Twilight Zone Day | What is the Best Episode?
May 11th is generally accepted to be Twilight Zone Day, and fans of the show take this opportunity to watch old episodes of TV show, discuss their moral implications, and compare just how unpredictable the “twists” really were. In most cases, you’ll find, the twists hold up. Indeed, The Twilight Zone holds up remarkably well for a show that, in 2016, will be 57 years old. Its legacy lives on in spinoffs, that movie, radio productions, stage productions, a Disney theme park attraction, an upcoming interactive experience, and a pretty excellent pinball machine.
No one has been able to track down the mysterious origins of Twilight Zone Day, as this date does not coincide with Rod Serling’s birthday (Christmas Day), or the original airdates of any of the TV shows (the 1959 series debuted on October 2nd, the 1985 revival on September 27th, and the 2002 revival on September 18th). Perhaps a big twist will be revealed someday explaining why this, of all days, is considered a National Holiday.
Not that we need an excuse to celebrate The Twilight Zone. It is, without hyperbole, one of the best of all television shows, and forever changed the was audiences think about science fiction. Sci-fi is more than mere fantasy scenarios wherein fantasy creatures live on far-off planets. Sci-fi is a venue for deep morality tales, frequently using speculative timelines and technologies to explore the human condition. Not every episode of Rod Serling’s classic show (available on Netflix, by the by) was a winner, but even the bad episodes had something to say.
But what is the best episode? This has been a matter of debate among critics and audiences for many years. And while we here at Crave may not be the foremost authorities on the matter, we gather to consider where the apex of the series may have lied.
Possibility #1: Eye of the Beholder
Conventional wisdom often dictates that Eye of the Beholder (original airdate, November 11th, 1960) is the best episode of the show. The episode is constructed mostly of closeups of a young woman as she recuperates from cosmetic surgery. Her face is covered in bandages. There is talk of how her face needed to be corrected, and how she looks forward to looking normal again. The big twist, as we all know, undoes what sort of beauty she seeks. It’s a clever visual twist, and a little bit of a mind-blower
Possibility #2: Time Enough At Last
This was an early episode, having aired on November 20th, 1959. A lonesome bookworm played by Burgess Meredith often retires to the basement on his lunch break in order to read and be generally antisocial. His ultimate dream would be enough time to read all the books he’s ever wanted to. The The Bomb falls, wiping out humanity, but leaving the libraries alone. There is time enough at last. And then his glasses break. “That’s not fair,” he mumbles quietly. This is a twist for the ages.
Possibility #3: A World of Difference
Just today, via Yahoo, writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Crave interview subject) explained that the first season episode A World of Difference (airdate March 11th, 1960) is his very favorite. In it, a businessman is told, in no uncertain terms, that he is in fact an actor who is only playing the part of a businessman. The main character, however, is uncertain which of these realities is a reality. Any TV show to address itself as a TV show is going to be worth noting, although it certainly helps that this one is so good.
Possibility #4: Walking Distance
This episode (original airdate October 30th, 1959) is, I feel, not mentioned enough when it comes to the true morality tales to come out of the The Twilight Zone. In it, an adult man finds himself walking toward his old hometown, flooded by nostalgia. When he arrives, he finds that he’s perhaps traveled back in time 20 years, and he can now encounter his younger self. The encounters with his childhood self, however, results in injury. Eventually, he is confronted by his father, who still has some fatherly advice about not wallowing in the past. It’s a stirring warning against nostalgia, and a deeply emotional tale.
Possibility #5: To Serve Man
The original airdate was March 2nd, 1962. It’s a cookbook, of course. Although, often overlooked in this episode is the excellent acting from the main alien figure, played by Richard Kiel. His blank expression, as well and his evil smirk at the end, always rattled my bones.
What’s your favorite? Nightmare at 20,000 Feet? Shadow Play? The Midnight Sun? The After Hours? Where Is Everybody?? The Masks? The Invaders? There are too many to choose from, really, and finding a definitive answer may prove to be eternally elusive. Luckily for us, seeking an answer is more fun than coming to a conclusion.
Top Image: CBS
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.