Rod Serling shocked audiences when he declared his intention to create a science fiction/fantasy anthology show back in 1959. He was the most celebrated dramatic writer of his day, and no one could believe he would lower himself to B grade materiel like fantasy. But Rod Serling understood that a lot of important things could be said through a genre that few took very seriously. Over the next five years a lot of serious stuff was said. Most everyone knows about “Time Enough at Last,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders,” and “To Serve Man,” but here are a couple more treasures:
“Walking Distance” explores nostalgia when a man finds his way back into his own childhood. “The After Hours” is a truly scary exploration of isolation and feeling out of place. “The Howling Man” speaks of the underestimated danger of true evil. “The Eye of the Beholder” and “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” explore our beauty obsessed society. “Nick of Time” takes on superstition, and “It’s a Good Life” is almost unbearable as an all-powerful boy is a cruel god of his own world.
However, perhaps the most relevant episode for today’s culture is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” It is a chilling look at groupthink and the way people become truly monsters when society is led to believe they are in danger. Depending on your point of view it could speak a lot to the state of the world facing terrorism or climate change. Either way it shows the danger when society through fear gives its leaders too much power to control their lives.
The Twilight Zone is perhaps the first truly great television show ever made. Through its themes and messages it promises to stand the test of time and is as relevant today as it was when it was made half a century ago.