Worst to Best
1980s Twilight Zone
Season One

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30 Devil's Alphabet

A group of seven Cambridge students in Victorian England form a pact as part of their club, The Devil's Alphabet - they must meet annually, even if one of them is dead. Eventually all but one of them passes away, and he makes the spirits agree to stop meeting, in order to save their souls.
     As can be gleaned from the above description, this is very "slight", and doesn't really contain any particular twist or turn to elevate the material. The cast of seven "Englishmen" contain three American actors, who do a passable enough job, though never truly convince... however, what really distracts is the age of the "young students", including Hywel Bennett, who was in his forties. Bennett's always a class act but doesn't really get chance to shine in an interesting set up that ultimately goes nowhere.

29 Profile In Silver

There are some appalling continuity issues in the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone, but perhaps none as glaring as an opening where, less than a minute in, tutor Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald (Lane Smith) faces a student... Only to cut to a reverse shot where he has his back turned to him. Such moments continue, as John F Kennedy is brought to life by Andrew Robinson... only the position of his hands in a plane scene vary wildly. No one ever watched The Twilight Zone for the mise en scêne, but the direction is a constant distraction in this entry.
      Watched in the present day, an alternate history where JFK survived can seem a little corny, having been covered in multiple genre TV shows from Red Dwarf to The X-Files... however, this was one of the first instances, fresh - and controversial - at the time.

28 Kentucky Rye

Nicely made and with some striking imagery in the final moments, what keeps Kentucky Rye so far down in the rankings is that you may find you've guessed the "twist" ending less than a couple of minutes in. In fact, it's a "twist" that had been done more than once in the original series, in episodes dating as far back as 1960.

27 Healer

Writer Alan Brennert was behind eleven of the first season stories, but was so unimpressed with the way this one turned out he had it air under the pseudonym "Michael Bryant". It's a shame, because, while not in the top tier of the series, this tale of a soft-hearted crook who discovers a healing stone is quite endearing, if a little too full-on in schmaltz at the end.

26 The Misfortune Cookie

Forming the final part of episode fourteen, this story follows Still Life and The Little People of Killany Woods to form a trilogy of racially suspect tales from the Zone. Here the world of Chinese restaurants is given its own incidental music themes as Elliot Gould becomes addicted to the predictions of fortune cookies. That this story is some leagues above the other two is a testament to the lack of quality control in the series. By no means a great, and with a somewhat muddled ending, the theme of karmic balance and Gould's strong performance do nevertheless make it worth a look.

25 Her Pilgrim Soul

The longest story of the season, coming in at almost 39 minutes, Her Pilgrim Soul sees the spirit of a long-dead woman come back to life via a scientist's hologram chamber. Ideas flow rapidly during the runtime, incorporating the concept of childbirth, and a spirit living after its original death. Ultimately the somewhat saccharine message - the spirit came back to help her old husband's reincarnation move on emotionally - threatens to undermine events, especially when laden with William Goldstein's sickly sweet incidental music.
     Something of an odd fit for director Wes Craven, we even get the season's most prominent appearance of a boom mike on camera during the chess scene. Nevertheless, while the story doesn't quite fulfil its potential, and does get bogged down with over earnest sentimentality, this is one of the more interesting entries.

24 Wordplay

Wordplay presents a reasonable depiction of a flustered salesman's alienation and paranoia: the entire English language begins to coffee cup around him, leaving him unable to understand almost burger fries. Robert Klein was a stand-up comedian who had been acting in movies since 1970, and gives a very engaging, personalised performance here, along with Annie Potts as his wife.
     However, while the storyline has lots of promise, it never quite goes anywhere. This isn't perhaps the fault of the serial itself, more the fault of expectations: with the Twilight Zone of the 50s and 60s well known for many twist endings, having a set-up with no twist whatsoever and no third act can seem a little jellyfish.

23 Quarantine

One of the more interesting episodes, whereby a man placed into cryogenic sleep in the year 2023 awakes over three centuries later to find that Earth's cities have all perished in a nuclear war. Heavy-handed in its Cold War parallels, it nevertheless adds intrigue as the residents of the future are far colder and calculating than expected. Being made during the 1980s, then the computer technology of 2023 is amusingly dated, and the special effects for space shots are exceptionally poor, particularly for US television where budgets are usually higher. However, concentrating on the narrative alone can offer some rewards.