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My biggest concern going into this new Twilight Zone reboot was with the hour-long format of its premiere. The first episode, "The Comedian" (which was available on YouTube for free as a preview of the show to come), was a bit overlong and dragged considerably in the second half. It had made its point by about halfway through, we could all see where the episode was going, and it insisted on going on for another 20 minutes despite not really having anything left to say.

OK, yeah sure, in the past I've complained about shows like Fox's Cosmos reboot being too short. Commercials cutting Niel DeGrasse Tyson's Cosmos reboot to only 45-ish minutes was simply not enough time for Tyson to give more than an elementary overview of the grandeur of nature or science.

However, The Twilight Zone isn't an educational show about "all that is, or ever was, or ever will be"; it's an anthology of science fiction parables and allegories. Parables and allegories are usually short and simple stories intended to convey a moral or lesson or insight into the human condition. The Twilight Zone doesn't really need a full hour to tell its stories. The twists are easy enough to see coming. This isn't The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club, or American Psycho, or Se7en, or something similar that actually needs a two-hour runtime to build up suspense and intrigue and dot the entire runtime with clues for its twist ending.

The pilot episode "The Comedian" felt over-long.

I was happy to see that episodes later in the first season have variable runtimes. The second episode, "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" (which is actually a totally different story than the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" classic that it is homaging with its title), is under 40 minutes, filled out its runtime better, and enjoyed much tighter overall pacing. The following episode, "Replay", clocked in at 45 minutes, and also enjoyed a much tighter script.

Highs and lows

If you're going to watch any one episode of The Twilight Zone, then "Replay" is probably the one to watch. This episode is basically about being arrested for "driving while black", and deals with the broader problems of police injustice towards black Americans, while also slamming the idea that black victims of police injustice could have avoided tragedy if they had just simply "not done anything suspicious to begin with". It perfectly illustrates what Jordan Peele uniquely brings to the series. When CBS announced that Peele would be headlining a new Twilight Zone reboot, I was excited. Get Out was a phenomenal horror movie. Its undercurrent of racism provided far greater horror than the supernatural twists. Peele has a strong sense for this sort of thing, and that is what I thought made him the perfect choice to run a modern revival of The Twilight Zone.

If you can only watch one episode of The Twilight Zone, it should be "Replay".

Pretty much every episode has some element of racism, bigotry, or other social injustice either highlighted by the main plot, or broiling just under the surface. "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" features a protagonist who almost exclusively harasses non-whites or foreigners on the flight, while implicitly trusting the one white, English-speaking character he interacts with, even though that white American ends up being the one actual terrorist in the group. The next episode, "A Traveler", features an Inuit protagonist who is frustrated by her white boss forcing Christmas festivities down the throats of all his employees, while her own culture and traditions are marginalized or ignored.

Other episodes have more subtle social justice messages sprinkled throughout.

The rubber band snaps too far

Unfortunately, the social justice messaging of the show has also been an occasional Achilles heel. Several of these episodes feel too blunt, or the message goes a bit too far, or the twist actually does more harm than good.

Perhaps the best example of this is the seventh episode, titled "Not All Men". This episode is about toxic masculinity, and features motifs of date rape, affirmative consent, and domestic abuse, and it was shaping up to be my favorite episode of the series up until it's last-minute twist. The plot is that a shower of meteors pollutes the water of a small town, and causes the men to all become overly-aggressive and horny. The entire town erupts into chaos as the afflicted men are sent into a bloody rage by the slightest offense -- including by women who reject their forceful sexual advancements and harassments.

The episode was eerie, with an ever-escalating sense of tension and threat from every man that the female protagonists encountered -- starting with harassing micro-aggressions, escalating to man-splaining, and eventually to full-blown Fight Club. It was all working great, up until the completely unnecessary twist ending reveals that the meteorite was a placebo. All the men in the town were using the meteorites as an excuse to act out on the whims that they've had all along. This unnecessary twist might just cross the line into misandry.

I was onboard with "Not All Men" right up until the last-minute twist.

I'm all for women standing up for their reproductive and sexual rights, and calling out rape culture wherever it rears its ugly head. The responsible men need to be held accountable! But that doesn't mean that we have to paint all men as just waiting for an excuse to become murderers and rapists. It might feel that way for women who are victimized, and maybe that's where the writers were trying to go. But that isn't how this story plays out. I (as a man) take exception to the idea that I'm just waiting for any excuse to unleash the Fight Club within me, or that the need to bury such hidden desires is a psychological reality that is unique to and entirely exclusive to men.

This episode, like the duds throughout the season, seems like it could have been easily saved in the editing room with a few changes. The biggest problem that I perceived was the idea that every man (except for two) suddenly and inexplicably fall victim to this placebo effect, but there's no inciting incident that tells them all what the placebo is actually supposed to do. This could have been addressed by adding some kind of news or media report suggesting that the meteorite might have some masculinity-boosting effects. Better yet, perhaps an Alex Jones-like regressive shock jock posts some erroneous YouTube video that goes viral, in which he claims that contact with the meteorite made him feel more macho and confident, and it will surely do the same for you. Maybe Dylan watches this video while Annie is in the bathroom or something, and the attempted date rape ensues.

"Not All Men" could have criticized the internet
sub-culture that promotes toxic masculinity.

Instead of all men simultaneously and inexplicably jumping to the conclusion that the meteorite will make them more manly, there would be an actual inciting incident that would create a public perception of the meteorite promoting masculinity. This would allow some men to start acting out on the wish-fulfillment power fantasies, while the rest of the men who either have no such desire, or who maintain the self-control to not act on such fantasies, remain calm and rational. This would have had the added benefit of criticizing the internet platform that helps to promote much of today's toxic masculinity.

Maybe the writers' intent is that the idea that the meteorite boosts masculinity is spread entirely through "water-cooler talk", starting with Dylan? And maybe the rapid rate at which that water cooler talk spread to every corner of town is supposed to be a metaphor for the internet rapidly spreading such ideas across countries (or the world). If that was the intent, it just didn't quite come through clearly to me or my girlfriend when we watched the episode together. We both thought the twist went off the rails.

"Not All Men" could have been re-framed
as a "be careful what you wish for" story.

Or perhaps the protagonist could have been rewritten as a woman who actually believes in traditional gender roles, thinks she wants a man who is "macho" and dominant, and bemoans the fact that she can't find one because today's men are "too soft". Then this meteor strike happens, and all men are suddenly hyper-caricatures of the traditional masculinity that she thinks she wants. The episode then becomes a classic "be careful what you wish for" narrative that criticizes not only the toxic masculinity itself, but also criticizes the individuals who promote returning to such "traditional" gender roles.

Or just drop the placebo twist and leave everything else (including the final micro-aggression that ends the episode) exactly as it is. The rest of the metaphor works well.

No all-time classics ... yet

As an anthology series with different writers, a different cast, and completely different stories each episode, the individual episodes are going to be very hit-or-miss. And don't get me wrong: there were plenty of duds in the original series too! It's up to the good episodes to carry the dead weight of the occasional flop.

Episode 4, "A Traveler" was perhaps the worst episode of the series for me. It was trying to channel classic episodes like "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?", but it just misses the mark completely.

The best episodes of the original Twilight Zone are so fondly remembered (and still hold up today) because their stories and messages are timeless and universal. This new show, so far, has been very much of this time, with much more specific stories and messages. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that individual episodes aren't as likely to resonate as strongly with as many people. I don't think this new Twilight Zone has really produced its first all-time classic episode yet. It hasn't seen a "Time Enough at Last", or "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street", or "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?", or "Eye of the Beholder" yet. A few episodes have come close. "Replay" and "Blurryman" are right up there, and "Not All Men" would be up there if not for it's awful twist.

The new series has yet to produce a classic on par with the original's best episodes.

In fact, the only episodes that I thought truly felt like vintage Twilight Zone, with a decent twist, were "Nightmare At 30,000 Feet", "Point of Origin", and (despite its un-characteristic breaking of the fourth wall) "Blurryman". "Point of Origin", by the way, might have been my favorite episode of the season for its role-reversal plot and use of social commentary couched in metaphor rather than the more blunt messaging of episodes like "Replay".

Despite my lukewarm feelings on the first season, I am still confident in Jordan Peele as the showrunner and host. Perhaps he needs to have more involvement in the writing room to help solidify his writers' scripts and keep the episodes on point. Or maybe they need to step back and take a closer look at what made the original work so well, and to accept that it's OK to produce the occasional short and simple campfire story. In any case, the first season was very watchable and enjoyable, and I am looking forward to seeing if Peele and CBS can elevate the material in the second season. After all, if the the message of the final episode, "Blurryman", is any indication, the stories that can be told are limited only by imagination, in The Twilight Zone.

"Nightmare At 30,000 Feet" and "Point of Origin" were the most vintage episodes.

CBS feels entitled to your money

Unfortunately, watching this series will require subscribing to and paying for CBS's All-Access streaming service. This service currently has only two original programs (that I'm aware of) -- one of which is Star Trek: Discovery, which thoroughly disappointed me in its first season. When I signed up, the site even had the nerve to ask me if I wanted the regular service with limited ads, or the more expensive service with only a few "promotional interruptions". They're going to charge me, and still make me watch ads?!

On top of the lack of content, I'm not even sure if the service works reliably. Even though I was confident that The Twilight Zone would be good (because I was confident in Jordan Peele), I was so jaded by Discovery that I wanted to watch the show on the free trial before giving CBS a cent. I sat down on Sunday, during the only weekend available to me during the free trial, only to find that the CBS servers were apparently down.

Wait, I'm paying for this service, and you're still going to show me ads?!

So this service has a lack of content, it may make you watch ads despite having paid for the service, it's servers may not reliably work, and CBS expects viewers to pay $10 a month for it?!

To put this into perspective, Netflix and HBO operated their streaming services for years at $10 a month (they are both now $15 a month). Even if you paid for one of those services in order to watch a single show (whether it was Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever), those platforms offered dozens of quality original, exclusive programs. If you were on HBO, and you finished your Game of Thrones binge, you could enjoy popular, critically-acclaimed shows like The Spranos, Westworld, Deadwood, Rome, Band of Brothers, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and more. On the Netflix side of things, you could follow up your Stranger Things binge with Black Mirror, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, Haunting of Hill House, and others. Not to mention the myriad of independent movies and documentaries that are exclusive to the platform. And those are just the shows that I can name off the top of my head! Whether I ever watched them or not. It's enough to actually keep a person entertained for months on end, and is actually worth a monthly fee.

There's just not enough content to make CBS All Access worth a monthly subscription.

With CBS, you can watch two shows, one of which is actually a good show (The Twilight Zone), and the other has mixed-at-best reception (Star Trek: Discovery). Even if you love both, it's still not even a full month's worth of content. Everything else on the platform are shows that you can watch on network television (or reruns on cable networks like TNG, TBS, or FX) for free! And if you have a DVR (which most people with cable probably have), you can watch them on your own schedule, and can skip past ads.

Even if The Twilight Zone had turned out to be the best TV show I'd ever seen, I'm still not sure this service would be worth $2 a month, let alone $10. The whole thing just wreaks of CBS feeling entitled to a slice of the pie that other companies like Netflix and HBO are happily devouring, but without CBS having put in any of the work to earn it.

I'd rather have just paid $5 or $10 to "check out" the entire Twilight Zone series so that I could watch them at my own pace and not have to feel pressured to binge them all before the ticking clock of the first month of paid service expires. You know, more like how Amazon Prime Video works. CBS All-Access is just not worth it. Maybe it will be someday, but definitely not today.

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