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T3: Next Stop, The Twilight Zone

Happy New Year from the Cat Fancy crew! 2008 was pretty great but I think 2009 will be mighty fine. Everyone here at Cat Fancy has certainly been enjoying the holidays; seeing movies (Hopefully will have some upcoming reviews), playing vidjuh games and looking at pictures of Frog Baby… At least I have.

I assumed we’d take a break from T3’s for this week but what can I tell ya? I guess just got the urge when I realized that 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone, one of the greatest and most masterfully written science fiction shows of all time. Plus every New Years they have a Twilight Zone marathon (which continues to air as I type) on Sci-Fi channel, so it seems fairly appropriate to do it while it’s still fresh in my mind. I haven’t seen all 156 episodes but I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been a big fan of this late 50s/early 60s classic ever since I was a youngin’. So without further ado, here’s my top ten favorite episodes from a place that some like to call The Twilight Zone.

10. A Game of Pool
Air Date: October 13, 1961
Written By: George Clayton Johnson
Starring: Jack Klugman, Jonathan Winters
Synopsis: A frustrated pool shark Jesse Cardiff (Jack Klugman) has beaten all the best pool players. Everyone except the legendary Fat’s Brown at least until one night. The only problem is… Fat’s Brown is dead and the stakes for this game just happen to be Jesse’s life.
Why?: Jonathan Winters suave yet intimidating performance is an excellent combo to Klugman’s ratty back east attitude. The dialogue is sharp and punchy and the ending seals the deal.

9. Living Doll
Air Date: November 1, 1963
Written By: Jerry Sohl (Credited to Charles Beaumont)
Starring: Telly Savalas
Synopsis: A Frustrated father does battle with his stepdaughter’s talking doll, who is trying to kill him.
Why?: Before he was Kojak Telly Savalas shined as this manic father duking it out with a seemingly innocent doll. There are plenty of disturbing twists and turns here and “Talking Tina” is just plain creepy.

8. Time Enough at Last
Air Date: November 20, 1959
Written By: Rod Serling (Adapted from a short story by Lyn Venable)
Starring: Burgess Meredith
Synopsis: An outcast book enthusiast finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war.
Why?: Parodied dozens of times, Burgess Meredith’s utterance of “That’s not fair! There was time now! There was time!” is probably one the most memorable moments of the entire series.

7. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?
Air Date: May 26, 1961
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Barney Phillips, John Hoyt, Jack Elam, John Archer, Bill Erwin Jean Willes Morgan Jones
Synopsis: Two policeman investigating a saucer crash try to determine who among the passengers of a bus at a snowed-in roadside diner is from outer space.
Why?: There’s a pleasant comedic charm to this “Who’s who?” themed episode and the cast (especially Jack Elam who’s the crazy looking guy I used for the picture) is sharp and humorous.

6. The Hunt
Air Date: January 26, 1962
Written By: Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring: Arthur Hunnicut, Jeanette Nolan
Synopsis: After a raccoon hunt, Hyder Simpson and his trusty hound discover that no one can see or hear them because they have passed on
Why?: It’s hard not to like Arthur Hunnicut in this simple, yet sweet story with one hell of a twist.

5. One for the Angels
Air Date: October 9, 1959
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Ed Wynn, Murray Hamilton
Synopsis: A lovable salesman (Ed Wynn) is visited by Death (Murray Hamilton) and is forced to get his priorities in order.
Why?: Ed Wynn plays the part of the fast talking salesman like nobodies business. His final pitch to the grim reaper manages to be humorous yet somehow suspenseful as well.

4. A Hundred Yards Over the Rim
Air Date: April 7, 1961
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Cliff Robertson, John Crawford, Miranda Jones
Synopsis: A pioneer from a struggling wagon train in 1847 sets off to find something to help his deathly ill son and after going over a hill, stumbles into present day New Mexico.
Why?: Everyone loves time travel stories; seeing all the differences between the various time frames, seeing how characters react. Not to mention you got the talented Cliff Robertson in his prime, that’s always a treat.

3. It’s a Good Life
Air Date: November 3, 1961
Written By: Rod Serling (Adapted from the short story by Jerome Bixby)
Starring: Bill Mumy, John Larch, Cloris Leachman, Don Keefer, Casey Adams, Jeanne Bates
Synopsis: On an isolated family farm, a young boy named Anthony (Bill Mumy) with mental powers, holds his family in thrall to his every wish.
Why?: Back when using a creepy kid as your antagonist was a fresh idea. Bill Mumy (who would later star as Will Robinson on Lost in Space) sends shivers down my spine as this creepy little monster.

2. Walking Distance
Air Date: October 30, 1959
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Gig Young
Synopsis: A stressed, middle aged businessman travels through time back to his childhood, when he’s just a few miles away from his native town.
Why?: There’s a bittersweet tone to this episode as Gig Young looks back at a simpler time in his life. I’m always a fan of time travel stories and I’ve always found this one remarkably compelling.

1. Night of the Meek
Air Date: December 23, 1960
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Art Carney, John Fiedler, Robert P. Lieb
Synopsis: After a depressed and drunken store Santa is fired on Christmas Eve, he finds a mysterious bag that gives out presents. With this bag he sets out to fulfill his one wish, to see the less fortunate inherit the bounties of Christmas.
Why?: A standout performance from Art Carney, this festive tear-jerker is not only a great Twilight Zone episode but probably one of the sweetest Christmas stories I’ve ever heard.

Honorable Mention
Far too many to list… Burgess Meredith did a handful of great episodes. Naturally there are such various classics as “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, “To Serve Man” and the infamous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” with William Shatner.

While compiling all my research for this list I wasn’t aware of how many episodes Creator/Writer/Host Rod Serling wrote. Out of 156 episodes, Rod Serling wrote or adapted 99 of them. That’s amazing considering how consistent this classic sci-fi show was and just goes to show you that Rod Serling was probably one of the greatest television writers of all time. He never quite put together as brilliant a show as The Twilight Zone after the show’s end in 1964, but he had some minor success with the cult horror show Night Gallery along with writing the script to the 1964 thriller movie Seven Days in May and co-writing Planet of the Apes (Naturally the twist ending was his idea). Fortunately the show still lives on with it’s various Sci-Fi channel marathons (There’s a 4th of July one as well) and has quite a strong following and hopefully it will always have a place as the years go by.

P.S. Rod Serling’s birthday recently passed, which just happens to be December 25th, unfortunately he died in 1975 from a heart attack. Were he still alive today he would be 84 years old.


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