Worst to Best
The Twilight Zone
Season Three

With 37 episodes, the third season of The Twilight Zone was the longest of the anthology series, and contained well-regarded stories including It's A Good Life and To Serve Man.
     


by
THE ANORAK
JULY
2017


The season aired from September 1961-June 1962 and is available to buy on Blu-Ray from Amazon. Please join me in ranking the third season from worst to best. Please note that while an effort has been made to avoid excess spoilers in this article, some major plot points are inevitably discussed in some of the entries, and seen in some of the screen capture images.

37 Cavender Is Coming

Generally regarded as the worst episode of The Twilight Zone ever made, this rehash of season one's Mr. Bevis was fitted with a laugh track to try and sell it as a spin-off series. Featuring Carol Burnett as a clumsy, permanently-fired worker and Jesse White as Cavender, her guardian angel, this takes the broadness of every previous Rod Serling comedy and turns it up tenfold.
     It's easy to feel sorry for an underdog, and to try to look for the good in something universally derided. I did, I confess, guiltily chuckle at both of the slapstick "jump" sequences, including the bus driver who exits his bus by the quickest route possible. But some sources state that Rod also wanted Mr. Bevis to be a pilot for a follow-up series, suggesting that he was obsessed by the idea of a witless sitcom about guardian angels and couldn't let it go. The teaser for the episode the previous week saw him describe it as a "very funny stew", while in his introduction, Rod - hardly able to contain his smirk, as if he's about to unveil some Wildean mirth-maker - tells us that it's "submitted for your approval". Sorry, Rod... rejected.

36 Hocus-Pocus and Frisby

A prolific liar is kidnapped by aliens from a planet where the concept of lying doesn't exist. He defeats them by playing a harmonica, escapes, and finds that no one will believe his story. Season three is my favourite season of The Twilight Zone, where there's a variety and confidence to the stories, as well as several solid classics, and a distinct drop in the number of "comedy" episodes. Sure, there are lighter episodes, such as The Hunt, but in terms of out and out "humour" vehicles, there are just four of them, which is a blessing considering the quality of them.
     Based on an unpublished story by Frederic Louis Fox, Andy Devine's raspy voice may be a little hard to take, but if there's one thing that keeps this off the bottom spot, it's the moment where he accuses part of the UFO as being a "movie prop"... the part in question actually being a prop from Forbidden Planet. It's a very brief moment of self-referential wit that provides the hair's breadth between it and Cavender Is Coming.

35 I Sing the Body Electric

Ray Bradbury was one of the most respected and literate science fiction authors of the modern age. His influence on The Twilight Zone was massive, as not only was Serling an admirer of his work, but George Clayton Johnson, Ray Matheson and Charles Beaumont were his protégés. Bradbury was asked to be involved with the series from the beginning, though all of his submissions save this one were rejected.
      The production was troubled, requiring extensive reshoots, and Bradbury was dismayed to see that the final page of his script wasn't filmed for this episode. As a result this was the end of Bradbury's involvement with the series and Serling, though both men commendably kept the details of their deteriorating relationship largely under wraps. The story itself isn't worthy of either men, a straight-forward, saccharine tale of a robotic grandmother. There's no real progression of any note to this sickly sweet tale, the only surprise being how little the kids care when they've grown up and their grandmother has to be taken to be scrapped. Bradbury wrote some great books and Serling wrote some great television... it's just a shame that their one collaboration turned out to be so below-par.

34 Showdown With
Rance McGrew

One of the more bearable Rod Serling "comedy" episodes, which is to say that it's still near the bottom of the pile. Larry Blyden plays a TV Western actor, who gets taken back in time and meets the real Jesse James (Arch Johnson). And... that's it. Blyden had appeared before in the similarly-awful (though a lot better than this) Charles Beaumont tale A Nice Place To Visit... in fairness, he and Johnson do have a decent chemistry together, something lacking from the season one tale, but this is flat, uninspired stuff, like 90% of Rod's "comedy".

33 The Fugitive

An alien flies to Earth to entice a 12-year-old girl with a leg brace to grow up and be his Queen. Rod assures us, post-story, that this is okay, as the alien in question is a handsome boy, despite the fact that he's at least a thousand years old. This would all be inappropriate enough without the additional factor that the alien disguises himself as an elderly man who plays with children.
     This isn't perhaps just a modern day reading of the story: the tactile nature of J. Pat O'Malley as the old man can be a little uncomfortable to watch, yet this is an episode produced in an age where the worst thing he's suspected of being is "a Communist". Some years ago a Twilight Zone microsite was made as part of The Anorak Zone, where this was cited as the worst episode of season three. On reflection, it's actually not quite that bad, but still sits comfortably in the bottom tier.

32 Young Man's Fancy

Richard Matheson was a prolific print author who was also responsible for screenplays (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel, The Pit and the Pendulum...) and sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone. Whereas he wrote some classic episodes of the series, his work in season three seems "off" in terms of pacing, and none of his three scripts (this, along with Once Upon a Time and Little Girl Lost) are up there with his best.
     On paper, this episode seems reasonable enough, as a new bride wants her husband to sell his family home, but suffers from the metaphysical and literal involvement of his dead mother. There's some vaguely interesting psychology at work, but the real supernatural elements of the story don't kick in until late in, and even then, they're as flat as the rest of the story. It's unclear if it's the direction, the script or the performances that are to blame, but this is, while not terrible, one of the dullest episodes of the programme.

31 The Arrival

Somewhat familiar ground for the series, as a plane lands with no passengers on board, and an investigation takes place. Said investigation is methodically slow, with every last detail repeated at length, seemingly just to stretch out the runtime. What's worse is that all the characters involved are would-be alpha males, clashing with each other in an episode that basically takes the form of a twenty minute pissing contest. This does make the final mental disintegration of one of them more dramatic, but it's not one of the standout episodes of the programme.

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