The Twilight Zone’s second season is far from perfect — but it’s promising
The Twilight Zone still hasn't fully realized its potential — but it may be heading in the right direction.
Jordan Peele as the executive producer and host of a Twilight Zone revival seemed like a slam dunk idea, but the reboot from CBS All Access stumbled in its first season, failing to live up to the weighty expectations that come with its title. The fundamentals were all there, though, so there was an opportunity for the show to course correct. Did it?
The Twilight Zone's second season is not quite as dramatic a makeover as needed. But it offers a more successful collection of stories overall and is indeed a noticeable improvement on the first.
With The Twilight Zone's first season, virtually anyone who watched seemed to identify the same problem: the episodes were simply too long. The brevity of Rod Serling's original series remains a major part of its appeal, but the reboot took premises so simple that Serling could have tackled them in 25 minutes and proceeded to needlessly stretch them out to the point that viewers inevitably lost interest. After all the complaints about this, surely The Twilight Zone would revert to the half-hour format for season two. Right?
Well, not entirely. The good news is that — hallelujah — four episodes in season two are in the half-hour range. That's a start. But the bad news is that the other six are all still about 40 minutes or more, and several once again have trouble sustaining the length. Take, for instance "The Who of You," a fun outing in which an actor begins swapping bodies with those he locks eyes with. It's an intriguing idea, but once we get to the third or fourth swap and essentially the exact same scenario continuously plays out, it starts growing repetitive. Another episode, "Try, Try," feels ideal for 25 minutes given its scaled-back approach: it's a conversation-driven story following just two characters in real time. But instead it's 42 minutes, and it ends up dragging a bit with a fair amount of unnecessary dialogue.
On the other hand, a story like "Downtime" might not be the series' strongest in the ideas department, but at 32 minutes, it doesn't offer much more than is absolutely necessary. The breezy pace is refreshing, so why is this not the series' new normal?
The first season also ran into some issues with heavy-handed writing. The Twilight Zone should absolutely tackle hot-button issues in keeping with Serling's legacy of social commentary, but the execution was often far too on the nose; multiple episodes featured a line to the effect of, "Boy, have you seen the news these days?" Season two, thankfully, backs away from such blunt commentary. But that's not to say it doesn't still have some occasional writing that spells things out too much. Just look at "A Human Face," a chilling story and among the strongest episodes of the season, but one that still can't avoid knocking us over the head with an overload of exposition and dialogue outlining motivations and theme.
One of the other key issues with season one was its inability to nail the endings, something Serling was so famously adept at. The season again makes improvements in this regard, as the premiere, "Meet in the Middle," feels built entirely around a final minute that pulls a genuinely effective swerve and retroactively makes some key issues with the story fade away. The same goes for "Among the Untrodden," another draggy episode that initially seems like it doesn't have much to add to the vast genre of stories about teens with superpowers — until a last-minute twist elevates it. Again, though, a few other stories don't seem to know where to go after presenting a clever hook.
If there's one other key issue with season two of The Twilight Zone, it's that a number of the episodes focus on fairly well-worn ideas; expect to think to yourself "didn't they cover this on Black Mirror?" more than once. And the less said about "8," a relentlessly silly episode that's literally about an evil octopus and is reminiscent of a SyFy original movie, the better.
The Twilight Zone's second season certainly has plenty of highlights, though, and while no episode is without its flaws, none is as actively unenjoyable as some of the first season's worst misses.
How can The Twilight Zone become something better going forward? Cutting down on the running times would once again be an easy start, or offering multiple short stories in each episode like the 1980s reboot. Perhaps a singular creative force at the helm would also help. Serling himself, after all, wrote a significant portion of The Twilight Zone's original run, but Peele, despite serving as host and producer, has so far written just one episode. Given his immense talent as a filmmaker, one can't help but wonder what this series could be were he to exert the amount of control that Serling did.
Maybe then, we could have the Twilight Zone reboot so many hoped for: one that consistently delivers tight, thought-provoking stories in a time when TV episodes generally overstay their welcome. We may not get this truly ideal version, but with the improvements there in season two, fans can hold out hope that the series might finally be on the verge of greatness.
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