DeanNYC

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Reviews

Swimming with Sharks
(2022)

It Wanted To Be Sally Draper Goes To Hollywood, But Only Got to The Valley
Swimming With Sharks is a case where the puzzle pieces don't fit but we're just forcing them in place, mostly based on tropes.

We have the out of town intern, Lou, played by Kiernan Shipka. She's joining the team of Fountain Pictures, run by studio chief, Joyce Holt (Diane Kruger) who still must answer to the sickly owner of the company, Redmond (Donald Sutherland). And Lou has her menacing overseers, the guys running the intern pool Alex and Travis (Ross Butler and Thomas Dekker).

The meteoric rise of Lou, from her first placement right outside of Ms. Holt's office, to becoming Holt's essential right hand is similar in tone to Don Draper's history from Ms. Shipka's previous series "Mad Men." Only Lou is more unsavory than even the 1960s Ad Exec in ways that maybe even Don himself might raise an eyebrow over.

The problem is in all of the elements to do with these characters, what we would expect them to do and what we believe about them, based on what they have done. In many of these cases, characters do or state things that don't seem to fit who they are or what we believe they would likely do in that circumstance and that always spoils the narrative.

Most importantly, with the character of Lou, I expected her to have a plan for every possible contingent, based on how she had dreamed, since childhood, of being where she was and how she has arranged everything to get herself to the upper reaches of Hollywood.

There are some definite good moments for each actor throughout, but they get skewered by all of the unbelievable ones. Everybody here deserved better.

That Girl
(1966)

The Most Magical 1960s Sitcom, Without Any Special FX
Scripted Television in the 1960s was, for the most part, designed to make people forget the news reports of the day. Either it was about some *previous* war, the Old West, or some sort of fantasy with a witch, a genie, a martian, a family of monsters, a horse that talked, a nun that flew, or some other oddity that clearly could never happen in real life.

Enter, "That Girl."

While the other shows of the era were trying to take people away from the standards of modern city living, Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) was facing it head-on, as an aspiring actress from Brewster, a commuter town that was just a train ride away from Grand Central on the Harlem line.

Ann was looking for her big break in New York and took all sorts of odd jobs to survive while she looked. She also had the help of her boyfriend Donald Hollinger (Ted Bessell) a writer for a weekly news based periodical, and her ever present father Lew (Lew Parker) who supposedly was running a restaurant back at the home town, yet somehow managed to be in Ann's apartment in nearly every episode.

What made the show unique was that a single woman was at the center of it. Ann Marie wasn't anyone's wife or housekeeper and wasn't responsible for anyone besides herself. That may not seem like much, but during this era of television, it was a breakthrough! And despite the two male supporters in her orbit, she was the astronaut exploring her world in her way.

The chemistry between Ms. Thomas and Mr. Bessell was undeniable and the two of them made it feel like a real romance was happening. Add in Ann's odd neighbor Ruthie, married to Don's co-worker, Jerry and you had a workable set of characters. And let's give credit to Bernie Kopell, who always did quality work, no matter the situation.

New York City itself was another character in the series, as Ann would sometimes audition for theatrical parts, shoot commercials and work in various places around town. And even when she didn't get the job, she never let it get her down. It's that kind of determination that made the show seem so positive.

Despite never using any special effects or gimmicks, like most of the rest of the sitcoms of that era were doing, there was a certain kind of magic that happened here. And there were laughs, as Ms. Thomas was helped by such comedy icons as Jesse White who played her agent, Dabney Coleman, another of her neighbors, and Ruth Buzzi, who played another of Ann's pals, when she wasn't cutting it up on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

"That Girl" is a sweet and charming look at NYC through the eyes of someone who loved it more that it did her. And even though it may not have been the funniest comedy, it had something to say to women about going for what you want at a time when society either said the opposite or nothing at all. That's why it's an important show in the History of Women on Television.

Almost Anything Goes
(1975)

ABC's Wilder World of Sports
Almost Anything Goes was based on a British game show called "It's a Knockout" which ran in the 1960s. But it also owed a lot to the 1950s series "Beat The Clock" (a stunt game that was a perennial favorite on television during the "Golden Age" and revived several times through the 2010s). Essentially they took the concept of "Clock" and supersized it! Teams would compete in crazily designed stunts (typically which had to be completed in a fast time) in order to score points and win the competition.

The show was designed like an actual sports league, with divisions based on geographic location, a series of playoffs and a championship. But it aspired to be more than the "Clock" game ever was.

"AAG" was three distinct things: First it was a celebration of "Small Town America," as each competing team in this series hailed from a dot on the map: Places like Boulder City, Nevada, Chambersburg. Pennsylvania and Havre de Grace, Maryland, as three examples.

Next it was a kind of a tribute (or parody) of actual sporting events, with episodes done in a stadium setting, fans in the stands, cheerleaders hyping the crowds, and a full complement of sportscasters and color commentators, chief among them, the great Charlie Jones who handled most of the play-by-play and featured Regis Philbin who often set the scene or did brief sideline interviews with the competitors, all of which was done in a seriously stoic style.

And finally it was Schadenfreude for audiences, as they watched these team members getting pelted with pies, seltzer bottles, and other slapstick inspired schtick, attempting to cross an above ground pool on a slippery pole, or negotiating a ridiculous obstacle course or relay race as they tried to win for their home towns and get a fleeting moment of fame.

The show ran for two seasons, and lived up to its title, with all sorts of silly and sloppy competition, and it spawned two spinoffs: a "junior" version where kids were the competitors and "All-Star Anything Goes," where kid actors from television series faced off in a scaled down series of stunts.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
(1971)

The Best Film Ever - With Only One Redeeming Character and the Villain's Name in the Title!
"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" is a beloved children's classic movie with lots of nods to adult viewers, throughout. It certainly earns the eight stars I gave it, thanks in great part to the endearing musical score, composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. However, if we are going to be honest, and I think we should be, we need to see what's actually happening in this screenplay.

My first assertion is that there is only one redeeming character in this film: Charlie Bucket, as played by young towhead, Peter Ostrum. Literally every other character with a speaking part does something that proves they are selfish, thoughtless, manipulative (or manipulatable, which might be worse), greedy or just plain rotten. You wouldn't want to be around ANY of these people for any length of time. Seriously. That's extremely rare for a film that people generally like!

A quick aside. Some might argue that the Oompa-Loompas should be considered "redeeming characters." The reason why they are not is because they are, essentially, a "Greek Chorus." They are commenting on the actions of the characters, mostly without ever interacting with them at all.

But the more crucial thing to note about this film is that the main antagonist, the "bad guy" of the movie is Willy Wonka, himself! I've seen commentary that has suggested the other four Golden Ticket winners, or their parents or the obvious target, Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe deserve to share the infamy. I get it, and Grandpa Joe is, in nearly every way, the most despicable parental figure in the film for many reasons (like, laying in bed for twenty years, then suddenly being capable of a song and dance production number to the tune, "I've Got a Golden Ticket" -- No, Joe, YOU don't have anything! That's Charlie's ticket!) so, let me briefly explain why this dishonor belongs completely to Willy Wonka.

First, Wonka has placed five Golden Tickets into his standard candy bars, offering the winners a tour of his factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Therefore, he is making all of this happen (at an incredible profit). Second, he is a saboteur. He hired a guy to pretend to be his rival, asking the winners to steal an Everlasting Gobstopper! Third, he pretends to be disabled, just for a sight gag. Fourth, he gets everyone inside of his factory and THEN shows them an enormous contract they must sign to continue. Additionally, much of the fine print is illegible. That leads to fifth, disqualifying each winner from receiving the prize, for breaking Wonka's unreadable rules.

Along the way, Wonka tempts the winners with things he knows they find irresistible (a piece of gum for Violet, a chance to be on television for Mike, etc.), never fully disclosing his intentions or goals. He used the ticket winners' interests to make them Guinea Pigs for his beta test level products, then punishes them when it all goes wrong. And he has a demonic boat!

Finally, the most atrocious element is why Wonka did all of this: he was looking for a protégé, a person whom he could train to do everything HIS way, so he could retire, knowing his replacement would robotically follow his instructions. Also Wonka was clearly not more than forty years old, and was doing a job he presumably loved. Why would or should he retire?

BUT, the reason why we forgive EVERYTHING can be summed up in two words: Gene Wilder.

Mr. Wilder's portrayal of the title character not only makes Wonka palatable, it makes all of his bad deeds so obscure, he's charming and loveable! That is an amazing testament to the actor and his genuine goodness and talent. Without Wilder, this movie would likely have been forgotten and certainly never would have had a real candy company founded, a film reboot, a Broadway musical and a prequel!

All hail Willy Wonka. All hail the amazing Gene Wilder.

Billie
(1965)

Come For the Sitcom Stars, Watch For a B'way Star, Puzzle Over Title IX
Billie, at first glance, appears to be a pleasant, innocuous teen comedy about the title character (Patty Duke) who can outdistance every boy on her high school track and field team (But then again, so can her Old English Sheepdog, Clown). The track coach (the omnipresent gruff character actor of that era, Charles Lane) immediately gets her to join the squad.

Her father (Jim Backus) happens to be running for mayor, essentially on the platform that men and women should not be competing. And when the school principal (Richard Deacon) confronts the patriarch about Billie, he has to change his tune with the public, with the help of his campaign manager (Dick Sargent).

Additionally his eldest daughter Jean (Susan Seaforth) is back from college and the guy she's been seeing (Ted Bessell) with the claim she's ready to quit school. But why? Did she break up?

The puzzlement is in how this film pushed the envelope on women's rights, both in sports and in society... a little. While a girl running Varsity track was seen as important enough for a Life Magazine cover story, no one really sees it as a big deal, except maybe Billie's teammate, Mike (Warren Berlinger) who discovers he likes Billie as more than a friend. The end result is a bit of a pull back on the story's push against the glass ceiling.

There are a few songs scattered here, notably the title song, an earworm that gets scored into several ensuing scenes, two slight ballads from Duke, and a locker room performance by her fellow runners that aspires to be a cross between "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" from "South Pacific" and "Gee Officer Krupke" from "West Side Story," (which admittedly overstates it).

Finally, speaking of Broadway, the biggest surprise and the best treat is the uncredited appearance of Dance Diva Donna McKechnie in two scenes! First she is one of the cheerleaders celebrating Billie during the film's opening credits. Then you'll see her in a red and white shirt in a scene where Billie teaches her classmates how to "hear the beat in your head" to run faster. Donna attempts to blend in as just another dancer, but she can't. She's Donna McKechnie!

Seeing all these now renowned sitcom players interacting is fun on its own and is enough to recommend the film, but getting to glimpse McKechnie in her young twenties, going full Donna, lifts this to a must view!

The April Fools
(1969)

Only In New York, In the Late 1960s
On one hand, "The April Fools" plays as a relic of an era gone by. And now, that's how it should be viewed. Gone are the days when a Wall Street player (Peter Lawford) would throw a party for his staff at his well appointed NYC apartment, filled with crazed and debauched characters out for their sexual conquests.

On the other hand, "The April Fools" suggests that this fast and furious lifestyle might not fit everyone and that maybe that's okay. Such was the case of one of Lawford's employees, played by the incomparable Jack Lemmon. He wanders into the soiree to sign the paperwork on his promotion, hates the scene, but meets a kindred spirit (Catherine Deneuve) who feels exactly the same. They ditch the coffee table carnal carnage for their own adventure.

Of course, they're both married, unhappily, and, as it turns out, she is the boss' wife. They both decide to leave their spouses and head to her home in France. Wild, ridiculous and sometimes humorous complications abound.

Sally Kellerman plays Lemmon's wife and its difficult to understand his unhappiness with that relationship (short of a son who hates and/or resents him and an expensive hobby she has, made more affordable because of his work upgrade). Kellerman more than resembles Deneuve here, even in housewife drag, so the dream of leaving New York for Paris must have made the switch that much more attractive.

And Jack gets some "help" with his pursuit from his lawyer pal played by Jack Weston and most especially his lecherous coworker Harvey Korman, who steals every scene he's in, a rare thing to do in a Lemmon vehicle if your name isn't Matthau!

Lots of location shots that capture the feel and flavor of The City the year the Jets and Mets both won their first championships. And that Burt Bacharach/Hal David title song performed by Dionne Warwick makes the whole thing a perfect time capsule, suitable to bury under the Unisphere in the Flushing Meadow Park World's Fairgrounds!

Part comedy, part drama, part farce, sometimes all in the same scene, "The April Fools" is held together by another genuine Jack Lemmon performance and, no matter what, those are always worthwhile.

WandaVision
(2021)

Good If You Are a Marvel or TV History Fan, Great If You're Both!
The trouble that WandaVision has, at the start, is that most 20something MCU fans aren't familiar with the sitcoms it mimics. There are clear nods to "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Bewitched," "The Brady Bunch," "Who's The Boss?" and "Family Ties" among a collection of references throughout this limited run series. But what Gen Z people ever sat through those programs? "The Office?" Well, okay, maybe that one.

Likewise, they toss in commercials that reference elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would be missed by people unfamiliar with that aspect.

The fact is, you will grok the program if you are in either one of those "camps" (pun intended) but you'll truly love it if you somehow are in both.

Even more importantly, at the moment of its initial run, WandaVision served as a kind of metaphor for our collective lives.

Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, not Montgomery) trying to surround herself with the things that make her comfortable is doing everything she can to protect her love, Vision (Paul Bettany) and their family and home. This gets accomplished through the standard Jump The Shark (can I still use that phrase?) tropes - wacky neighbor (Kathryn Hahn's Agnes) , pets and kids (Sparky, plus Julian Hilliard's Billy and Jett Klyne's Tommy), characters abuptly removed (Teyonah Parris' Geraldine) and even "Same Character, Different Actor" (Evan Peters' Pietro). But as soon as you think you're in complete control, you find out maybe you aren't.

Wanda's attempt to make things seem happy, normal and fun, despite the outside world infringing on and even frightening the main characters, speaks directly to the collective circumstances the world was experiencing as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, in a way that none of the creatives could have envisioned when the project was being designed.

WandaVision, in that sense, takes a very unique place in Television History both reflecting our lives and helping us escape them. The brilliance of everyone in the cast is made better by the fact that everything that happens in the narrative, needs to happen. The logic is flawless and the story told in that sitcom style fits like a jigsaw puzzle piece.

I'm not sure any Marvel fans will seek out episodes of sitcoms from a half century ago based on this, but it's an excellent way to indoctrinate their parents to the MCU!

One Ocean View
(2006)

One Ocean Blew
"One Ocean View", was brought to you by the same people behind MTV's "The Real World." But if you were unfortunate enough to have witnessed it, you don't need me to tell you this. The show's first ep is like a typical first ep of RW, where the housemates arrive in pairs to the beachfront property that will serve as their home for the summer, out on New York's Fire Island. And yes, they do have a hot tub.

Aside from the lower energy/ more mature exploration of the space (fewer screams about how great it all is), the typical discussion of who is who and what's going on, there's nothing notable about this program. Yeah, these people are "older" and are on their way to careers, but they're also a lot duller than the characters from a typical "RW" season. What is there worth watching about this group of 11?

Ok, there was a set of identical twins. So, maybe we should count them as one? And there was a set of exes that somehow are still friends, and maybe still more. So what?

The personalities in this group are the sort of people you might chat with over a drink at somebody's house party while you wait for your date to get out of the bathroom, but to spend a whole summer with these fools? Well, we didn't, because the show got axed in just two episodes.

At the time, Bunim/Murray had done fifteen seasons of "The Real World." You would have thought they could have produced something worth watching for a couple of summer months. No.

The Real World Movie: The Lost Season
(2002)

The Not-So-Real World
Sometimes when you have some success at what you're doing, you begin to think you can do it all. So you try something different. You become clever. You gain a little too much pride. Vanity takes over.

Such is the case of MTV's "The Real World Movie."

When one is vain and self-serving, any "self-parody" done will never entertain anyone but oneself.

Bunim/Murray, the production company that has been cranking out "Real World" seasons for 11 go-rounds as of the release of this "Lost Season," have decided to mock their own franchise with this television movie that stopped being polite in its first moments, then started getting unreal.

The alleged concept: A group of seven strangers were picked to live in what looked like a lodge in British Columbia. After a couple of weeks of the usual touchy-feely, shout-in-your-face, I think I'm in L-U-V antics, the house gets a challenge to face a compilation team of "World"ers from previous seasons: Aneesa from Chicago, Mike from Return to New York, Melissa from New Orleans, Amaya from Hawaii, David from Seattle, Rachel from San Francisco and David from Los Angeles.

A Van pulls up and "Couvers" the cast getting in, but the cameraman was asked by the driver to stay out and off they drove, we're told, never to be seen by official Real World cameras, again.

After hours of driving, the cast is led by the driver to another elaborately adorned house, except for one thing: no windows. The crew was kidnapped by some maniac who wants to produce his own version of Real World and has rigged the very expensive compound with countless cameras, even button style cams that he forces them to wear on their clothing. Everything has been rigged to explode by a controller he wears on his wrist unless the cast gets it going. What will they do???

The most entertaining scenes in the film were the interactions with the former cast members, basically having their own hostage crisis as they waited to find out what happened to their opponents. But, face it! They're all RW pros and know how to give the camera what it wants. I would have loved ninety minutes of that. I mean, "loved" in comparison to what we got.

What we got was creepy, meaningless, not fun, not entertaining, not understandable and not worthwhile.

I suppose I could examine all the holes in the plot... like where did kidnapper dude get the cash to build, decorate and wire up the hostage house? And if he had that kind of money, why didn't he just produce his own film?

Or, why did his cameraman buddy go along with his outlandish plot?

None of it made sense.

No fault of the actors, who all at least looked like RW castmates. But the writing was horrendous. Even a Lorne Michaels send up would have been funnier. In fact, SNL did do one! It featured Norm MacDonald playing Bob Dole as one of the kids in the "Chicago" house. Now THAT was a good parody!

The Twilight Zone: The Four of Us Are Dying
(1960)
Episode 13, Season 1

I've Seen Your Face Before, But Not Where It Is Now
This is the first episode of TZ where the title is a bit of a spoiler. But, as usual, from the mind of Rod Serling, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

We meet Arch Hammer (prolific and eventual forty year dramatic TV actor, Harry Townes) as he checks into a seedy hotel in New York City. He's another small time crook similar to Fred Renard, the threatening thug played by Steve Cochran in the previous episode, titled "What You Need."

Here though, this guy already has what he needs: Hammer can manipulate his features to alter his appearance and he has a very specific agenda.

First, he visits a nightclub after an orchestra member (Ross Martin) was killed in a traffic accident and romances the band's songstress, his mourning girlfriend (Beverly Garland), wearing her late beau's face.

Then, he boldly marches into the lair of a big bad criminal named Penell (Bernard Fein), wearing the face of the partner (Phillip Fine) the kingpin killed so he wouldn't have to split the loot and took the whole stash! And when Penell sent his henchmen to kill him "again," Hamner changes his face to a boxer he sees on a poster (Don Gordon) and throws them off the scent.

The problem for Hammer is that boxer is a local guy, and when he stops at a kiosk, still wearing the pugilist's puss, he comes face to face with the fighter's father (Another eventual four decade television actor, Peter Brocco). There was some trouble at home because the boxer ran away, breaking his mother's heart and dad holds that grudge. Rather than explain who he really is, Hammer flicks the man aside and heads back to his hotel.

There, as he hastily packs bags for the romantic rendezvous with his nightclub singer, a detective enters. He got Hammer on charges and as he was about to escort his quarry on a trip to Central Booking, Hammer changed his face back to the boxer in a revolving door and the detective goes off looking inside the lobby again.

Just when Hammer thought he got away with it all, that boxer's dad, who stalked him to that locale, pointed a gun at who he thought was his son and fired.

As Hammer died, his face contorted through the four faces we saw him use.

Of course, if Hammer reverted to the face of the Jazz musician instead of the boxer, he would have escaped. And you would have thought he was about to do that anyway, as he was headed to run away with his ill gotten lucre and the club chanteuse. It's the smallest mistakes that can change everything in The Twilight Zone.

I give "The Four of Us Are Dying" a 7 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: What You Need
(1959)
Episode 12, Season 1

Watch Out For Salesmen That Give You Stuff
In the first eleven episodes of The Twilight Zone, a salesman has played a major role in two: Episode Two, "One For the Angels" and Episode Three, "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." Rod Serling makes it three for twelve with this story.

And this story is something of a parallel to that Old West "Doomsday" ep. Here, a kindly old gentleman named Pedott (long time stage and screen actor Ernest Truex) enters a bar and peddles his wares. A sympathetic young woman (Arlene Martel) offers to buy some matches, but Pedott suggests what she needs is a small bottle of spot remover.

At the bar, the proprietor (William Edmonson) has been ragging on his most faithful customer, Lefty (Read Morgan), a former pitcher for the Cubs who cost the bartender a bundle on a bet he placed before the southpaw blew out his arm. Pedott offers the former pitcher a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

As Lefty puzzles over what might be in Scranton, he gets a call. The General Manager of his team wanted to hire him as a a minor league coach in, you guessed it, Scranton. Then when Lefty realizes there's a nasty stain on his lapel, the woman from before uses that bottle of spot remover to clean him up. It seems Pedott could have offered her a bus ticket to P.A., too!

Observing all of this was a small time crook/big time loser Fred Renard (Steve Cochran). He wants the old man to give him what he needs, too. Pedott hesitates but eventually gives him a pair of scissors. Renard is in shear disbelief but when he returns to his boarding house hotel and the elevator door closes on his scarf, choking him as the car rose, Renard whipped out the snippers and saved his own life.

Renard stalked Pedott and waited for him to come home. He wanted to know what he needed NEXT. Again, Pedott was unwilling but eventually gave him a pen. A fountain pen. A leaky fountain pen. Again Renard blotted out what it could mean, until some ink dripped right next to the name of a horse running at the racetrack.

Renard cashed in for a couple hundred and had the bellhop bring him the early edition of the paper to try the ink spill trick again, but the pen had dried up.

Angry and determined, Renard found Pedott again, demanding what he needed. He grabbed a box of shoes. Renard found them tight and the leather soles slippery. As Pedott moved across the street, Renard pursued. He slid on the slick cobblestones and just as he regained his balance, a hit and run driver mowed him down.

Slippery shoes were what Pedott needed.

The parallels to "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" are in how both salesmen knew what was needed, how they offered their products for little or no fee, how they watched the results of what happened, directly and how those results were, ultimately, for the saleman's agenda. That's why you better be careful if any salesperson offers you their items for no charge... in The Twilight Zone.

I give "What You Need" an 8 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: And When the Sky Was Opened
(1959)
Episode 11, Season 1

Nothing Like the Source Material But a Good Story on Its Own
If you read the Richard Matheson short story this episode of "TZ" is based upon, there really is only one element that connects the two - disappearances... Or, more accurately, erasures.

In a way, the short story is far more frightening in that it could have happened to anybody. I highly recommend you read the original story, titled "Disappearing Act" to see what I mean.

But a particular element of that story would not have gotten past the CBS censors, and Rod Serling surely wanted to capitalize on the public's growing fascination with everything space related. So he revised the tale to be about three military pilots who went aloft in an experimental craft and survived some sort of incident where the ship left the RADAR screens, then reappeared.

The first (Charles Aidman) of these flyboys disappears, but more, nobody seems to remember him, except his crewmate (Rod Taylor). Even the third member of the team (Jim Hutton) seems to only remember two on the flight as even the newspaper headline and accompanying photo changed.

It is a true portrait in psychological upheaval to watch Taylor go through the rationalization, trying to convince people, including the family of his vanished colleague, that he even existed. And then the growing realization set in - is this going to happen to him, too?

There is a logic gap that remains unexplained - why would these men disappear one by one, and more importantly, why would the world forget they ever existed? That's another aspect of the short story that fits better, as none of the characters from the original text was a known public figure. Despite that issue, this is a highly watchable ep.

I give "And When the Sky Was Opened" an 8 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Nightmare at 30,000 Feet
(2019)
Episode 2, Season 1

Good Takeoff, Terrible Landing
Nightmare at 30,000 Feet is a reimagining of one of the most remembered episodes of the 1959 Rod Serling iteration of The Twilight Zone, Nightnare at 20,000 Feet, which centered on a pre-Star Trek William Shatner and what he saw, or thought he saw, on the wing of his plane, mid flight.

Here, Adam Scott is Justin Sanderson, an investigative journalist boarding a flight from Washington DC to Tel Aviv, Israel. We are told that he had a mental breakdown during a previous assignment in Yemen. But Justin seems completely rational and unaffected, getting through Airport security and chatting with his girlfriend before boarding Northern Goldstar Flight 1015 on October 15th, a Red Eye excursion that was delayed departure until 10:15, presumably because of the heavy weather, thunderstorms rolling through.

Justin is kind enough to help a little family who needed an extra seat by giving up his Business Class booking for a place in the main cabin. And it was in the seatback of his replacement location that Justin finds an MP3 player, cued up to a podcast called Enigmatique - an episode titled "The Tragic Mystery of Flight 1015."

Justin begins to listen to the host describe the events as he is living them. The question is can Justin prevent the plane from the fate as described in the podcast?

The premise is brilliant, but the execution is all wrong. Justin continually presents himself as helpful, rational, even apologetic. Why the flight crew are treating him like a troublemaker doesn't make sense. Perhaps if he was a partisan commentator whose politics irritated the flight attendants, that might have helped explain it. As it is, they seem overtly angered by Justin for no obvious reason and they react with disdain at every single thing he does.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the ending was ridiculous, and not in a "TZ" way! Besides the overt reference to the television series "Lost," if you survived a plane crash and you were all in one piece, fully ambulatory and perfectly fine, would going after the person who you thought was responsible be first on your priority list? Especially since he didn't actually crash the plane!

That ending ruined what was, up to that point, a pretty good psychological drama.

I give Nightmare at 30,000 Feet a 6 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: The Comedian
(2019)
Episode 1, Season 1

Dramas About Comedy Are Difficult
When you are dealing with a dramatic element, as The Twilight Zone tends to be, the issue of comedy can be a challenge. That's where this incarnation of Rod Serling's iconic series begins.

The Comedian gives us Kumail Nanjiani as Samir, a struggling comic who meets one of his idols after an uninspired set at a club. Tracy Morgan in a subdued role as a popular but forgotten standup gives Samir advice, talk about what you know.

Samir resists but then starts using material from his personal life, rather than news stories about politics he previously referenced and started getting laughs. But the parts of his life that he used as fodder for his act begin to disappear.

The problem, of course, is that the comedy isn't particularly funny, which makes both the audience reaction and Samir's choices seem odd, and not in a "TZ" way!

Trying to do a drama related to comedy has proven tough for even the best writers. Aaron Sorkin attempted it on his short lived series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" as one high profile (and seldom seen) example.

And comedy is all about timing, but this episode slogs along at a snail's pace. This might have worked better as a standard half hour to force the story to move faster.

It took some patience to get through this episode, but on the good side Jordan Peele evokes the spirit of Serling with his presence without doing an impersonation of him. I guess that's worth something.

I give The Comedian a 5 out of 10.

I Ship It
(2016)

Before Zoey got a Playlist and even Before Rebecca was a Crazy Ex...
You are to be forgiven if you come across this web series turned short lived CW program and think it feels a little like two other series - "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." In fact, it predates them both.

That's because this series, written and created by Yulin Kuang, was based on a 2014 short film, also called "I Ship It," (also by Ms. Kuang) with an entirely different cast. It might be worth your while to track down the source material and give it a look as it helps set up the first season of the show.

And it's the first season, a series of ten webisodes, that open the world of that original short into a bigger, brighter and funner place to explore the parallel worlds of love and music that the film aspired to display, with characters singing their thoughts and emotions to each other, or to themselves.

Helen Highfield is Ella, and there is a touch of Cinderella to her - we meet her as she hilariously sobs over a breakup. But she pulls herself together enough to interview the lead singer of a band at a legendary local LA venue, The Mint. That's also where she sees a sign up sheet for a "Battle of the Bands" competition with the name of her ex (and his new GF) already at the top of the list to compete. Of course, she adds her name and calls her co-worker/housemate Tim (Riley Neldam) and ropes him into participating.

Not that Tim needed much persuasion. He "like likes" Ella, even as she does a kissing trial run that leaves her convinced there is no spark between them.

A couple of bandmates get added: Denver on keyboards (Jacqui Calloway) and Sasha on Bass (Yasmine Al-Bustami), rehearsals commence, there's some bandmate flirtation, a music video gets shot in the office, gets seen by the wicked stepmother-like boss and gets Ella axed from her job. That only leaves Ella more time to focus on beating her ex, Chris (Chase Williamson). Or is she secretly trying to win him back?

To me, the greatest achievement of this season is in the music and how each song helps advance the plot, but are also legitimately good tunes. Credit to Ms Highfield who does the bulk of the vocal work for making those songs the creamy center of these tasty confections.

The problem comes when we arrive in season two, or the CW iteration of the series.

If you eagerly watched the first episode of this second season to see where things would head next, the shock is that Ms. Kuang has remixed everything.

Instead of the story of Ella and Tim continuing, we get... Ella and Tim who are both employees of a delivery company called "I Ship It," and who are very much in love. Yes Highfield and Neldam are in the same roles, now as a couple.

But there are some winking echoes of the first season, with Ella leaving her job to work as a writer's assistant for her favorite TV series, "Superstition," a show she loves so much she writes fanfic for it (but won't show any of it to Tim). And Ms. Al-Bustami also returns as Sasha, here, an aspiring actress, landing a part on the very same show. Plus, Boss lady in each season is played by Kristen Rozanski.

The second season, truth be told, feels derivative and there isn't the sense that anything is at stake, certainly not for Ella, who breezes from her dead end job onto a studio produced series, and even when trouble threatens, it doesn't "feel" dangerous. Besides, in the world of television, the show will go on... or get canceled, as this one did.

I would advise watching the webisodes only, unless you become a fan of Ms. Highfield and want more of her, but fair warning. Despite a standard half hour time frame for season two, Ella has that much less to do.

Saving the Human Race: Webisodes
(2017)

For A No Budget Zombie Apocalypse Comedy, Pretty Good!
If you're only working with about six minutes per webisode you have to get a lot of info packed into those scenes. That's perfect for a Zombie Apocalypse storyline because all the tropes that setting implies get us right into the action.

And it's the tropes that make this work so well! Benjamin Papac as Matt, as the human guy looking to lose his virginity and, oh yeah, help save humanity is brilliant at maintaining his laser focus on what's important: Matt's sexual needs.

Hartley Sawyer is convincing as Joansey, the prototype android built to fight zombies but winds up being Matt's wing man, er, wing BOT or bot-blocker as Matt's focus quickly becomes...

Emma, played by Jessica Lu. But Emma's agenda is finding and rescuing her sister, trapped in a neighboring town in the Norwegian countryside.

The story clicks along at breakneck speed and the three leads all play it brilliantly, as Matt persues Emma, Emma begins to fall for the Boy Scout style qualities of Joansey and Joansey provides the Intel and comic relief that keep this from ever getting too freaky.

And let's share the praise for all the zombies that keep the tension going, most especially Sandra Instebø who plays Heidi, Matt's girlfriend who becomes zombified nearly immediately and stalks him the rest of the webisodes.

The Twilight Zone: Judgment Night
(1959)
Episode 10, Season 1

A WW II German U-Boat Commander Sees His Shadow
Sometimes, Rod Serling is all about the "morality play," a kind of Aesop's Fable that sets up a situation, then pays it off with that meaning meant to make you think about the story and the end result. This is one of those times.

Nehemiah Persoff (himself a Jewish person born in Jerusalem and who turned 100, August 2, 2019) is the center of this World War II tale of a ship called the S.S. Queen of Glasgow, a military transport from Liverpool to New York. A small group of civilians were aboard the vessel, which lost contact with her escort ships in the thick fog.

We learn the name of the man in question is Carl Lancer, as he seems to learn with us. He has a bit of amnesia. He also doesn't seem to remember his occupation, his purpose of traveling or even getting aboard the ship at all.

There is a serious threat: German U boats are looking for targets and they are potentially a big one, alone in the ocean. In the meantime, The captain and other passengers chat with Mr. Lancer and he starts to remember. He was born in Frankfort (not Kentucky, GERMANY), and he seems to know a whole lot about how the Deutschland Navy works.

The captain, suspicious but not wanting to alarm anyone, called Lancer to the bridge. But again, he could remember nothing and didn't have his passport. The captain sent a steward to Lancer's cabin to check. And it was there we got the confirmation we suspected. The steward found a Nazi Germany U Boat commander's cap in Lancer's belongings. And when Lancer turned the hat over, his own name was inside.

The trouble really started when the ship's engines died from overwork. The other passengers were not concerned (including a pre-"The Avengers" Patrick MacNee) but Lancer was frantic. At 1:15am, something was going to happen.

And with German precision timing, the attack occurred, with no warning and no mercy. Lancer runs and screams through the ship as the bombing continues. That's when he is confronted by the faces of the friends he had made aboard the craft staring silently back at him. And on deck, Lancer finally saw the attacker through binoculars. It was, of course, himself in his cap.

Later, having sunk the ship, and having rescued no one, Commander Lancer chats with a young officer (James Franciscus) who learned that women and children were on the ship and felt guilty about not issuing a warning. Lancer mocks the young man for being too soft, but he goes on to suggest that maybe they are damned and their hell is to relive this night over and over again, to suffer what those people suffered, to die as those people died, for eternity.

As his officer said those words, Lancer drifted into a dreamlike state for a moment, and was standing on the deck of the S.S. Queen of Glasgow, headed from Liverpool to New York on a foggy night.

Knowing what I know about Mr. Serling, and knowing that this message isn't particularly effective against Nazis at that stage of history, I have to believe, in his typically subtle methodology, that the moral was directed at people who treat anyone that is different, be they immigrants, minority members of society or simply people you don't know, with derision or as if they do not matter. It's a "Golden Rule" lesson that still applies in the 2020s as it did in the 1950s.

I give "Judgment Night" an 8 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Perchance to Dream
(1959)
Episode 9, Season 1

There's A Theme Here... A Theme Park.
If all of the namechecks of famous authors from "Time Enough At Last" weren't enough to convince you of Rod Serling's literary interests, there's this episode, with three words taken from what is arguably the most famous speech written for the stage, William Shakespeare's soliloquy from Hamlet. However, this tale gets slightly more ribald than then Prince of Denmark ever did.

Richard Conte, an actor famous for Film Noir roles in the 1940s and 50s, gets to do what he does best, here. He's Edward Hall, a tough guy in a tough spot. He hasn't slept for days, not because he has insomnia, but because he has had a series of dreams where a beautiful woman named Maya (Suzanne Lloyd) haunts, teases and taunts him. He feels certain this woman will kill him if he goes to sleep and encounters her, again.

Conversely, he knows if he doesn't rest, his heart condition will kill him.

Seeking help from a psychiatrist (John Larch) in a skyscraper office, Hall explains the series of dreams and the mysterious woman who keeps appearing, hoping to find an answer.

In a scene that seems incredible to have gotten past the CBS censors in 1959, at an amusement park, the woman dances seductively, then pursues him, getting him to take her into the fun house and later on a wild roller coaster. In each case, Hall is able to awaken before Maya kills him.

As Hall tries to make sense of it, he exits the doctor's office back to the waiting room. That's when he sees the receptionist - she's the woman from his dreams. He races back into the doctor's office and takes a swan dive through his window, shattering the glass and frame as he plummeted to the pavement below.

A moment later, the Doctor calls his receptionist into the room. The window is completely intact. He tells her the man on his leather couch, laid down, went to sleep, then screamed and died. "At least he went peacefully," the doctor commented.

This episode is notable as the first of the series not written by Rod Serling. That was handled by Charles Beaumont, a name that will appear regularly. The story wasn't as developed as the previous episodes and despite it being "noir" often comes off looking a little too dark to be viewed well.

I give "Perchance To Dream" a 7 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Time Enough at Last
(1959)
Episode 8, Season 1

The Episode That Defines The Series
Isolation is a constant theme throughout the series and we have another example of that, in this episode.

Even if you had never seen any of "The Twilight Zone," you likely know the plot of this story, which has both been celebrated and parodied in popular culture, almost since it first aired on November 20th, 1959.

And it's yet another eventual Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee - Burgess Meredith plays a guy named Henry Bemis, a man with poor eyesight and who wore what were often referred to as "Coke Bottle" glasses, lenses so thick they magnified his eyes. Despite the vision issues, Henry loved to read and was looking for every opportunity to do so, even reading while performing his job as a bank teller. He tried to engage his customer with the plot of David Copperfield, but she was more annoyed that the clerk didn't count her money correctly.

Mr. Bemis' boss also was upset by this reading on the job, and Bemis' pension for going into the vault downstairs with books and newspapers during his lunch hour. Bemis tells him his wife won't let him read at home. She has a very social lifestyle and wanted her husband to participate, not have his nose stuck in a book.

Rod Serling throws in a tribute to "The Aldrich Family," (a long time radio and early television show that always opened with the family's matriarch calling for her son: "Hennnn-REEEEEE! Henry Aldrich!") as Henry's wife (Jacqueline deWit) sounds an identical alarm that she's coming through.

After chiding him for not talking to her and stealing his evening paper, he must get ready to visit the neighbors for an evening of cards. As wifey exits, Henry retrieves his secret treat from under his seat cushion: A small volume of poetry which he surreptitiously slips into his jacket pocket. But when the spouse finds it and asks Henry to read her something from it, he sees she has crossed through every line on every page. "Why do you do this, Helen?" He asks. "Because I'm married to a fool."

Next day, at work, Henry does his usual routine of taking his brown bag and some reading material down to the vault for lunch. The newspaper headline says: H-BOMB CAPABLE OF TOTAL DESTRUCTION. Then a massive explosion occurs, rattling the room and seemingly knocking Henry out.

As Henry awakens and pushes the vault door open, he sees nothing but carnage. The bank and everyone in it was destroyed, as was the case for his town, including his home.

But the grocery store had plenty of food, so he won't starve, and he had a makeshift bed from someone's sofa in the street (though, seriously, smoking in bed and dropping the unfinished isn't a good image, even after the apocalypse!)

Poor Henry, alone in the world, grew despondent, wandering around, seeking fellow survivors that weren't there. He came across a sporting goods store and found a gun, intending to end his misery when, he sees it: the remains of the Public Library.

Henry can't believe his eyes, shelves of the world's best books!

He goes about stacking the novels, plays, short stories and biographies in the order he will read them, and he has time to do it. That's when he looks down at the marble steps where he laid a book down, his glasses slip off his face and shatter.

"That's not fair," Henry laments as he picks up the empty frames of the glasses that used to let him see. "There was time, now. There was all the time I needed."

The poignant performance of Meredith, as the suffering worker and husband, then as the lone survivor of this disaster is what makes it such a classic. You can't help but feel for him. But also, you hope he can somehow find his way to an optometrist's office rather than locating that revolver in the remains of that sporting goods store.

I give"Time Enough At Last" a 9 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: The Lonely
(1959)
Episode 7, Season 1

Aware Hardware
Certain themes come up frequently in episodes of "The Twilight Zone." One of those is the theme of isolation. Rod Serling noted that we, as a collective community, were, by the end of the 1950s, becoming more distant and that was clearly by choice. Suburban living was a draw, as people began to move from the crush of urban squalor into the solitude of residential communities. What did that mean for our view of how we see each other and how we see ourselves?

Serling's futuristic tale features a convicted murderer Named Corry (Jack Warden, a 1970s two time Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee) who had already served more than four years of his sentence: a a half century of solitary confinement on a desolate asteroid.

Every several months, Captain Allenby (prolific film and TV actor John Dehner) pilots a rocket to drop off fresh supplies, a real inconvenience for the crew (the loudest complainer being Ted Knight, eventual news anchor at WJM-TV, Minneapolis on "Mary Tyler Moore").

Where Earl Holliman was alone in a town in season 1 episode 1's "Where Is Everybody?" Warden's Corry had nothing but a barren landscape and the few brief minutes with Allenby and his workers, before they flew the five million miles back home.

But Allenby has some sympathy. He believes Corry's claim that he killed in self-defense and he previously brought him the pieces to assemble a car, to aid his mental health. Here, he gave the prisoner a bonus crate, which he asks Corry not to open until they departed. That's because inside was a female humanoid android named Alicia (Jean Marsh, best known for co-creating and starring in the PBS soapy drama - and precursor for "Downton Abbey" - "Upstairs, Downstairs").

Corry immediately rejects her; it's a machine made to mock him, and he tries to push her away. But after treating her harshly, Alicia began to cry, and that touched Corry's heart. They started to become friends.

Over the ensuing weeks and months, their relationship blossomed and Corry shared his interests, hopes and dreams with her. He grew to care about Alicia as a living being and she became an ideal companion.

Nearly a year after Alicia's "arrival," Allenby and his team returned with news: He's been reprieved and issued a pardon. But because seven other prisoners from other asteroids were also aboard, and because of flight conditions, they only had room for him and fifteen pounds of luggage and they only had a twenty minute window to lift off or risk never getting back to Earth.

Corry laughs about the "fifteen pound" limit. All he has is his diary and a change of clothes. But as he talks about Alicia and him getting aboard that rocket, the captain tells Corry there's no room for Alicia. Corry insists she's a woman, while Allenby says, she's just a robot, leading to an argument.

Corry runs to Alicia, and asks her to talk to the crew, to show them exactly who she is! For a moment, Alicia looks confused, as if she is processing what's going on, and says nothing. That's when Allenby pulls out his sidearm and shoots Alicia in the face. Then, the machine says "Corry," over and over, slowing down like an old vinyl turntable until it stops, the circuits and wires sparking where her expression once was.

Some might say Allenby committed the act the Corry was on that asteroid for doing. In fact, they're right. Allenby killed in self defense, because they might have missed their exit window if the discussion continued. And leaving the android alive and alone on that rock would have been nearly as bad as Corry's sentence.

But this is a question we are beginning to consider, now - is Artificial Intelligence actually "life?" Proof that Rod Serling was one of the greatest visionary writers of the 20th Century.

I give "The Lonely" an 8.5 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Escape Clause
(1959)
Episode 6, Season 1

A Devil May Care Attitude Could Prove Fatal
Rod Serling wasn't interested in just doing a standard dramatic anthology series. He wanted "The Twilight Zone" to explore many different sides of the human condition, and sometimes that's best handled with farce.

The distinguished actor from stage and both screens, David Wayne, is Walter Bedeker, a hypochondriac that thinks every sniffle is a sign of death and that his wife Ethel (Virginia Christine, most remembered for her series of Folger's Coffee commercials as Mrs. Olson) is secretly plotting his demise.

Suddenly appearing in Bedeker's room is a man calling himself Mr. Cadwallader (long time character actor Thomas Gomez) He's offering immorality, health, indestructibility and to not appear to age for however many hundreds of years were ahead. Of course, Cadwallader is The Devil and wants Bedeker's soul to complete the contract.

Cadwallader informs Bedeker of an "escape clause." In the event Bedeker wants his life to end, he can just say so and he will die. Of course, Bedeker agrees to the terms and signs his name to the document. Moments later, he grips a red hot radiator with both hands and feels no pain. He announces to his wife that he's a brand new Walter Bedeker!

Then he starts doing things to get insurance money, such as jumping in front of subway trains and getting into bus accidents. As an aside, our insurance men are two recognizable faces: The first was Dick Wilson, most remembered for his series of Charmin Bathroom Tissue commercials as Mr. Whipple. The second was Joe Flynn, who played Captain Binghamton throughout the run of the World War II seafaring sitcom, "McHale's Navy."

Bedeker has already become bored. He mixes a bunch of household chemicals together and drinks the poison, but it simply tasted like weak lemonade. He announces to Ethel that he will go to the roof and throw himself off. She follows him upstairs, intending to stop him, but wound up falling off, herself.

Completely nonplussed over the death of his spouse, Baedeker calls the police and tells them he just murdered his wife. He's looking forward to experiencing the electric chair.

But it was the judge in the court trial that provided the real shock. The sentence was life imprisonment with no hope of parole.

Locked in a holding cell and awaiting transfer to the penitentiary in the morning, Cadwallader returns to ask if Bedeker wants to make use of the "escape clause." He does, he has a heart attack and drops dead in the cell.

There are many questions. How did a nebbish like Walter become an adrenaline junkie? If he was getting money from insurance companies, why couldn't he use that to make life more interesting? Being indestructible, he could have joined the police or Armed Services or fire department and provided public service. And even with that sentence, he could have just run. Bullets fired by police trying to recapture him wouldn't have harmed him. But that's all a function of the farce.

I give "Escape Clause" a 7 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance
(1959)
Episode 5, Season 1

You Could Go Home Again, But Maybe You Shouldn't
Revisiting childhood, much like foregoing the Space Age for the Old West, is a concept that likely will forever have resonance. If life seems too complicated, think back to the days when everything was simple and carefree. That's at the heart of this episode of the Zone.

We're on a roll with future Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winners, because this story stars Gig Young, who won in 1969, our third Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner in the last three episodes.

But turning the clock back ten years earlier, Young's character, Martin Sloan, a brash and somewhat burnt-out "Mad Man" executive needing a break from New York and the advertising world, pulls his convertible sports car into a filling station (as they used to call them) on a summer Sunday afternoon to get some gas. He tells the mechanic to give him an oil change and lube job too. It'll take an hour, is the response. "I'm in no hurry," states Martin. This, though he was driving down that dirt road at rocket speed.

Then Martin sees a sign that says Homewood, the town he grew up in, was just a mile and a half down the road. He decides to walk over (hence the title of the episode) and see how it had changed.

But, to Martin's surprise, the place wasn't that different than he remembered. The drug store that he bought his three scoop ice cream sodas from as a kid for ten cents still charged a dime for the confection. He started feeling as if he only left town a day ago, not twenty years previous. But what Martin didn't see was that the owner of the place, whom he believed to be dead years before, was taking a nap up in his stockroom.

Next, Martin wanders down his old street he encounters a friendly small boy playing marbles. It happened to be another future Oscar winner, a pre-Mayberry Ronnie(as he was credited here) Howard. Martin points at the house across the street and tells the kid he used to live there. "Sloan House?" The kid asks.

"You still call it that?" Sloan House? That's my name. Martin Sloan."

"You're not Marty Sloan, I know Marty Sloan and you're not him!" The kid runs back into his house.

Martin continues his tour, heading to the park, where he helps a young mother (take THAT, Barbara Jean Trenton from "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine!") who had trouble with her misbehaving son. Martin tells her how he carved his name into the post of the bandstand, when he sees a kid doing exactly that. As he rushes over, the kid is carving the name "Martin Sloan" with his knife.

"You ARE Martin Sloan! That's how I looked!" Martin shouted, scaring his younger self into running away.

Finally, Martin braves a visit to his boyhood home and rings the doorbell. His dear old father and mother come to the door, having no idea who he is; they think he's crazy for claiming to be their son, and say as much as they slam their door in his face.

A neighbor shows off his brand new jalopy, a 1934 car with a rumble seat. Martin finally realizes that he somehow has traveled back through time, some twenty-five years.

That evening, he returns to the house, finds his old baseball glove and as he rings the bell on his bicycle, Dad comes out. "I don't want you to get into trouble," the elder Sloan states, "but if you hang around here, there may be trouble." He sees his mother come to the front porch and tries to convince her of his identity, pulling out his wallet. She slaps it out of his hands and slaps her hand to his cheek.

Martin hears the calliope of the carousel and knows where he needs to go. He dashes to the park.

When he arrives, we know something weird is about to happen, because everything is seen in Dutch angles. Martin spots his younger self on the merry-go-round. He calls out to him, then hops onto the ride. Young Martin starts to run away again, and as the adult Martin chases, the boy falls off, screaming in pain as he injured his leg. At that moment, the adult Martin also screams in pain from a leg injury he didn't have, until that moment.

The ride operator, holding Young Martin gingerly, was approached by his adult counterpart saying, "I only wanted to tell you, this is a wonderful time of life for you. Don't let any of it go by without enjoying it." It's an O. Henry style communication, though, because Martin ruined his enjoyment by attempting to deliver that thought.

Later, as Martin still broods on the motionless carousel, his father comes by. "The doctor says he'll limp some, but he'll be alright." Then he returns the wallet admitting he looked through it. "You've come from a long way, and a long time." He goes on to tell his son he has to leave. "Don't make him share it," Dad says about the adult Martin crowding the child Martin out.

Martin returns to the drug store, it's daytime again, and kids are dancing to Rock n' Roll music on the jukebox. He asks the soda jerk for his three scoop ice cream soda. "It'll cost you extra. Thirty-five cents."

Martin passes on the soda and has difficulty standing up with his "bum knee." "Did you get it in the war?" The counterman asks. And when Martin tells him he got it as a kid falling off the carousel right there in town, Martin is told that the ride was condemned and torn down, years ago. "a little late for you!" the soda jerk quipped.

Sloan hobbled his way back to his car, paying the grease monkey for the job, and pausing to think about what he experienced, before driving back to his life in the city.

The blending of the mystical and human desire here shows what "The Twilight Zone" does best. What would we do if we could go back in time to deliver a message to our younger selves? And what do we want to retain from our childhoods as adults? The best of the Zones are the ones that make you think, like this one.

I give "Walking Distance" an 8.5 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine
(1959)
Episode 4, Season 1

Vanity, Thy Name Is Trenton
We have to remember some things about "The Twilight Zone." It was, first and foremost, intended as commentary of the day. Rod Serling, for all his brilliance, did not know nor could predict where we would be in the year 2020 (if he could have, he certainly would have turned it into one of his episodes!) So part of the reason why at least some of these stories are no longer seen in regular rerun rotation on television is that the message they send is not a tale worth telling. Such is the case of "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine."

Ida Lupino is a name we will encounter multiple times as we progress through this anthology series. Here, in her first venture into the Zone, she is the star of the show, a movie star, Barbara Jean Trenton, romantic lead in a series of films from the 1930s. She spends her time in her tony Beverly Hills mansion sitting in a screening room all day, reliving her past glory by watching her old films and thinking about her handsome leading men.

Her housekeeper Sally (Alice Frost - a founding member of the Orson Welles project, The Mercury Theatre) is concerned, as her mistress barely ever comes out of that room, and Sally brings her snacks and a pot of coffee to keep up her strength. Ms. Trenton's agent Danny Weiss (another future Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner, Martin Balsam) is worried too, but has something to offer: a part in a new picture. Yes, it's at her old studio, where the guy calling the shots, who was always at odds with her, was still running things, but it's a job.

They keep the appointment, and while Barbara Jean envisions a return to her glamorous lead roles, she is told the part is a small one, where she plays a mother. Incensed, she storms out of the studio chief's office and back to the safety of her estate.

Danny has one more idea to shake Barbara Jean out of her reverie: a visit from one of her co-stars. Jerome Cowan (who we see every holiday season as the DA assigned to prove that Kris Kringle isn't Santa Claus in the 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street") is her most favored, and he was in town on business.

When Jerry drops by to visit, Ms. Trenton can't hide her disappointment and dismay. Her leading man is... OLD! AND! He runs a string of supermarkets outside of Chicago! Barbara Jean Trenton was fooled again, and ordered both men to leave.

She hastens to her screening room to see the REAL Jerry, the leading man who is still young, fit and handsome. As the film unspools Ms. Trenton mutters, "I wish I could be up there with you," as the camera dissolves.

What seems like the next morning comes and Sally knocks on the screening room door with her customary coffee and snacks. When she enters and doesn't see Barbara Jean in her chair by the projector (which was still running), and notes she wasn't reclining on the sofa, Sally is puzzled. Then she looks at the screen and lets loose a scream.

Danny arrives and Sally explains she searched the entire house and Ms. Trenton was gone. He sits, dims the lights and turns the projector back on. There, on the screen, a mix of characters from Barbara Jean's various films are all together in the foyer just outside the screening room. They all have arrived for a dinner party. Ms. Trenton comes down the staircase and invites her guests out to the pool, as Danny watches, then calls out to her.

She turns, steps into a close up, blows a kiss and tosses her long handkerchief towards the frame before retiring with her young Jerry to the back of the mansion as the film runs out. Danny is stunned, but as he exits, he sees it - Barbara Jean's handkerchief, on the floor, right where she tossed it. "To wishes, Barbie," Danny says wryly.

There is so much wrong with this. First, to characterize an actress as so vain as to not understand the passage of time seems especially ludicrous and unfair, even by 1959 standards. Second, Ms. Lupino still looks young and vibrant here, so it's difficult to understand why she was trapped in her memories, or why she would flatly refuse a part because she would play a mother. And if she was simply self-absorbed, why should she or would she get her wish, after treating everyone so thoughtlessly? It is a completely unsatisfactory ending. But Ms. Lupino will be redeemed, later in "The Twilight Zone."

I give "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" a 4 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: Mr. Denton on Doomsday
(1959)
Episode 3, Season 1

Fate Takes A Hand...
The television Western was an extremely popular form, and for a lot of reasons. There was rustic scenery, horses, clear rules of right and wrong and the continual challenge of life and death. It was also, as the Space Age was beginning in earnest, a throwback to a time when some could find a kind of comfort in the simplicity of what all that represented. It was only natural for Rod Serling to explore the Western landscape with his unique vision. This was his first venture into that setting.

Dan Duryea (who happened to be one of the stars of "Battle Hymn," the film on the marquee at the Town Square cinema in Season 1, Episode 1's "Where Is Everybody?") is a drunkard named Al Denton in an old west town, here. He is taunted by a younger, brasher and bullying rival named Hotaling, played by eventual Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Martin Landau.

After a nasty exchange, Denton ends up in the street, where a pistol magically appears (the first visual effect of the series). Next to it stood the owner of a wagon that buys and sells everything, a kind of rolling, expanded suitcase of Ed Wynn's Salesman Lou, from Season 1 Episode 2's "One For The Angels." As Denton grabs the gun and stands, the wagon owner seems to have a smile.

When Hotaling sees Denton with a piece in his hand, he challenges him to a quick draw, offering to shoot left handed to give Denton an advantage. Denton tries to wave that concept off, but as he does, the gun goes off and Hotaling's left wrist is incapacitated. Everyone is happy and brings Denton into the saloon to celebrate, but Hotaling finds nothing to party about. Again, he calls out Denton to turn and fight. Again Denton tries to placate his antagonist, but this time the gun fires at a lamp above Hotaling's head, which comes crashing, right on his other wrist as he fired, as witnessed by the bemused and silent mobile merchant.

Denton suddenly seems a lot more sober. The barmaid, Liz (Jeanne Cooper, best remembered as the legendary Katherine Chancellor of "The Young and The Restless") wants to talk. Denton reminisces about how he used to be so good with a pistol, someone would challenge him every day. "And every morning," Denton confessed, "I'd start my drinking a few minutes earlier." Killing younger and younger victims drove him to drink.

As Denton predicted, the challenges to his gun skills started again. Some guy named Pete Grant sent his Boys to announce he'd be in town the next night.

And as Denton prepared, he couldn't hit a tin cup off a piece of wooden fencing at fifteen paces. He was, essentially, a dead man, shooting. There was only one thing to do: Pack up and get out of town! And that when our Wagoneer turned up again. His name? Henry J. Fate (long time character actor Malcolm Atterbury).

The peddler had a secret weapon: A potion that would let him be a fast, accurate shot, for ten seconds after the mixture was swallowed. And he simply gave it to Denton!

When Pete Grant walks into the saloon (an impossibly baby-faced Doug McClure, later of NBC's long running "The Virginian"), each gunfighter realizes they both have Mr. Fate's potion. And when they fire, they both strike each other in the wrist, effectively ending their dueling careers.

Fate seemed quite pleased with the results and gave a nod to Denton as he drove his buggy out of town, presumably to stop more gun violence, elsewhere. Yes, that's conjecture, but it sure seems like that was this traveling salesman's mission.

That is the underlying message. Guns don't prove anything and that kind of pissing contest only gets your own boots wet. Unfortunately, Rod Serling's story made that point far too subtly for it to resonate with a more modern audience that now have weapons that can fire a bullet a second.

I give "Mr. Denton On Doomsday" a 7 out of 10.

The Twilight Zone: One for the Angels
(1959)
Episode 2, Season 1

You Can't Cheat Death, But You Might Sell Him
Ed Wynn Was a Vaudevillian, a popular radio show comedian, and star of film and that up and coming medium, television. He will be forever remembered as Uncle Albert in the Oscar Winning Best Picture, "Mary Poppins." But here, Mr. Wynn delivers an almost as charming performance, even though he didn't get to laugh.

Rod Serling's teleplay is simple enough. Wynn is a salesman named Lou Bookman, hawking his wares on the sidewalk of an unnamed city. He is eyeballed by a man in a black suit, jotting something in a small notebook. At the end of the day, Lou returns home, where the neighborhood kids crowd around to see if they might get some treats out of the old softy. He hands out a couple of wind up robots that he didn't move and promises an ice cream party for all the kids after supper.

But back in his small apartment, Lou has a surprise. The man in the black suit is there, notebook and all. He is Mr. Death, played by Murray Hamilton (arguably best remembered from his role as the Mayor of Amity, a town plagued by a great white shark in the film "Jaws" and its first sequel). He is there to retrieve Lou, due to die in his sleep at midnight.

One of the kids, Maggie (Dana Dillaway) had a problem with her toy and Lou invites her in to fix it. The fact that Maggie can't see or hear Mr. Death convinces the salesman that something supernatural is happening.

Of course, once Maggie leaves and Lou is fully cognizant of the circumstances, he is not eager to go and immediately begins seeking loopholes to wiggle off the hook.

When Lou hears he can prolong his life if he had "unfinished business of a major nature," he suggests that he wants to accomplish his biggest pitch, ever, "a pitch for the angels," as he calls it. Mr. Death begrudgingly allows Lou this one conceit, after which Lou announces he's done with sales!

But Mr. Death will have his satisfaction. Out in the street, there is a commotion. A truck driver hit little Maggie and she will be the victim taking Lou's place at midnight. Lou knows it's true, as Maggie can see Mr. Death approaching.

Lou tries to reverse the decision, but Mr. Death has made his choice.

That night, just a few minutes to midnight, Mr. Death shows up, ready to claim his victim. But Lou has a plan. He gets out his suitcase of goods and starts selling. He tantalizes Mr. Death with the items and descriptions and prices so thoroughly, at the stroke of midnight, he was still outside the apartment. Since Mr. Death missed the deadline, Maggie will live.

Lou's pitch, he admits, was one for the angels, and he is satisfied to accompany Mr. Death. But not without his trusty suitcase. "You never know who might need something up there. Up there?" Lou asks.

"Up there, Mr. Bookman. You made it."

Despite the theme of death, this is really a lighthearted and tender episode, showing that Mr. Serling intends to touch on every element of emotion in the stories being told.

My two criticisms... I do wish that Lou's last pitch was even more evocative, elaborate and spellbinding. If we, as the audience, got caught up in Lou's patter, it would be that much easier to believe Mr. Death did, too. Lou should have been a kind of stage hypnotist, clutching his subject's attention in a vice grip. That would have made it more convincing and much more fun!

And, thanks to Walt Disney's "Cinderella," we tend to think you have until the final gong of the clock to make it "on time." That could have been avoided simply by changing the time from midnight to one.

Even so, the charm of Mr. Wynn lifts this episode and keeps it from ever getting too threatening or fearful.

I give "One For The Angels" a 7.5 out of 10.

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