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Series / The Twilight Zone (1959)

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Picture, if you will...

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to Man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middleground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of Man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call... the Twilight Zone."

One of television's most revered series, The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959–64) stands as the role model for all subsequent Genre Anthology shows. Its trenchant sci-fi/horror/fantasy parables explore humanity's hopes, despairs, terrors, prides, and prejudices in deep, metaphoric ways that more conventional drama cannot. It followed a Dramatic Half-Hour format.

Creator-host Rod Serling wrote the majority of the show's scripts, and produced those of such now-legendary writers as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. The series featured such soon-to-be-famous actors as Robert Redford, William Shatner, Burt Reynolds, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Carol Burnett, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Peter Falk, Donald Pleasence and Bill Mumy, as well as such established stars as Burgess Meredith, Art Carney, Mickey Rooney, Ida Lupino, Ed Wynn, John Carradine, and Silent Movie giant Buster Keaton.

The series also possessed a remarkable ability to take rather silly story concepts and combine them with preachy, moralistic writing to produce some truly outstanding episodes. (Seriously, you think The West Wing was heavy-handed? Aaron Sorkin's got nothing on Rod Serling in full-on righteous anger mode.) The ghost of Adolf Hitler travels to the early-'60s United States and teaches Dennis Hopper to become an effective demagogue? It works. A former Nazi commander returns to Dachau after World War II and gets put on trial by the ghosts of his victims? It works. William Shatner hams it up yelling about the monster on the wing of the plane? It works.

Nearly all episodes ended with clear Aesops; "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," "Be tolerant," "Democracy is good," etc. Occasionally, you'd get more of a Hard Truth Aesop; notably, the episode "Time Enough at Last", which starred Burgess Meredith and seemed to tell the viewer, "Even if you are a good and decent man, you can still have horrible things continually happen to you and end up with no hope at all", and became one of the most famous episodes of the original series.

The series became so iconic that it's received a number of reworkings and continuations in various media over the decades, starting with a Comic-Book Adaptation that was launched while it was still in production and outlasted it by several years. Twilight Zone: The Movie, a big-screen version featuring individual segments directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller, was released in 1983. Tragically, the movie is nowadays best remembered for a horrible accident in which three actors (including Vic Morrow and two children) were killed during shooting of an action scene in Landis' segment.

An often worthy revival series ran on CBS from 1985–87, and in First-Run Syndication from 1988–89. Another revival ran on UPN in the 2002–03 season, which reunited Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman in a sequel to the classic TZ chiller "It's a Good Life". A third helmed by Jordan Peele began airing in 2019 on CBS All Access, lasting for two seasons before ending in 2020. A licensed Pinball game, Twilight Zone, was released in 1992, filled with references and Shout Outs to various episodes, and is today one of the most popular pinball games of all time. However, it's the daring original series that shows every sign of lasting the ages as the literature that it is.

Many television shows have borrowed liberally from The Twilight Zone, especially The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror, Garfield's Tales of Scary Stuff, and Futurama's "The Scary Door" and "Anthology of Interest". There's also a popular thrill-ride inspired by the series in the Disney Theme Parks, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which inspired its own non-canon TV film in 1997.

Submitted for your approval, a copious number of tropes, each unique in their own way, and all of them fiendishly designed to draw you further... into the Trope-light Zone:

Guess what? Your whole life has been a dream, one of your family members is a robot, and that nice man that just moved into town is a Martian, just like all your neighbors living here with you on Mars, after Earth was destroyed. Except he's also a ghost. Welcome to the Twilight Zone. Hey, look at that weird mirror!


Video Example(s):


The Obsolete Man

The Chancellor ends up breaking one of his rules in a state of cowardness and is declared obsolete by the state, just as he had done to Romney Wordsworth. Rod Serling then states that the state's downfall will soon follow, declaring that any nation that refuses to recognize the worth, dignity, and rights of man is obsolete.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (27 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnAesop

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