By Jordan Gerdes
When the announcement was made that Jordan Peele would be rebooting The Twilight Zone, I am not sure any of us knew what to expect. Sure it would be very well done, very well written, and full of subtext, but I don’t think I expected it to be as good as it has turned out.
Premiering today on CBS’s All Access streaming platform, we were gifted the first two episodes this morning, that I quickly devoured. At about an hour a piece, these feel like short films, in terms of cinematography and in content itself.
Starting with The Comedian, we are introduced to Kumail Nanjiani playing a comedian named Samir who, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian J.C. Wheeler (played devilishly by Tracy Morgan), realizes that by opening up about his personal life, the audience tends to laugh more. Wheeler does warn him however, that whatever you give to the audience is no longer yours. In Twilight Zone fashion, Samir opens up about his dog, and his nephew, both of which disappear from his life as if they never existed. While he struggles with this, he tries to find ways to make differences for the good, making a drunk driver go away, but he can’t make everyone disappear, specifically a neo-Nazi he meets on the train, as well as an attempt to get rid of the President himself. While he continues to gain popularity and success as a comedian, he begins to lose more and more, each sacrifice altering his reality bit by bit. I won’t spoil the ending but it is a great start to this Twilight Zone universe.
What we have with The Comedian is an existential look at the price of comedy, fame, and how our aspirations find ways of consuming those around us and ourselves at the same time. There is a phenomenal reference to Kubrick’s The Shining, as Jordan Peele continues to flex his horror foundations in his work. We are left with lingering questions, the stark reality of the decisions made, and the uneasy feeling that something still isn’t right, a trademark feeling of The Twilight Zone.
Following this episode, we are given “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” starring Adam Scott. Taking place 10,000 feet higher than the original “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” from 1963, this is less of a remake and more of a re imagining, retaining the central motif of a passenger who believes the flight is in danger, leading to his increasing distress. Adam Scott’s Justin Sanderson is a journalist suffering from PTSD, taking a flight 1015 to Tel Aviv, departing at 10:15pm on October, 15th. He listens to a podcast to pass the time on the flight, and suddenly realizes it is about the disappearance of Northern Goldstar flight 1015, the flight he is currently on. As he listens, more coincidences continue to pile up, with him investigating just what the hell is happening with the flight. Again, I won’t spoil this one either, as it deviates from the original episode as well.
What I will say is that it is extremely tough to revive a show like this with such a dedicated fanbase and storied history. What is even tougher is to take concepts from that show and remake them in a new image. It is here that Jordan Peele excels, as with most things. By producing and compiling a list of incredible talent, both actors and actresses and directors, you ensure that you will bring top level creation to the table. The writing is stellar, and it falls somewhere around Black Mirror-esque science fiction. And each episode features Jordan Peele’s narration, in terrific homage to Rod Serling. This makes the episode feel so much more like a warning, as the original Twilight Zone was.
Again, these are only the first two episodes, but if the show continues in this vein, putting out high level stories that continue to deal with cultural and societal contexts we see in 2019, then I am on board. Like Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone excelled when it approached the mysterious through the lens of political, societal, and cultural means. The original was awash with fears of “The Other”, of nuclear warfare, and of the rise of technology. I imagine that Peele will use this as a mirror to showcase the growing divide in this country, our crumbling stature in the world theater, and our dependence on technological means in our lives. The Twilight Zone has always mattered because it allows us to critique our own lives through the uncanny lens of a world just a bit more weird than our own. And I have no doubt this will continue under Peele’s watchful guidance.
For now, the first episode is free on Youtube currently, and linked below. The rest will continue to arrive on CBS All Access, which is featuring a 1 week trial currently. Check it out. It is worth it.