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.