#2. Syndicated Television Sure Doesn't Show a Lot of the Coolest Episodes
I did the majority of my Twilight Zone watching before I even hit puberty, relying on whatever local TV would play during the afternoons or in Fourth of July marathons. And though I was deeply affected by many of the episodes that stood up to repeated viewings, I was always distressed by the fact that I'd see the same 20 or so episodes over and over. There's that one with Shatner on the plane, the one where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses and can't realize his lifelong goal of reading during a nuclear holocaust, the one where the alien treatise for humanity, "To Serve Man," turns out to be a cookbook and about a dozen more (some referenced above) that they'd show over and over. But watching them one by one on Netflix, I'm seeing more obscure episodes that never seemed to make it into heavy rotation.
Like the one about the sad, sexy lesbians. (not an actual episode)
There's two great ones from Charles Beaumont: "The Howling Man," where a religious order has trapped the devil, and "Number 12 Looks Just Like You," an indictment of plastic surgery imagining a future society where everyone looks the same and perfect. And then there's a Serling one I absolutely never saw: "Deaths-Head Revisited" (the title is pretty much the only bad thing I have to say about Rod Serling).
This episode takes place 20 years after World War II and features a former high-ranking SS captain from Dachau returning from self-imposed exile. He misses the thrill that comes from inflicting unspeakable suffering, and he decides to visit the still-standing concentration camp. Early in the episode, one German citizen remarks that she wishes they'd tear the camp down. Upon his visit, however, he is greeted by the ghosts of those he tortured and killed. These ghosts sentence him to psychologically experience all the suffering he's inflicted. It is one of the darkest things I've ever seen on television. And it gave a starker portrayal of a camp than anything you'll find in Life Is Beautiful or Schindler's List. Only decades earlier. And on TV.
Here, the guard pulls back the sleeve of a prisoner (who has gone without food or water for five days) so he can address him by number before kicking him in the stomach. Television. 1960.
The epilogue then explains that as horrific as these death shrines are, they must remain standing as a testament to unbridled evil. So I can understand why my local television station didn't want to bum everyone out on Fourth of July weekend with episodes like this, but, there was no story Serling couldn't write, and now it's easier than ever to see them all.
#1. Everyone in The Twilight Zone Looks Like Hell
Rewatching all the old episodes as an adult, I noticed something even creepier than any of The Twilight Zone plots. In addition to dealing with karmic player pianos and evil dolls and monsters on the wings of airplanes, Twilight Zone main characters are also contending with another problem: They're aging at an inhuman rate.
For example, how old would you say these men are?
If your answer is "Not a day over 36!" then you are batshit insane and/or Rod Serling. Yes, apparently all of these characters are supposed to be 36. The narration tells us explicitly that characters 1-3 are 36, whereas character 4 is brooding over a "high school incident 20 years later," so that would make him roughly about ... 36.
I never noticed how many Twilight Zone main characters were in their mid-30s when I was a kid because then 36 and 56 were practically the same to me, but holy shit, are you kidding me? These dudes are nowhere near mid-30s. They could all play my dad. Right now. Men in their 30s are supposed to look like this:
And I don't just mean incredibly sexy, like some of your older, most beloved Cracked writers. I just mean not wrinkled and withered to hell.
At first, I was scared. Was I kidding myself? Did I really look like this? But no. After my daily regimen of flirting with myself in the mirror for 30 straight minutes, I was confident that these gentlemen did indeed look much older.
Then my next theory: These boys were actors in the rough and tumble late '50s and early '60s. These were Mad Men men. Smoking and drinking. This is what having steaks and Scotch for dinner every night does to you. But then it occurred to me that I could test that theory by looking up the ages of the actors. And here they are:
1. "Walking Distance" starring Gig Young, age 46
2. "The Four of Us Are Dying" starring Harry Townes, age 46
3. "A Stop at Willoughby" starring James Daly, age 42
4. "One More Pallbearer" starring Joseph Wiseman, age 44
So it wasn't my imagination. These dudes were far too old for these roles. So why was Rod Serling casting actors often 10 years older than the parts he wrote for them?
Well, maybe it's because Rod Serling was 35 to 40 during the five years The Twilight Zone was on the air. And although a fit, former featherweight boxer, it's fair to say no one had proofed him for beer since he was about 9.
What I'm saying is, although Rod Serling was a genius responsible for one of the most important shows ever on television, he kinda looked like hell. I mean not for a 50-year-old man, but, y'know, for 36. Too far-fetched a theory? That a man unhappy with himself would manifest a world where everyone in their mid-30s looked a decade too old? Stranger things have happened ... in The Twilight Zone.
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