“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.”
These words introduced each episode of the first season of The Twilight Zone, that is the TV series often regarded as the classic in a genre which we could call “fantastic”, a broad definition including several genres such as science fiction, fantasy, thriller, suspense and horror. Rod Serling was the creator, writer and executive producer of the show; his name and face are indissolubly tied to The Twilight Zone’s universe and legacy. He also acted as a presenter-narrator introducing each episode a la Hitchcock with his distinctive clipped speeches.
The narrative of the series is characterized by an exploration of the human nature and the way it reacts to uncanny situations. All men’s weaknesses are exposed and faced with trials bigger than them. Their ethics, or lack thereof, are scrutinized and met with consequences to deal with. There’s very often a moral and a price to pay.
In “One for the angels” (season one, episode 2), a salesman first convinces Death to save his life for his great last pitch. But when he realises Death has exchanged his life with the one of a little girl, he decides to sacrifice his own life and save the girl’s.
In “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”, a once famous gunslinger now become a self-destructing drunk, meets Mr. Fate who sells him a potion to go back to being the quickest shooter for ten seconds. When Denton faces his most dreadful duel with a young gunslinger, he finds out that he is holding an identical bottle. As a result, they shoot each other’s hand thus ending their careers as gunslingers (TV.com) http://www.tv.com/shows/the-twilight-zone/episodes/
As much as you try, you can’t escape a moral, a final judgement which will determine the rest of your life, if you will be lucky enough to have one once you have entered the Twilight Zone.
Among the writers who have penned the original Twilight Zone (1959-64), apart from Rod Serling who wrote or co-wrote 92 of the 156 episodes, we find masters of science-fiction like Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451;The Martian Chronicles) and Richard Matheson (”I’m legend”; “Duel”; “Button, button”); and authors such as Charles Beaumont, Earl Hamner Jr., Harlan Ellison, George Clayton Johnson, Reginald Rose and Jerry Sohl (Wikipedia).
As often happens with good science fiction books and films, the Twilight Zone’s writers took advantage of the genre to deal with social issues which were not likely to be included in traditional TV drama.
“Rod Serling said that even in science fiction, he was most compelled by stories that were relatable first in human terms. ‘If you can’t believe the unbelievability, then there’s something wrong in the writing,’ he told a college class in 1975.” How The Twilight Zone Predicted Our Paranoid Present, Adrienne Lafrance, The Atlantic (follow her on Twitter @AdrienneLaF)
The Twilight Zone also managed to foresee some of the future’s inventions and new technologies. What was “supernatural in the 1960s is commonplace or at least conceivable today — including driverless cars, flat-screen televisions, human-like robotics, government surveillance, and more.” The series also raised questions about “what human interaction with robots would ultimately mean for society… questions we’re asking today, amid military and civilian drones.” (Adrienne Lafrance, The Atlantic).
The original Twilight Zone had a five-season run and contained 156 episodes altogether. All episodes are 30 minutes long but those included in season four (1962–63)which feature one-hour episodes.
The series can be watched on syfy.com and on the CBS website, http://www.cbs.com/shows/the_twilight_zone/. Some complete episodes are also available on YouTube. The creator Rod Serling won two Emmys for outstanding writing (1960 & ’61), and the Golden Globe (1962) for best TV director/producer.
If The Twilight Zone’s aura hasn’t faded even fifty years later, it’s because of its ability to delve into the human soul and its many, unresolved dark sides. And as we all know, the dark side never really disappears.