It’s the time of year for barbecues, fireworks, pool parties and more… however, in TV land, it’s time again for the original wonderful and strange trip.
The Twilight Zone marathon became a staple of the Fourth of July holiday in the States (and, also, New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day) somewhere in the early 1980’s, and few can remember if it was Los Angeles’s KTLA or New York’s WPIX who did it first. KTLA is the most commonly-referred-to pioneer and that’s where I saw them, growing up in L.A. as a budding scifi nerd and the traditional holiday binge of Rod Serling’s seminal anthology thriller made it one of my all-time favorite shows. (It’s also impossible to count how many genre shows Zone influenced in its wake.)
Syfy Channel is now the keeper of the bi-annual marathon, and of course we now have streaming services so we can program our own marathons any time we like. Both Netflix and Hulu offer The Twilight Zone, though it should be noted that only Hulu has the show’s fourth season, when it switched up its format and episodes were extended to one hour; Netflix does not.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Syfiy-hosted get-together with Uncle Rod and fam, here are five of our very favorite Zone episodes that are appearing on Syfy’s schedule this year (as well as the date/time they’re on). And because the 24 hour-plus marathon can’t possibly include the entire run of the show, we’re also suggesting three more favorites that didn’t make Syfy’s cut which you can stream to supplement your binge. Hold on, you’re about to enter another dimension…
Airing on Syfy Channel:
“Nothing in the Dark”
Written by George Clayton Johnson; starring Gladys Cooper and Robert Redford
July 4th, 7:00am ET
One of the quieter, more emotional episodes from the show’s run, this third season entry sees an elderly woman living a hermitic life in a condemned building, terrified that death is coming for her. When a police shootout results in a gravely injured cop on her doorstep, she wrestles with whether she should help the poor guy or if it’s the Grim Reaper’s trick. A classic for both the powerful, heartbreaking performance of British actress Gladys Cooper, as well as one of the earliest screen appearances of a very young and rather dreamy Robert Redford.
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
Written by Rod Serling; starring Claude Akins and Barry Atwater
July 4th, 3:00pm ET
This is the episode that, for whatever reason, I almost always end up tuning into the broadcast marathon when it’s on – what kind of scary trickery is that?! Maybe the same kind that ramps up the paranoia of a single block of suburban families one summer night; when lights start going on and off for no reason and other strange things occur, people talk, suspicions run rampant. Though the ending of this one feels dated, it hasn’t lost its power to terrify with the ease at which humans will turn on their fellow man when they feel cornered.
“To Serve Man”
Written by Rod Serling and Damon Knight; starring Lloyd Bochner and Richard Kiel
“Eye of the Beholder”
Written by Rod Serling; starring Maxine Stuart and Donna Douglas
July 4th, 3:30pm ET
Yes, you’re reading that correctly; both of these episodes currently have a listing at the same time on the afternoon of July 4th. That’s because it’s a Viewer’s Choice slot that Syfy were apparently gathering votes for on their website, so we don’t know which one we’re going to get! “To Serve Man” is an excellent alien creeper in which Richard “Jaws” Kiel of James Bond fame plays a 7-foot tall alien race (all of them!) who land on Earth offering nothing but bountiful good. (Hmm, seems legit…) However, if given the choice, your humble author would go with “Eye of the Beholder,” in which a woman is under bandages for most of the episode talking about her horrid ugliness and how this last-chance surgery is her only hope for a normal life… and then all hell breaks loose. With its moody, intense drama and shadowy cinematography, it is often called the Citizen Kane of Twilight Zone eps and rightfully so. (Its underlying message of the pressure to conform to societal “norms” is as vital as it ever was, too.)
“Time Enough at Last”
Written by Rod Serling and Lynn Venable; starring Burgess Meredith and Jacqueline deWit
July 4th, 10:00pm ET
No performer is as closely associated with The Twilight Zone as the great Burgess Meredith; he starred in four episodes during the show’s run, tying only Jack Klugman for the most appearances. And Meredith’s roles were definitely some of the most indelible, none more so than this fable about a meek bank teller who is bullied by everyone in his life, longing only to escape into books. A disaster takes place that gives him nothing but time to read to his heart’s content. That is, until one of the most cruel yet memorable twist endings in the show’s history. Poor Henry Bemis…
“The After Hours”
Written by Rod Serling; starring Anne Francis and Elizabeth Allen
July 5th, 12:30am ET
This first-season gem features Forbidden Planet leading lady Anne Francis as a woman who visits a department store to purchase a gift for her mother. She’s inexplicably sent up to an upper floor with no merchandise except the one thing she came for, and only one sales girl. And then, she starts hearing voices… Despite knowing the twist here, “The After Hours” still manages to creep me out decades since I first saw it as a kid. If you always associated the name “Marcia” with The Brady Bunch, you might have a very different association after watching this. (“Maaaaarcia…” *shudder*)
And here are the episodes you can stream (do it – and stream more!):
“People Are Alike All Over”
Written by Rod Serling and Paul W. Fairman; starring Roddy McDowell and Susan Oliver
It’s unfortunate that Roddy McDowell only ever filmed one episode of The Twilight Zone; the same genteel whimsy that he brought to the Planet of the Apes films and so many other projects is a perfect fit for the show. He shines here as Sam Conrad, an astronaut who crash-lands on Mars, his mission partner badly injured in the wreckage and ultimately dying before they can be rescued. After discovering that the Martians are humanoid beings who look exactly like us, they extend to Conrad an almost unbelievable level of hospitality. In Zone land, such gestures are always too good to be true…
“Nick of Time”
Written by Richard Matheson; starring William Shatner and Patricia Breslin
So “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is undoubtedly the best-known Zone episode starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner. I’d like to submit, however, the unpopular opinion that “Nick of Time” is the superior slice o’ the Shat. (Incidentally, both episodes were among the dozen written by legendary author Richard Matheson, of I Am Legend and Somewhere In Time fame.) The Carters are stuck in a small town while their car is being repaired, husband Don (Shatner) becomes enthralled with a penny-fortune machine that seems to predict the future – and you never actually find out if it really does. While most Zone eps are explicit that some supernatural event is occuring, “Nick of Time” never explains itself or shows its hand which makes it quite unique.
Written by Rod Serling; starring Russell Johnson and Paul Hartman
Ooh, it was tough to fill this last slot; I nearly went with “It’s A Good Life,” the much-loved bad-seed episode with Billy Mumy that didn’t make this year’s broadcast cut for the first time in, man, maybe ever. But in the effort to shine the spotlight on Zone eps that deserve more love, check out this one: Russell Johnson, best known as the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, plays a D.C. professor (typecasting?!) who one minute is having a philosophical conversation about whether you could change history if time travel existed. The next minute, he suddenly finds himself transported to April 14, 1865… and realizes he might have a real shot at preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The ending provides food for thought, and it’s a nail-biter throughout.