MY SEVEN-YEAR JOURNEY THROUGH THE TWILIGHT ZONE

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I’m a huge fan of the original Twilight Zone. Any kind of high-concept fantasy or science-fiction film you can think of, its roots can probably be found in Rod Serling’s seminal masterpiece. You thought the twist ending of The Sixth Sense was brilliant? Watch the first season episode The Hitchhiker, written forty years before The Sixth Sense was released. You thought Poltergeist was one of the most original horror films of its time? Watch Little Girl Lost from season 3. Any twist ending, any philosophical fantasy and sci-fi concept you can think of, it can be found… On the Twilight Zone.
I was first introduced to The Twilight Zone when I visited New York City during the summer of 1994, I was 15-years-old at the time. One Sunday morning, I saw that the Sci-Fi channel was running a Twilight Zone marathon and I was glued to the twelve-inch TV for twenty hours straight. To their credit, they were showing the best stuff, back to back. Where is Everybody, Time Enough at Last, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and my favorite of all episodes by a long shot, Eye of The Beholder, which also might still be my favorite short film of all time.

For years after that, I tried to hunt down every episode I could get my hands on. I was living in Turkey long before file sharing software became fashionable, so if you wanted a piece of media, you had to spend months looking for it. After years of futile search, I found a Best of Twilight Zone DVD set at my university’s library and freshened up on my favorites.

After I moved to The US to earn my Master’s, I was disappointed to find out that the complete series wasn’t available on home video. All that was offered were the best of DVDs I had already seen. But suddenly, near the beginning of 2005, I saw a box set for $80, The Complete First Season of Twilight Zone. I coughed up the cash and started slowly making my way through the episodes.

I found a marathon sitting of all Twilight Zone episodes a bigger chore than I had imagined. Especially since the first season suffered a bit from the obvious pains of setting a distinct style and there were a couple of duds that made it harder to sit through. The fact that the now famous theme music was introduced in the second season didn’t help matters much. You turn on the Twilight Zone, you expect to hear that theme.So every couple of weeks or so, I could sit through about four or five episodes at a time.

The first season alone boasts something like 39 episodes so you could imagine how long it took me to get through that. By the time I was finished with the first season, I had coughed up another $160 and bought the second and third seasons. And by the time I was halfway through the second season, I owned all five seasons of The Twilight Zone. Now it was just a matter of time to become acquainted with every episode of what was probably the best TV show ever produced. Yet even with that enthusiasm, it took me three years to get through the first three seasons.

And then I hit a wall. Season four of The Twilight Zone is notorious for being the worst because the network decided to extend each episode from 25 minutes to 50. Rod Serling himself opposed this idea, rightfully stating that the compact, fable-like structure of the episodes would become tedious if their running time was doubled. Therefore, some great ideas like The Miniature became harder to sit through when they were padded to 50 minutes, and some already bad ideas became excruciating to watch.

After ignoring the show for a couple more years because of this reason, I saw that Netflix hosted the series, sans season 4, in their instant streaming subscription. That made me mad, since I had once spent $300 for the privilege of watching this show and now every asshole who could spare $8 a month could access it.

After we moved from San Francisco to Portland, I used my now more available free time to catch up. I decided to skip season 4 and jump right into 5, when the familiar half-hour format returned. After I was done, there was still a question of how I was going to sit through season 4. I made a compromise and cheated a bit, reading the full synopses of episodes first and then skipping through, essentially watching each episode in about 25 minutes. The only episode I watched all the way through was The Miniature, which sports one of Robert Duvall’s best performances. I capped it off with the feature-length documentary on Rod Serling found on the season 5 box set.

So, in between watching the first episode and the last, seven years had passed. During that time I met my future wife, got married, got two dogs, lived in six different apartments, moved from one state to another, became a somewhat credible professional film critic and wrote four screenplays and half a novel. It’s been a beautiful ride… Through The Twilight Zone.

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