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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S3E35: "I Sing the Body Electric"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 3 E 100 I Sing The Body Electric

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Your very own robot Mary Poppins.

Rod Serling: They make a fairly convincing pitch here. It doesn't seem possible, though, to find a woman who must be ten times better than mother in order to seem half as good, except, of course, in the Twilight Zone.

Air date: May 18, 1962

Sometime after his wife's funeral, the widowed George Rogers (David White) is being hectored by the nosy Aunt Nedra for the behavior of his three children, Karen, Tom, and Anne (a young Veronica Cartwright). After explaining that the children need a mother and heavily implying that she plans on either taking them to live with her or even put them in foster care, George shoos Nedra out the door. Taking Nedra's words into consideration, the widowed father knows that while he can provide them with a roof over their heads and plenty of material comfort, there are some things he can't provide for the kids, especially since he's in no hurry to remarry. Luckily, Tom points out an advertisement in a science magazine for Facsimile Ltd., a peculiar company that may be the answer to his dad's prayers.

When he heads over to the company's address, George and the children find that Facsimile Ltd. constructs tailor-made android grandmothers for families in need of guidance and affection, complete with a lifetime warranty and full-satisfaction guarantee. He allows the children to make their own suggestions as to how their new grandmother should look, sound, and act, and as soon as they're satisifed, George makes the purchase and takes the finished android home. "Grandma" (Josephine Hutchinson) turns out to be everything a person could want in a grandmother, always willing to play with the kids, an amazing cook, and sweet and nuturing to everyone around her.

While George and two of his kids are quickly won over, Anne is still wary of having an artificial family member. She refuses to go near Grandma, calling her a soulless machine and running away from home. Grandma, more saddened than hurt, promptly goes after Anne in the hopes of bringing her home. Anne runs out into the street and into the path of a speeding truck. Grandma shoves her to safety at the last second, leaving herself to take the impact. Anne breaks down weeping, ashamed of what she's done. Fortunately, Grandma reboots herself in and gets right back up, saying that she's quite hard to destroy.

As Anne's father and siblings arrive on the scene, relieved to find both of them safe, Grandma explains to them that the poor girl isn't inherently cruel, only saddened and afraid after the death of her mother, lashing out because she felt that her mother abandoned her by "leaving". Grandma assures Anne that she's not going anywhere and helps her understand that her mother would never purposefully abandon her or her family. Grandma also pulls George aside and realizes why she was brought in: George also lost his mother while young, and similarly never forgave her for leaving, so he needs her as much as the kids do. With that, Grandma and Anne challenge the others to a race back home, to which the other kids and George eagerly accept. Over a montage, we see Grandma spend more and more time with the children, teaching them about the ways of the world and showering them with unending love.

Rod Serling: As of this moment, the wonderful electric grandmother moved into the lives of children and father. She became integral and important. She became the essence. As of this moment, they would never see lightning, never hear poetry read, never listen to foreign tongues without thinking of her. Everything they would ever see, hear, taste, feel would remind them of her. She was all life, and all life was wondrous, quick, electrical – like Grandma.

One Time Skip later, the children are all grown up ready to head off to college. Unfortunately, this means it's time for Grandma to move on. The kids are upset at the news, fearing that she'll be heading back to Facsimile Ltd. to be taken apart. She assures them that her body might be inactive for a time while she's being rebuilt, but her mind will be uploaded into a room with hundreds of other Grandmas just like her, and they'll all share the adventures and stories they've had with their respective families until it's time for her to be sent off to another family in need. With that, the children bid Grandma goodbye, thanking her for a most wondrous childhood.

The teleplay (and a short story adaptation) was written by Ray Bradbury, and was later remade as an NBC Made for TV movie called The Electric Grandmother.

I Sing the Tropes Electric:

  • Artificial Family Member: George purchases a robotic grandmother for his children from Facsimile Ltd. and she's everything they needed to heal from their mother's death.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Grandma is the maternal android's name, job description, and directive. She means absolutely no harm to the children, despite Anne's suspicions.
  • Bittersweet Ending: It's far more sweet than bitter. The children are all grown up, well-adjusted, and ready to go into adulthood, but Grandma is going back to Facsimile Ltd.'s factory. Fortunately, it'll only be until she's sent off to another family who will receive her loving care and attention.
  • Brain Uploading: Grandma notes that her mind will be stored in a room with all sorts of other Grandmas once she goes back to the factory, where they'll share stories of their adventures.
  • Breather Episode: The episode is sweet, affectionate, and ends on an unambiguously happy note. It's something meant to allows viewers to just sit back and enjoy a simple story about a robot grandma who loves her charges.
  • But Now I Must Go: When the kids are all grown up in the end, Grandma says she has to go back to the factory, where she'll be rebuilt and sent to another family who needs affection.
  • Do Androids Dream?: Grandma may be an artificial Parental Substitute, but she can feel sadness and emotional pain. She can also display firmness and be a Mama Bear if the occasion calls for it. Yet, she's also matter-of-fact about how she can't stay with any one family forever, since Facsimile Ltd. doesn't apparently ask for her opinion about if she wants to stay.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: A rare heroic example. After Grandma gets hit by a truck to save Anne's life, she lies prone in the road for a few minutes. The fingers of her right hand twitch one by one and she gets right back up, none the worse for wear.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Anne spends the episode stuck in Anger, feeling that her mother abandoned her and wanting someone to blame for her death. She takes it out on Grandma, justifying that as a machine, she isn't capable of feeling emotions or being a parental figure to her. Grandma is indeed able to understand and register emotion, and she helps the poor girl work through her grief.
  • Just a Machine: Anne is convinced that Grandma's not a real person and finds it hard to trust her, but Grandma astutely realizes that Anne's anger and spite isn't directed at her, instead being a reaction to grief after her mother died.
  • Lighter and Softer: Undeniably the sweetest and most wholesome episode of the whole series, as a kindly android grandmother seeks to help three motherless children and their widowed father heal from the loss.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The episode's title, "I Sing the Body Electric", which Facsimile Ltd. uses as their slogan and for the voice samples of their robot grandmothers, is a poem by Walt Whitman. Fitting with the nature of the episode, the poem questions: "What, exactly, constitutes a person?"
    O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
    O I say now these are the soul!
  • Made of Iron: Grandma explains that she's incredibly difficult to destroy, such as when she just needs a few minutes to revive after she's hit by a truck and reassures Anne that she's none the worse for wear. Facsimile Ltd.'s "lifetime warranty" was not an exaggeration.
  • Raised by Robots: A positive example. Grandma is everything you could ever want in a grandmother; astute about human behavior, kind to children, even a good cook.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Grandma looks and acts exactly like a very loving old woman. If anything, she's maybe a little too kind and forgiving.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Tom, George's only son, is the one who finds the advertisement for Facsimile Ltd. and points it out to his father, allowing him and the rest of the family to meet Grandma.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Anne spends much of the episode acting bitter and hostile towards Grandma, as well as any mention of her late mother. Grandma astutely realizes that she's been acting this way because she felt hurt and abandoned when her mother died, and Grandma herself reminds her of her too much.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: It may be bittersweet, as described above, but there's no cruel twist or anything similar. Just this once, nothing goes wrong. Everything is just fine.
  • Taking the Bullet: When Anne tearfully runs from home, she blindly runs into a busy street. Grandma runs to push her out of the way of a speeding truck and takes the impact herself. Unlike many cases, Grandma (being a robot) is much more durable than a human woman, and only takes a few minutes to reboot.
  • Voice Changeling: Grandma has the ability to repeat phrases by cupping her hands and showing them to the kids. She uses the skill to help snap Anne out of her grief.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In the final scene, Anne, Tom, and Karen have grown up and are ready to go off to college. As they no longer need her, Grandma sadly leaves the house to return to the factory. Before she does so, however, she tells her former charges that they have brought her great joy over the years, and she'll be rebuilt and sent off one day to another family that needs her.

Rod Serling: A fable? Most assuredly. But who's to say at some distant moment there might be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a grandmother whose stock in trade is love. Fable, sure, but who's to say?

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 3 E 100 I Sing The Body Electric