The original Twilight Zone might be one of the most conceptually brilliant TV shows of all time. From 1959-1964, it simply told a variety of weird stories that generally asserted some kind of science fiction or fantasy twist, often right at the end. Both thrilling and intelligent, few TV shows come close to the class and precision of the original series. So, news of a brand new version of the Twilight Zone should be great, right? Well, yes and no. In a way, Black Mirror already is the 21st Century Twilight Zone. Is the world big enough for that much weird?
On Thursday, news broke that CBS All Access is developing a new version of The Twilight Zone produced by Jordan Peele. Considering Peele’s horror/comedy masterstroke with his film Get Out, he’s an excellent choice to helm a new Twilight Zone. But then again, so were John Landis and Steven Spielberg when they did Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983. Consisting of four mini-stories, the film needlessly remade the classic William Shatner episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in with John Lithgow while the production was marred by death and controversy.
A 1985 reboot version of the TV show also featured adaptations of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Harlan Ellison stories. On paper, the show was solid, but it failed to catch on the way the original did, and almost no one even remembers it exists today. Then, there’s the 2002 version of the show hosted by Forest Whitaker, which sadly only lasted one season. The point is, none of these reboots or revivals are bad per se, but they do feel oddly cursed, lost forever in the black and white shadow of the original.
One problem of doing a contemporary Twilight Zone is that to film it in color almost betrays the premise of the show. And that’s because, beyond having sci-fi twists, there is no “concept” for The Twilight Zone. It’s not like Star Trek where there’s an entire established world with different sci-fi characters and mythologies. Doing remakes of classic episodes or adapting science fiction and horror stories from the past also would be a mistake. In other words, the only way to do a contemporary Twilight Zone is to do something new. Which is where Black Mirror comes in. Functionally, Black Mirror serves the same purpose today that The Twilight Zone did in the early 60s. This doesn’t necessarily make similar shows redundant, but it does present a challenge. Sure, there were contemporaries of the original Twilight Zone, horror/sci-fi anthology shows like The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond, and both have excellent moments to rival The Twilight Zone. But with the near intelligent excellence of every single episode of Black Mirror, a new Twilight Zone is now the Outer Limits or One Step Beyond of the 21st century. Plus,Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is already being praised as comparable to Black Mirror, and it hasn’t even aired in the US yet.
Perhaps the return of The Twilight Zone signals a different sea change in television. In a world in which competition for serialized, binge-worthy narratives is fierce, a smart sci-fi show consisting of standalone stories could do great. Plus, CBS All-Access has already pretty much proven their streaming-only subscriber model has paid off. Star Trek: Discovery has been successful, despite early fears and hand-ringing. In other words, if the new Twilight Zone’s only competition is Black Mirror, that might not be such a bad thing.
If Peele does decide to film the show in black and white, it would be a solid move. But here’s hoping he doesn’t stick too close to the nostalgia for the original. For those who aren’t fans, the only thing they probably remember is the iconic creepy theme music. But, the first season of The Twilight Zone in 1959 didn’t even have that iconic theme music yet. What it did have was solid and original writing. Meaning, if the new Twilight Zone is mostly a new show, it won’t need that old theme music to remind us why it’s great.