Reviving an iconic series quite often isn’t a great idea. The vaults of studios are filled with pilots where test audiences weren’t ready to accept their favorite characters played by a different set of actors. Did you remember Minka Kelly in reboot of Charlie’s Angels? Or The Munsters with Eddie Izzard as Grandpa? “That’s not really (insert character),” is what people say before hitting the remote to see a real TV show. As long as studios own property and creative executives want to be non-creative, they will try revive hit shows. The Twilight Zone was a cult hit that remained popular in syndication for decades. Numerous anthology TV shows arrived on the dial trying to be the next Twilight Zone so it made sense in the mid-80s for CBS to bring back the series. Unlike other revivals, the producers didn’t have to recast all the characters and update the iconic locations. Original host Rod Serling had passed away in 1975. Could they bring him back with Hollywood magic? Around this same time NBC had revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents with Hitchcock revived from the grave with his original host segments colorized. This couldn’t work for The Twilight Zone since the focus was new scripts. Instead of putting a new face in the suit, they merely had a voice over narrator to set up and sum up each episode.
The first season has two to three stories in hour long episodes which is a break from Serling’s 30 minute originals. The reputation of the series had plenty of big named talent on both sides of the camera including Bruce Willis in the first episode’s “Shatterday.” He ends up calling his apartment only to discover he’s home. The two sides of him get kinda weird since he can’t go home otherwise one of them can’t exist in the same space. He misses a full life, but isn’t sure what to do. The episode is based on a short story by Harlan Ellison (Star Trek‘s “The City on the Edge of Forever”). Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street) directed the episode along with four others tales. This is a personal favorite Willis performance. He was just achieving stardom on Moonstruck. “Wordplay” has Robert Klein (Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!) swearing that nobody around him is making sense. Anyone can experience this sensation by watching pundits squabble on news channels. “Healer” turns Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio) into a miracle man. But the secret of his powers wasn’t acquired naturally or legally. “Paladin of the Lost Hour” has Danny Kaye (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) holding a magical timepiece. Ellison also wrote this episode. “Dead Woman’s Shoes” twists around Charles Beaumont original Twilight Zone episode “A Dead Man’s Shoes.” Helen Mirren (Caligula) visits a used clothes store and tries on a pair of fancy shoes. Instantly she becomes a different person and has a purpose in her stride to straighten out something from her past. She tracks down the previous shoe owner’s rich husband (The Larry Sanders Show‘s Jeffrey Tambor). This is not a happy supernatural reunion. The episode was directed by Peter Medak who made that legendary The Ruling Class. “The Beacon” rips the lid off lighthouse worshipers when Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti) comes to a coastal town. “I of Newton” has Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons) solving a math problem while dealing with a wicked Ron Glass (Barney Miller). “Night of the Meek” revives Rod Serling’s Christmas tale of a man (Soap‘s Richard Mulligan) and his magical bag. Martha Coolridge (Real Genius and Valley Girl) calls the shots on the possible Santa. “But Can She Type?” gives us the office nightmare when Pam Dawber (Mork and Mindy) gets sucked into the Xerox machine. “The Last Defender of Camelot” is about modern English folks battling the return of Merlin. What makes this episode must see is that the screenwriter is George R.R. Martin. One of the first televised works of the novelist behind Game of Thrones was about swords and sorcery.
The second season kicks off with another Martin script for “The Once and Future King” except instead of a medieval royalty, we’re treated to an Elvis impersonator meeting the King of Rock and Roll. “A Saucer of Loneliness” has Shelley Duvall (The Shining) encounter a UFO. Now she’s talking about a lot of odd things on Dr. Phil. “Voices in the Earth” has people return to Earth a 1,000 after a disaster wiped everything out. They encounter what was left behind. Martin Balsam (Psycho) and Jenny Agutter (American Werewolf in London) must reconsider the plans for the planet. While CBS yanked the show off the schedule, CBS made a third season so there would be enough episodes to offer a syndication package. The third season was half hour episodes and shot in Canada to reduce the production budget. While a lot of the creative talent was changed, Harlen Ellison was brought back to script “Crazy as a Soup Sandwich.” Wayne Robson (The Red Green Show) sells his soul to the devil for winning horse racing tips that turn out to be right yet wrong. He must seeks help from a local mobster. But is this really a better deal?
The Twilight Zone of the ’80s stands up as a very addicting anthology series. Although it probably could have been better if they had made it in black and white. The lack of hues gave the original a more intense nature when necessary. But who in their right mind would sign off on a black and white TV show in 1985 when the executives were probably excited at the prospect of being able to offer a new Twilight Zone to TV stations that’s in color and modern looking. The three seasons do a fine job of making sure the viewers know they are watching a different kind of TV.
The videos is 1.33:1. The transfers look fine although it appears they shot on 35mm and did all the post production in standard definition video. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. The levels are fine. Only the second and third season episodes are Close Captioned.
Audio Commentaries are featured on nearly two dozen episodes. The best are Harlan Ellison’s numerous talks. He gets beneath his stories and scripts. He talks about Wes Craven not being too caring with an actor putting too much emphasis on the wrong end of a line. Harlan had worked on Outer Limits. I had a chance to see Harlan speak around this time. He was a man who held nothing back when he told stories of his entertainment career. He brings it to the commentary tracks. Wes Craven also does a few commentary tracks, but he’s a bit more diplomatic in his memories.
Deleted scenes are featured on a few episodes including “Nightsong,” “The Road Less Traveled” and “The Card.”
A Conversation with Wes Craven (14:15) has the director talk about how he had become part of The Twilight Zone revival. He praises the screenwriters on the show. Wes has a warning at the end of what will happen if you don’t buy this boxset.
The New Twilight Zone Bumpers (0:17) has the iconic theme song and a reminder to stay tuned.
CBS DVD presents The Twilight Zone: The Complete ’80s Series. Starring: Bruce Willis, Peter Coyote, Pam Dawber, Helen Mirren & Jeffrey Tambor . Boxset Contents: 65 episodes on 13 DVDs. Released: February 7, 2016
Tags: Helen Mirren, jeffrey tambor, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone