Every Indepenence Day and New Year’s weekend, the Syfy Channel runs a’Twilight Zone’ marathon, so I thought I’d share my 10 favorite episodes.
You can check Syfy’s schedule here; I’m not certain that all of the episodes on my list will necessarily air on theirs.
But Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone is also available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Netflix, so you can catch these anytime.
So here are my picks:
1. “A Stop at Willoughby”
Perhaps I should be frightened by how much this episode spoke to me the first time I saw it. The story focuses on an ad executive who is being crushed by the pressures of work and the pretense expected by his overly-sophisticated wife. On his commute home, he dreams about an old-time village from years gone by, the kind of place where one could “live life full measure.” The name of the town, he learns, is Willoughby. He manages to set foot in Willoughby, but that moment brings the episode to a macabre end.
2. “Walking Distance”
Okay, I’m now convinced I should be concerned given that this episode, my second-most favorite, has some striking similarities to the first, except for the fact that this time around, the lead character suffers a happy ending. In this one, another ad executive facing too many pressures and too few chances to relex finds himself in his hometown as it looked 30 years ago, and winds up trying to send an important message to his younger self.
3. “To Serve Man”
There’s something automatically terrifying about the thought of aliens landing on earth. In this scenario, however, the aliens come not with laser weapons to blast us all away, but rather what seem to be the best of intentions to help us live in peace and harmony. So what’s their true angle? By the time it’s figured out, it’s a bit too late.
4. “Time Enough at Last”
This is probably one of the most famous episodes of the series because of the evil twist at the very end of the show. Burgess Meredith plays the bookish little bank teller who loves to read more than anything else but is conspired against by a world that won’t give him the time to enjoy a good book. Just when he thinks there’s no hope, he finds himself in the perfect scenario…until….
5. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
A group of bus passengers stranded by a snow storm that’s threatening a nearby bridge wind up in a diner near the area where a UFO was spotted. Highway troopers have to figure out which one of the diner’s customers wasn’t really on the bus. It’s an entertaining little tale with a second, unanticipated extraterrestrial at the end.
An exotic dancer is hospitalized for exhaustion and is haunted by a dream in which she follows a mysterious woman to a morgue where she’s told there’s “room for one more.” Convinced the dreams are merely stress, her doctor releases her and she comes face to face with the woman in her dream who gives her the same message…but not outside a morgue. This was one of six episodes shot on videotape rather than film in an effort to save money, so the special effects are a bit primitive by today’s standards, until you realize what the production staff was up against with those old bulky television cameras of the time.
7. “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”
Aliens watch as a group of neighbors go from friends to suspicious enemies over a report of a UFO and the fear that one of them isn’t who he or she pretends to be. The message of the story is certainly true: at times we can be our own worst enemy.
8. “The Odyssey of Flight 33”
Everyone fears an emergency mid-flight. Most, however, don’t expect to look out the airplane’s windows and see dinosaurs walking where their city used to be. (Or should that say, “where their city one day will be”?) But that’s not how this terrifying ride ends.
9. “Ring-a-Ding Girl”
A Hollywood starlet escapes the pressures of her demanding film schedule just long enough to make a surprise visit to her hometown where she feels something may be critically wrong. The twist at the end proves her right, though not in the way she would have ever expected.
10. “The After Hours”
This is a clever episode about what happens after hours in a department store. What if mannequins came to life? This store’s mannequins do, much to the terror of a shopper who finds herself trapped in the store after it closes and realizes she’s being stalked.
This list, I should point out, could easily have gone to 20 entries rather than just 10. It’s difficult to pick just 10 from a show that was so well done.