creative genius behind that groundbreaking show and attracted a who’s who of actors and technical talent. Everyone wanted to work with Mr. Serling and be part of the creation of this new and exciting form of television.

So, how is The Twilight Zone like a great online experience? Many of the attributes that made The Twilight Zone so successful eerily overlap with the very best web experiences. Both:

  • Are easily accessible to a broad audience
  • Present a fresh, unique approach
  • Provide a consistent experience
  • Contain highly engaging content
  • Have the power to surprise
  • Capitalize on teachable moments
  • Are highly memorable
  • Transform skeptics into loyal fans

Which leads me to MCD Partners. I work with Magnani, Caruso and Dutton (New York), an independent interactive agency that places a premium on ideas and a priority on understanding their client’s business objectives and brand value proposition. They are skilled at helping firms craft and execute their digital strategy. I’ve been working with them for over two years now and have not only made a great business partnership, but numerous friendships as well. We work long hours trying to solve the latest problem or design the next generation web site experience. But no matter what the deadline or obstacle, we always try to make it fun.

Speaking of fun, here’s some, at least for me. I revisited those classic Serling episode introductions and altered the copy so I could include members of my MCD account team. Using a cool microphone called the Snowball, I channeled my best Rod Serling imitation in a series of recordings I call The MCD Zone. I know I’m opening up a can of worms here, inviting a response in kind which will be much more polished than my meager creative skills can muster. But that will be even more fun.

So turn up your speakers for The MCD Zone theme. Disclaimer. It’s not really a video.

The cast of characters on my MCD account team is diverse and I highly respect their talent and professionalism. As time permits, I plan on posting more episode introductions with members of my MCD team as the stars. So if you work there you may want to bookmark this page and check back. Who knows, You might be next!

Identity Crisis

Word Traveler

Machine vs. Man


Now I have to say, lest someone think I’m serious, working with MCD is not really like being in the Twilight Zone. No one has aged prematurely or been lost to roam an empty vortex for all time. But we do create some extraordinary online experiences together. Some of them have been positively other worldly. Thanks MCD team for your effort, energy and oh yes, your good sense of humor. It’s a relationship that pushes all of us beyond The Comfort Zone.

Special thanks to Mr. Rod Serling. He’s not dead, he’s just gone ahead.