You Are About To Enter…The Twilight Zone: 60 Years Later

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Opening narration by Rod Serling to The Twilight Zone in its first season

The Twilight Zone is celebrating its 60th anniversary and is still regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi and fantasy TV series of all time. Its combination of surreal sci-fi and fantasy storytelling and eerie plots has made its many classic episodes quite memorable for genre fans of all types. Hosted and created by the late Rod Serling, his matter-of-fact introductions led viewers to witness many memorable stories that ranged from a gremlin trying to sabotage a passenger jet seen only by one hapless man ( played brilliantly by William Shatner) in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, to a bookworm (Burgess Meredith) who shuns society and yearns for solitude, and gets his wish after a nuclear war only to meet a cruel fate in “Time Enough At Last”.

The pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” started things off 60 years ago this month with an Air Force pilot in a seemingly abandoned town, who slowly succumbs to paranoia, as things are not what they seem. The plot twist at the end of “Where Is Everybody?” would set the tone for the whole series. Countless episodes had twist endings and examples of being careful what you wish for, as well as bizarre otherworldly happenings. Notable examples include: a woman chased by her double during a solitary road trip in “Mirror Image”, “The Howling Man”, which has a man chasing the Devil across the world using the staff of truth to keep him locked up in, a woman going to the top floor of a department store with creepy mannequins in “After Hours” or even seemingly benign aliens giving humans solution to world problems until their true sinister agenda is revealed in “To Serve Man”. These are just the tip of the iceberg with The Twilight Zone.

All of these many great moments have cemented the status of The Twilight Zone and led to many other anthology shows in its wake. Serling himself had a follow-up series Night Gallery starting in 1969 that was horror focused and not as well remembered. There have been two revivals in the 1980s (a film co-directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller, and a TV show on CBS), a TV film in the 1990s based on Serling’s unused stories, a 2002 revival on the defunct UPN network, and one streaming right now on CBS All Access. Even shows like Amazing Stories, which was more fantasy based, and Tales From The Crypt can all trace their origins back to The Twilight Zone, which had all kinds of genres in its pallet.

The fact that it debuted in 1959 is also quite interesting since there was nothing like it on TV at that time. Unlike today with sci-fi being a huge industry, the era in which it came about was pre-Star Wars and Star Trek. Nevertheless, the show captivated audiences and even today it still holds up with its timeless stories and issues that it tackled. “Eye of the Beholder” dealt with body image and conforming to society’s standards of beauty and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” showed how fear of an outside force can destroy a town. The fact that The Twilight Zone was a genre-based show allowed it to talk about issues such as these in an allegorical setting whereas a more realistic show could not, especially in the the late 1950s and early 60’s. It was one of the reasons why Serling created the show. He wanted to avoid censorship issues when crafting his imaginative and thought-provoking stories. This again, paved the way for later shows like Star Trek to do the same thing with its many takes on issues like civil rights and racism masked in the sci-fi setting of starships and aliens.

The Twilight Zone still gets accolades and is always included in listings of the top TV series of all time. TV Guide ranked it at #5 in their list of 60 greatest shows of all time in 2013 and in 2016 Rolling Stone ranked it at #7 for 100 greatest shows of all time. The Twilight Zone’s impact on pop culture also expands to other areas as well with a theme park ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park and numerous spoofs on The Simpsons. All of this for a show that was on the air when there were only three networks on TV and decades before the proliferation of science fiction, horror and fantasy in movies and television.

The power of these stories is still going strong after more than half a century and should continue to excite fans who have seen them countless times and gain new fans who will no doubt be drawn in by the iconic theme music that is still creepy to listen to even today, as well as Rod Serling’s famous words “Submitted for your approval…”

C.S. Link

*The intro shown below for The Twilight Zone is based on its first season. It’s not as famous as the iconic theme we all know of, but IMO is much eerier and more effective.

Bridging The MCU Disconnect

A common complaint about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its related television shows is how disconnected they are. There is lip service from the powers that be that all the films and TV shows are interconnected, but there is scant evidence. At least, when it comes to the films. Fans are desperately grabbing at straws and blurry screen shots to find evidence of the TV side of the MCU in the films but without success. To date, none of the characters that originated in the TV shows have shown up on film, aside from one exception. Howard Stark’s butler Jarvis, portrayed by James D’Arcy in Agent Carter, made a brief appearance in Avengers: Endgame. This lack of TV characters in the films implies that the two medium are not connected, resulting in an MCU disconnect.

jarvis in avengers endgame

However, the television shows made it clear, especially older ones, that they were set in the MCU. It’s hard to dispute that fact where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stars one of the secondary characters featured in the films (Agent Phil Coulson) and had appearances by Nick Fury, Sif and Agent Maria Hill, among others. They were portrayed by the same actors and were, in fact, the same characters. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made numerous references to the films. Lately, this has not been the case as it appears that the producers have given up hope that their shows are part of the MCU and are ignoring what is going on in the films. A good example is the recent sixth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which takes place after the fifth season and that season referenced Avengers: Infinity War and Thanos. In the recent season nothing about Thanos’ snap was ever mentioned nor were other film characters. In a way, it’s good that the TV shows have thrown off the shackles of film continuity and are branching off on their own. The fact that Cloak and Dagger takes place in New Orleans and is far removed by the events in Avengers: Infinity War gives the impression that the MCU is much larger and complex. Like real life not everything has to be connected and it is fun for sharp-eyed viewers to spot obscure Easter eggs, such as Typhoid Mary mentioning the fictional country Sokovia in Iron Fist’s second season. But it can make it hard for some viewers to care about the events in the TV shows since they can rationalize the shows don’t have anything to do with the proper MCU.

That is changing though. With the new Disney+ streaming service, there will be numerous TV shows that are decidedly part of the larger MCU as they will star important characters like Loki, Hawkeye, Falcon and the Winter Soldier. MCU head Kevin Feige promised that the new shows will intertwine with the upcoming MCU films and held up the example of how the show WandaVision will directly lead to the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Alright, that is all well and good but what about the existing TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Runaways or Cloak and Dagger? That is still up in the air and most likely nothing will change. But there are rumors going on that the cancelled Netflix Marvel shows, Daredevil and The Defenders are headed to either Hulu or FX some time next year or afterwards. The rumors also has it that actors like Charlie Cox will reprise their roles, which means the revivals of the shows will not be reboots. If this is the case, then this will validate that shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones are indeed part of the larger MCU. This, not the Disney+ shows, will certainly go a long way to bridging the current MCU disconnect between the film and TV medium and create a richer and more complex universe.

The Coming Star Trek Renaissance

 

Not too long ago it seemed as if Star Trek was at a low point. Yes, the IP had a lot of attention thanks to its 50th anniversary, but it appeared that its corporate owners CBS and Viacom/Paramount Pictures could not fully take advantage of this event. There were many specials and such, but the only new product in 2016 was the film Star Trek Beyond, which did not do too well in the box office. In fact, to date it is the last Star Trek film to be produced. Then there was the backlash against both corporations when they came down hard on Star Trek fans with stringent, draconian guidelines regarding their ability to create fan films. At that time, aside from some TV specials, there wasn’t any original Star Trek content on TV. This was striking being that the franchise got its start in the television medium and flourished there.

However, CBS did announce at that time that a new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek: Discovery, was coming, except that it would only be available for subscribers of their new CBS All Access streaming app. So to see new Star Trek content on TV, one was forced to pay for it. This did not bode well for Star Trek: Discovery, and the show already had to face harsh criticism from disgruntled fans. Many of them balked at the design aesthetics, the cast that focused on women and people of color and different sexual orientations, and the fact that most of its season was devoted to a war. As Star Trek: Discovery debuted and failed to meet fans’ expectations, the franchise was further hobbled with the reports that a new Star Trek film was stuck in development hell. It seemed to be that as many cynics and haters were proclaiming: Star Trek was dying.

But the Star Trek franchise, as always, proved that it had life. Star Trek: Discovery began to find its legs and winning over skeptics. Its second season was light years better than its first with new cast members and better written scripts. This culminated in an epic season finale that rivaled anything seen in a Star Trek film and launched the series in a bold new direction while setting up respectfully the original TV show. That wasn’t all.

It was announced that there were other Trek shows in development. While the announcement was greeted with some interest it was Star Trek: Picard revelation that awoke the sleeping Star Trek fandom. The news that Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) star, Patrick Stewart, would reprise his iconic role of Jean-Luc Picard excited Star Trek fandom as did the news that the show would take place decades after TNG. This placated those who disliked the idea of reboots. It was clear that the original Prime Star Trek universe still existed and had stories worth exploring in it.

Star Trek: Picard was a much needed boost for the franchise as we fans eagerly wait for it to stream early next year. What added to the enthusiasm was the fact that Star Trek: Picard will feature other characters from TNG and even Star Trek: Voyager. This illustrates that the corporations finally recognized that they have their very own fictional universe to play with and utilize to its fullest. They have even given it an official name: the Star Trek Universe. We last saw this going on in the noughties with Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek: Enterprise. It is hoped that Star Trek: Picard will also feature characters and events from other series like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise. Additionally, there are two new animated shows coming soon and rumors of even more shows featuring the Klingon, Worf, and Captain Christopher Pike (as played by Anson Mount, who stole his scenes in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season). Even all does not seem lost on the film front. A Star Trek film directed by Quentin Tarantino is still being discussed. With all this, it can be said that a new Star Trek renaissance is upon us.

What is aiding the new coming Star Trek renaissance is that the corporations CBS and Viacom are merging and the two mediums they had the rights to, TV and film, can now fully interact with each other as last seen in noughties before both corporations separated from one another. So now full resources can be used for Star Trek with less of the corporate red tape over the usage of characters and situations.

Star Trek has faced many ups and downs throughout its fifty-plus years of existence. Some of its worst lows were after the original show and Star Trek: Enterprise were canceled. But time and time again after a lull, the franchise came back strong with renewed vigor. The upcoming shows and developments clearly show that Star Trek is coming back strong.

 

 

Let’s Hear It For The Boys

The Boys poster

As if anyone hasn’t seen the ubiquitous advertising, The Boys is a new superhero TV show streaming on Amazon Prime, and what makes it stand out from the standard superhero fest we’ve seen is that the superheroes are actually the villains and the main stars in the show are ordinary humans trying to undercut the superhumans.

In the world of The Boys, superhumans have been around for decades and are slickly marketed as celebrities to the public by the corporation Vought International. The company sells their superhumans as wholesome and patriotic heroes but the reality is that the superhumans are deeply flawed, amoral and let their power get to their heads. In other words, the superheroes feel they are above the law and act behind the cameras and campaigns without impunity.

The Seven

The main “superheroes” featured in the show belong to a superhero team called The Seven, and are basically knock-offs of the Justice League, with the Superman-type, Homelander (Anthony Starr) being the worst of the bunch. He knows he is basically a god and is treated as such by the adoring public. Literally draped with the American flag, Homelander is not above invading people’s privacy, rape, and needlessly killing people. Not all of The Seven are bad. Annie January (Erin Moriarity), is a new recruit called Starlight and she genuinely wants to do good and make a difference. The problem is the harsh reality of her co-workers disillusions her and causes her to question The Seven and how their heroic actions are solely carried out to please Vought’s marketing executives.

At the start of The Boys, one person’s life is changed forever by the superhumans. He is Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), an ordinary salesperson in New York City. His girlfriend is accidentally killed by a speedster called A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) who was speeding towards a crime scene. A-Train shows little remorse for smashing through Hughie’s girlfriend and is more concerned about not getting in trouble and not having his reputation ruined. Hughie, of course, is enraged by A-Train’s attitude and quickly becomes disillusioned by the Supes. He meets Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a grizzled and salty freelance operative for the CIA who hates all the Supes. Billy recruits Hughie and old colleagues/mercernaries such as Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) in a clandestine mission to gather intel on the Supes and bring them down. It goes without saying that the inventive and creative ways Butcher’s bunch defeats their superpowered prey is often humorous and grossly effective.

meet the boys

Comic book readers know by now that The Boys is based on a comic book series published by Dynamite Entertainment and created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Eric Kripke developed the show, which is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Before the show came along, many doubted that the comic book could be adapted because of its graphic content. It was so severe that the original publishers of The Boys, Wildstorm Productions, cancelled the series early in its run because it was too anti-superhero.

Thankfully, the show has been able to capture the spiteful and dark humor nature of the comic book. It provides viewers with a wry look at how superheroes would be actually perceived by the normal public and examines the implications of superheroes in our world. It is a lot like Watchmen only with more humor and not as bleak.

Even though it only has eight episodes (Amazon Prime already renewed it), The Boys is already one of the best superhero TV shows ever shown. It out-gritted previous grounded superhero shows like Daredevil and successfully emulates that feeling of engagement that Daredevil and the first season of Heroes used to hook viewers. All the characters are well cast and intriguing, even though a lot of their actions are barbaric and will make you wince. Make no mistake, this is not a standard superhero show for kids. It is jammed with graphic violence and sex acts; much of it is strangely fascinating to watch in a morbid fashion, such as the scene where Hughie’s girlfriend is suddenly turned to pulp by A-Train. But the highlight of The Boys isn’t the over-the-top violence or uncomfortable scenes,, but the characters and their situation. We are instantly involved and drawn towards Hughie, who is the confused and angry soul of the show. He is a decent man who witnessed a terrible act and is driven to want to do something but is wracked by his conscience. Meanwhile, Billy Butcher comes off as a foul-mouthed and cynical thug who has seen it all. But deep down he is embroiled in sadness and rage over his past. Butcher channels these intense emotions towards his drive to bring down Supes, especially Homelander. While we quickly come to despise Homelander and other Supes like A-Train, other Supes like Starlight and Queen Maeve (Domminique McElligott) are much more sympathetic as they struggle with their public image and their personal feelings.

hughie and starlight

Aside from the intriguing characters, The Boys carefully unveils the evil nature of Vought International with enough grim nuggets per episode to keep you watching. The company’s actions are quite horrific given the sunny nature they project to the unassuming public about their brand superheroes. In many ways, it is a sly commentary about the media in our lives and how public perception is easily manipulated.

Along with the superhero shows on the DC Universe app, The Boys is heralding the next step in superhero TV shows. If upcoming shows like Watchmen and the offerings from Disney+ match the quality of The Boys then we are in for some must-see viewing.

Game Of Thrones: The Wheel Is Broken As The Series Concludes

Game of Thrones

It is hard to believe that George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy yarn has come to a conclusion, but it has. Of course, the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is still a couple of books away from being published, but the HBO series it inspired, Game of Thrones, aired its last episode in an appropriate way. Ever since Game of Thrones debuted back in 2011 it has been a source of controversy in terms of how its story arcs developed and this final season and episode weren’t any different.

Before going further, a fair warning must be stated that spoilers will follow. With that out of the way, the final episode of Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”, concluded long-running character arcs that already left many fans reeling or feeling satisfied. But that is typical with this fantasy show. Game of Thrones stood out from normal fantasy fare with its brutally graphic and grounded depiction of its world. The good guys more often than not did not win the day, honor and duty were burdens and life was not fair, just like reality. We’ve seen this time and time again with incidents like the death of lead character Ned Stark, the infamous Red Wedding or the rape of Sansa Stark.

The final season was eagerly awaited as it promised to conclude many story lines but many fans were disappointed, which is natural given all the hype and anticipation Game of Thrones has received. Careful and observant viewers should not have been surprised or dismayed too much by how the arcs and characters developed. For instance, a major source of contention is with how Daenerys Targaryen descended into savagery in her quest for the Iron Throne and her birthright. We’ve followed Daenerys’ story from the first season where she was a timid princess in exile who overcame her inhibitions and rose to power by becoming a savior of people in the lands of Essos. She and her followers liberated slaves and vanquished evil people throughout the show and we all were eager for her to take on the evil forces holding the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, Westeros, namely the Lannister family who killed her father during a rebellion. But as viewers cheered her journey, many overlooked the clear signs that Daenerys had a dark side that was kept in check by close advisers and friends. When she and her forces finally stormed King’s Landing and slaughtered its innocent citizens, Daenerys was largely alone. Most of her confidants were dead or driven away, sometimes by her doing. This applied to her Queen’s Hand, Tyrion Lannister, who was appalled by her behavior. Even though the forces defending King’s Landing surrendered, a blood lust overtook Daenerys and she laid waste to the city with her magnificent dragon, Drogon and her army. This was too much for many people who realized she was beyond redemption.

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