Twilight Zone has a welcomed place in public conscious, standing as a classic example of science fiction. A quick Google search will return the usually top episodes; “Time Enough at Last”, “To Serve Man”, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” topping many best episode lists with good reason. Instead here is a list of ten, lesser known, but exceptionally good episodes that don’t get as much attention as they should. While some of the better known episodes such as “Time Enough at Last” have ideas that have become cliché in modern media, the ones on this list are are much more fresh and deserve more acknowledgment than what they typically get on most top episode lists on the internet. Some have interesting ideas about time travel and culture, others are ethical and morality tales. But all of them are still great to watch. Today the Twilight Zone can be found on the internet readily enough on Netflix, Hulu, and the CBS website. For those wanting to take a journey back to the Twilight Zone, I’d recommend these few lesser known episodes. Maybe you’ll find a few you’ve never seen before.
10)The Rip Van Winkle CaperA scientist lacking morals comes up with an idea for a heist. Steal a gold shipment and lay low for a while. But for this scientist he uses cryogenic freezing to ensure that they stay a sleep long enough for society to forget about the crime. Then they live life as wealthy free men and get away with the heist of a century. What the scientist’s clever idea didn’t account for is the unknown variables of his amoral accomplices. Having an intellectual man in cahoots with lowlife thugs is an interesting idea that is given a great sci fi twist.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where you longingly look to your childhood and wish somehow you could return to the innocence and joy of it. Perhaps giving up the toil and problems of mature, grown up life. This is a story about a man who realizes this as he walks back into his past, walking a few miles to his home town from where his car breaks down. He finds his family but soon realizes this world has no place for him, he doesn’t belong. Returning to the present he matures with the understanding that you can never go back.
8)It’s a Good Life
This one works like a thought experiment. What would things be like if some whimsical kid was given godlike power? Chaos and fear is the fabric that this world is made of as a young boy gets everything his heart’s desire, except for one thing, willingly obedience of adults. For that he uses fear as the adults try to keep up appearances of joy that masks the fear in the hearts of the victims of this powerful child.
An Earth spaceship enters orbit on a distant world on a mission of exploration. Seeing the forbidding image of a crashed ship just like their own on the view screen, they throw caution to the wind and land on the surface to investigate. With no other Earth ships in that sector, this crashed ship could be some image of a possible future of the crew’s demise. Every step is second guessed and the Captain (Jack Klugman) relentlessly pursues the answers. But in an odd twist of circumstance, his virtue of drive and determination turns against them all, putting them in a kind of purgatory where there is no escape.
6)Long Distance Call
One of the few episodes to be shot on video tape instead of film to save money, this one has the side effect of a look of realism. It looks and feels more modern as it resembles much later news broadcasts. However the plot is much darker than other episodes that usually make lists. It’s about a grandmother who dies but has an exceptionally strong link to her grandson. She continues to stay in contact with the boy from the afterlife, not stopping at instigating the boy’s suicide to have him come closer to her if he should die as a consequence. Probably the most disturbing Twilight Zone episode
This is a simple story that feels like a stage drama. A truly horrible man makes a deal with the devil for immortality. There are no tricks or strings attached as Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) learns that not only he is immortal but invulnerable as well. No stubbed toes or loss of limbs to worry about. The deal is legitimate, no tricks from the devil. He soon starts about setting up horrific accidents that he walks away from unscathed and threatens to sue people, claiming that they are responsible. His wife, growing worried about him complains, Walter tires of her and pushes her out the window, you see an invincible man needn’t fear any consequences. This story’s draw isn’t so much the plot but more of a character piece with some great acting in an interesting situation.
4)The Midnight Sun
Especially poignant in an age of global warming, Norma (Lois Nettleton) lives on a world where the Earth’s orbit has shifted ever so slightly and the temperature of the Earth steadily increasing, slowly baking everyone alive. Just imagine seeing a lobster being boiled alive, slowly and inevitably being tortured to death. There are some stunning visuals as you see Norma’s painting start to melt while she loses it and screams.
Death by sudden global warming is horrific but its her scream at the end that will get you. This is a tale about how delicate our climate is and much we depend on its delicate balance. Way ahead of its time.
Much like many small time college plays this one is a character piece, with just only two actors in a small squalid hotel room as the only set. Jackie Rhoades plays a small wormy man, Joe Mantell, who has been forced to kill an innocent man. A gangster knows that Joe is weak and bullies him into doing the murder to mask the blame of the crime. If he doesn’t kill the victim the gangster will kill Joe, he is too weak willed to stand up to him. Spending the night in a hotel room before the murder Joe is faced with the only person that can stand up to the gangster, the man in the mirror.
The actor plays two roles arguing with himself, using some clever special effects and great acting to convince the audience of the turmoil inside of Joe. This is story about an internal struggle about strength and courage and is something that a lot of people can identify with.
It is also of some note that this episode bore some influence on the films Taxi Driver and Dirty Harry who both had characters talking to themselves in the mirror saying “You Talking To me?” Afterall, everyone can identify with Joe arguing with himself in the mirror, trying to remake himself into a better person, reaching deep down inside to find courage. Who hasn’t tried this at some point in their life?
2) The Lonely
A criminal is abandoned on a barren asteroid in a futuristic society who has opted for outer space isolation instead of execution. Taking pity on the convict, one of the deliverymen smuggles a large box to the marooned prisoner. In it, the convict finds an android woman, a companion. An idea that is popular with a lot of sci fi stories, it considers the idea of machines replacing humans, and possibly the need for companionship as well, swapping warmth and affection with diodes and circuitry. Despite the convict’s repulsion of an artificial companion, his dire loneliness compels him otherwise.
1)The Obsolete Man
By far my favorite Twilight Zone episode, but not appearing on many top ten lists. Starring the incredible Burgess Meredith as a bookworm man cleverly named Romney Wordsworth. In a totalitarian future where thoughts are controlled and written word as well, Wordsworth rebels by having some contraband, he has been hording books. He tries no subterfuge about this and is quickly caught by the state police who put him on trial for his crime of simply loving literature. In an odd peculiarity of the society, perhaps call it over confidence, the accused is allowed to choose his form of execution. The meek Wordsworth turns this into one last opportunity to embarrass the state. Along with excellent character acting this episode it has some great visuals and an excellent climax.
I know a lot of people rank Meredith’s other episode, “Time Enough at Last”, as better and perhaps it is, but “The Obsolete Man” is still my favorite. Partly because love of literature isn’t seen as negatively like in “Time Enough.” Instead it’s seen as a strength, strong enough to stand against the state. Showing that the written word is stronger than actions, ideas stronger than brute force. The bookworm doesn’t conquer the state in the end but the state doesn’t win either.
What do you think of my list? What other Twilight Zone episodes would make yours? Comment below with your favorite Twilight Zone episodes.