Warning: contains spoilers.
Anyone who read my review of the first season of this latest reboot of Rod Serling’s classic series will know that my opinions were… let’s say mixed. Although it was nowhere near as terrible as the 90s reboot and generally on a par with the 80s one, it made a lot of mistakes that made it hard to embrace with open arms for a dyed-in-the-wool monochrome Twilight Zone fanatic like myself. However, messages have been crackling through the ether from the dimension of light and shadow suggesting that the second series was a definite improvement, so I was more than prepared to give the show a second crack of the ol’ whip. By and large, I think that the rumours were correct, though there was still the odd stumble along the way. So, strap on your patented Buster Keaton time travel hat and we’ll take a look at season 2 of The Twilight Zone.
The series starts with Meet in the Middle, in which a man who doesn’t have much luck with dating suddenly starts hearing the voice of a woman in his head. The more they talk, the closer they feel, but when he eventually goes to meet her, all is not as it seems. It’s a very Twilight Zone concept, but given a modern twist that plays on the dangers of online relationships. The problem with this story for me is that the central character is so unlikeable that it’s difficult to be emotionally invested in him and when he meets his eventual fate you’re left thinking, ‘yeah, you probably deserved that’. If they’d sorted that out, it could’ve been a much better start to the season. More enjoyable is Downtime, written by series producer/presenter Jordan Peele, in which the world gets put on pause when a giant orb appears in the sky, for everyone but a young female professional. It’s a solid Zone concept, with elements of the seminal 1978 German telemovie World on a Wire, which is emotional without feeling the need to inflict a dark, morose ending on us. Very nice.
The Who of You made me think of the classic Twilight Zone episode The Four of Us are Dying, in that it features a man who is able to switch bodies at will. On this occasion, it’s a down-on-his-luck actor who foolishly takes to bank robbery to keep himself afloat and the body swap effect is done simply and effectively, with the scene in which he skips along a street from one body to another being particularly effective. The main story however, doesn’t really revolve around the body-swapping criminal, but around the cop who has to piece together his unlikely escape route whilst gradually coming to terms with how he’s actually doing it. This is followed by Ovation, which is your basic ‘the price of fame’ story about a would-be singer who gets the recognition she craves, but finds it comes at a cost. It’s a premise that’s been explored many, many times before and there’s little that’s new here; also this episode, more than any other this season, really feels like it’s trying to be Black Mirror, which the new Twilight Zone would do well to try and avoid.
Next up is Among the Untrodden, which is a story about psychic powers and bullying in an all-girl school, which draws obvious parallels with Carrie and The Fury. However, if you can look beyond that, it’s got quite a clever twist that you might even miss on first viewing – even though it’s actually spelled out for you earlier in the story. Among the Untrodden is very nicely written, which is more than can be said for the next episode 8, which I thought was easily the weakest of the series, telling the tale of a new breed of sentient octopus that is rising up from the depths to conquer mankind. It’s more like an episode of The Outer Limits than The Twilight Zone, but with its barrage of casual profanity and its cheesy video nasty gore, it feels like a bit of fan fiction written by a 15-year old with an obsession for The Thing. The Twilight Zone was never about monsters (apart from human ones) and this episode does it a great disservice in making it so.
Fortunately, the series picks up again immediately afterward with two of the most Twilight Zone-ish stories of the series so far. A Human Face is about a grieving family who are suddenly faced with the scenario of an alien creature with the face of their deceased daughter; the mother accepts her because she’s just delighted to have something that appears to be her daughter back again, but the father rejects her because his rational mind cannot accept that it is his daughter. Like the very best of The Twilight Zone, it’s a story that explores differing attitudes to aspects of the human condition – in this case, grief. Also sporting a classic scenario is A Small Town in which a young widower finds a scale model of the town in which he lives in the attic of a church and is amazed to discover that how he interacts with the model can affect real world events. You can almost imagine this one being made as part of the 60s series and hear those distinctive musical cues as the changes he makes in the town come into effect.
Try, Try starts off as a romantic comedy in the mould of Groundhog Day but becomes steadily more and more sinister as it goes on. A young woman meets a man in a museum who eventually reveals that he is stuck in a time-loop, reliving the same day time after time; when he reveals that he’s spent most of those days wooing her, he starts off as a romantic fool but is increasingly revealed to be nothing more than a glorified stalker. It’s an interesting twist on how Hollywood ideas that appear romantic in movies would probably be quite disturbing in real life. The series ends with You Might Also Like, which starts off like an episode of Black Mirror, but gradually becomes deeply immersed in Twilight Zone lore with the appearance of the alien Kanamits from the classic series episode To Serve Man. It’s a quite light hearted episode (which I’m glad to see, because the first season ran the risk of being far too serious) and continues the tradition of ending the season with an episode that echoes in some way the show’s heritage.
So, in conclusion: yes, this is a much better season than the first one. There are some episodes in here that are pure Twilight Zone and its only real stumbling point is the dreadful 8. I still don’t like the inconsistent episode lengths – what happened to the discipline of TV scriptwriting? – but that’s a problem much more aimed at streamed TV in general than at The Twilight Zone specifically and the series has been getting better year on year. So, if they can stick to the interesting episodes exploring the human condition and ditch the monster movie schlock, I think we can look forward to a really spectacular third season.