'The Twilight Zone' 2019 Review: Peele's Reboot Soars, Despite Bad Reviews
The Twilight Zone is back (again) with an impressive cast and Jordan Peele pulling double duty as executive producer and narrator. The first few episodes alone star Kumail Nanjiani, Tracy Morgan, Adam Scott, and Steven Yeun in a mix of original stories and remixes of classic episodes. But in a world where Twilight Zone-inspired anthologies have become a genre of their own (Black Mirror, Love, Death, and Robots, Electric Dreams … the list goes on), do we really need another one? If the series premiere is any indication, we’re still lightyears away from over-saturating this particular niche.
Debuting this Monday on CBS All Access (another stand-alone streaming service to pay for, sigh), the first two episodes of the new Twilight Zone tell one entirely original story and a second directly inspired by the most famous episode of all. In both cases, the result is a thrilling if somewhat predictable story that will keep you captivated without keeping you up all night out of fear — definitely don’t expect horror on the level of Peele’s original movies.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert on The Twilight Zone. I’ve watched a handful of classic episodes and dipped into the reboots. Like anyone else living in modern society, I’ve also experienced the many ways the original series influenced everything from pop culture to the way we perceive modern day politics and new technology. So perhaps I’m going into this new Twilight Zone with unusually fresh eyes, but despite a cavalcade of negative reviews, I really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of this Peele-hosted reboot.
In “The Comedian,” Kumail Nanjiani plays a struggling comedian named Samir who finds success after a mysterious comic (played to creepy perfection by Tracy Morgan) tells him to ditch the hackneyed political humor and get personal. It works, but of course, there’s a twist. Actually, there’s several as “The Comedian” unfurls at rapid speed — for an hour-long episode it goes by surprisingly quickly.
My only real issue with the new Twilight Zone’s pilot is that for an episode titled “The Comedian” starring one of the funniest comics of our time, there’s nothing particularly funny in it. That’s partially the point, but it seems like a squandered opportunity to slip in at least a few great jokes. Maybe if Nanjiani’s character was actually a talented standup comic he could have avoided this trip to the Twilight Zone entirely.
The second episode set to premiere on April 1, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” is a direct homage to the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which is so famous it even got The Simpsons treatment at one point in a full-length parody. This time, William Shatner is replaced by Adam Scott while the gremlin outside the airplane is replaced by a true crime podcast (too real? or too stupid? I’m not really sure) describing the events of a missing place that just happens to be the flight Scott’s character is currently on.
This second episode isn’t without its flaws, including the bizarre conceit that the plane Scott is riding lets passengers watch a live feed of the cockpit, which makes no sense and only exists to set up the final twist. That twist, by the way, is again pretty predictable, and while it’s fun to watch a great actor like Adam Scott freak himself (and everyone else on the plane) out, nothing happening here is particularly clever or innovative. Thankfully, at just over 30 minutes, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” manages to stick the landing and end before it can wear out its welcome.
The glue holding all of this together, is of course, Jordan Peele, who appears near the start and end of each episode to narrate. It’s thrilling to watch Peele back on screen after he’s spend the last few years behind the camera, even if it’s just for a few moments at a time, and his pitch perfect delivery (and charming salt-and-pepper beard) are a casual reminder that despite all his recent success, we’re still not seeing enough of the sketch comic turned master of horror.
But even without Peele’s presence, The Twilight Zone is still a totally serviceable reboot that should keep viewers entertained. Hardcore fans of the original may turn up their noses, but anyone casually familiar with the anthology series will find something here to enjoy.
The first two episodes of The Twilight Zone (2019) premieres Monday, April 1 on CBS All Access.