For the past few years, we’ve all had our speculative science fiction itch scratched by the return and resurgence of Black Mirror and all of the shows it inspired. But despite having a new show with updated visuals and storytelling techniques, I found myself gravitating to old episodes of The Twilight Zone on Netflix on rare nights where I found myself with nothing to do or watch.
What’s not to love about The Twilight Zone? The cautionary tales of how we as humans can improve are much easier to consume than Black Mirror which at times leave me feeling helpless because we can’t stop technologies unending takeover of us all. But can the moral and life lessons from Twilight Zone stand up in this post-Black Mirror world? If The Comedian is any indication, yes it can. But this is early so we shall see what the rest of the season has to bring.
The Twilight Zone: The Comedian
Director: Owen Harris
Release Date: April 1, 2019
The Comedian leads off the rebooted series and it is almost meta in its use of actual stand-up comedians telling a story about comedy. Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling comedian who happens to see his stand-up idol J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan) in his resident club after yet another failed set. Wheeler while appearing to be somewhat ethereal offers some advice to Wassan to help his act. “Put yourself out there and you will get laughs, you will be successful.” After making sure that Wassan truly wants this, Wheeler warns that “once you put it out there, the audience will take it in.” Thus we are transported back to the dimension between the pit of ones fears and the summit of our knowledge.
I won’t go into details because what’s the point of watching a show if you already know what happens but suffice to say the usual rise and fall of a speculative fiction story is here. Wassan gains the laughs he so desperately wanted, but this is The Twilight Zone, nothing comes for free. The story was in tune with what I think of when I think Twilight Zone. It made me uncomfortable, it showed me the horrors of humans meddling in things they don’t understand, and it wrapped everything up in a nice little bow. It managed to resist the temptation to go full Black Mirror, which is something I was definitely worried it would do.
Despite the fact that the majority of the main cast is made up of comedians playing comedians, the acting is pretty good overall. The highlight among the cast is very obviously Tracy Morgan who turns on a sinister smile and pushes the creepy up to 11. Even though he’s only in a few scenes I can’t stop thinking about how much he transformed for the role. Nanjiani is the same character he always is so he’s the leading nomination for the Jared Leto award at this years Flixist awards. Diarra Kilpatrick plays the role of Didi, a rival comedian well, owing to the fact that I was annoyed by her character consistently and therefore her acting was on point.
It was assumed that changes would be made to the show to accommodate its inclusion into the CBS All-Access premium network, but the biggest and most jarring change was the switch from the half-hour “time-slot” into a full hour. Right away they took away one of the things I enjoyed about the classic series, easily digestible existential dread that could be squeezed in before bed. The Comedian, being an original script and idea managed to fill out the runtime pretty nicely, but we’ll see how other episodes, especially those based off of old concepts fair.
One thing I’m not entirely happy about with the new changes is the full use of the liberties of being a CBS All-Access show affords them in terms of language. I am of the stark belief that swear words can lose their flavor after overuse, and at times can be used as a crutch for bad writing. I’ve noticed the recent trend in TV writing to be more liberal with the swears and curses now that outside of network TV it’s mostly open-season, but can we please cool it just a little bit? I hate to sound prudish but it definitely jarred me from the fact that I was not watching the original Twilight Zone, and instead something entirely different and I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing. This might be a byproduct of the fact that the original series was provocative with its themes and representations and not through the use of language, which almost feels like a disservice to the original series.
For the most part, I enjoyed the episode and am glad to see that Peele and his team are handling this new responsibility with care. It wasn’t perfect but as far as the first offering of a new reboot, I think it’s a good aperitif. We’ll see how they handle an old episode in the new era next time with Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.