Worst to Best
1980s Twilight Zone
Season Three

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6 Rendezvous In
A Dark Place

A perverse take on Nothing In The Dark, with a ghoulish Janet Leigh welcoming the touch of Death, but being refused. Her actions are somewhat selfish, given that she has a son, but this is skirted around in a morbid tale with a pitch black resolution.

5 The Curious Case Of
Edgar Witherspoon

A deeply original story idea by Haskell Barkin & J. Michael Straczynski, and written by Barkin as a screenplay. The Mr. Witherspoon of the title is an eccentric who believes a sculpture in his apartment is saving the world, and only his timely additions to said sculpture can prevent natural disasters from taking place. The incidental music eggs the whimsical elements inherent in such a set up, but the performances give it more respect. The DVD release presents the episodes in a different order to how they were aired, suggesting that this one was produced fourth. The decision to have it as the season opener is an odd one, given that it's so light-weight and essentially undramatic. As a mid-season episode this slight edition may have been more regarded.

4 Room 2426

Dean Stockwell is, as ever, a class act in this tale of a totalitarian state which wants his scientific secrets for the wrong means. When a fellow prisoner (Brent Carver) offers a means of escape, Stockwell has to decide if he's genuine or it's all just an elaborate trap to illicit information. Such a plot does require the story to be one step ahead of the viewer, something which is unlikely to happen, but this is nicely directed, and there's a neat second twist which does alleviate the disappointment of being able to easily guess the first. Despite having a screen career for over forty years at this point, Stockwell would be seen on screen just the following month in arguably his most famous role: Al in Quantum Leap.
      The third season of The Twilight Zone employed 17 directors, 15 of whom had never worked on the series before. Paul Lynch (The Crossing/The Hunters/Crazy As a Soup Sandwich) was one of the two that had, along with Rchard Bugajski. Bugajski directed the first season's remake of Night Of The Meek, along with this season's Memories, Street Of Shadows, Many, Many Monkeys and the episode here.
     Bugajski's career is a fascinating one, with the director getting caught in political climates in his native Poland, a situation exacerbated by the release of his 1982 film Interrogation. Legend has it that he had to take part in the piracy of his own film in order to get it seen under censorship laws, and it's a harrowing, intense viewing experience. Featuring prolonged torture in the quest for information, then Room 2426 is clearly the episode with the most in common with the work. However, The Twilight Zone is a very different audience, and so the grittiness and realistic-looking torture is considerably toned down here. While CBS would of course never broadcast a series that had the same content as Interrogation, the director's presence is a glaring reminder of how sanitised this third season often was.

3 A Game Of Pool

A remake of the classic third season story from 1961. Comparison of the two will always favour whichever one comes first, due to their innate disparate differences. The original, while superior, has "larger" performances of the time, whereas this instalment has more modern-day naturalistic playing, which can be both more realistic and yet also more forgettable.
     The original version relied heavily on trick camerawork to make its mark... Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters were actors, not pool players, and so scenes where they hit a ball with their face in shot were largely relegated to the easier pots, or ones where they missed. With this in mind, then pool aficionados may appreciate the nervy performance of Esai Morales (NYPD Blue/Caprica), who is the only one of the four actors who genuinely looks as if he's held a pool cue in his life. John Jorgenson receives a credit as "Pool Consultant", and it shows.
     The most interesting discussion regarding the remake is, of course, that it used the original, low-key ending that was replaced in the 1960s version. This time pool fanatic Jesse (Morales) loses, and is doomed to a fate of wasting his life playing pool.

2 Special Service

A man accidentally discovers that his entire life is a reality television series, and that all he knows, even down to his job and his wife, have all been provided for him artificially to boost ratings. John Welsman provides a suitably jaunty soundtrack for a more light-hearted episode.
     Brilliantly written by J. Michael Straczynski, it was, of course, an influence on The Truman Show, and the nagging question is how the series could be this vital and alive when so much of it was a dirge. The top two entries - or, if looked at generously, the top three - are all worthwhile, but most of the rest of it is just throwaway, bland television. Episodes like Special Service make it all seem such a waste.

1 The Mind Of
Simon Foster

The third season of the Twilight Zone, largely made just as a contractual obligation, is full of forgettable episodes, bland instalments and badly produced, inessential moments. However, the entire venture can be validated purely by the existence of The Mind Of Simon Foster.
     While the worn video is full of artefacts and distortion, what's contained within is a genuinely inspired tale by J. Michael Straczynski. With the future of 1999(!) experiencing 32% unemployment, impoverished Simon Foster is forced to sell his memories in order to survive. The ending is brilliantly bittersweet, a stark contrast to the saccharine denouements on offer elsewhere in the season. Coincidentally a story about selling memories on the black market in 1999 was made with the James Cameron scripted film Strange Days in 1995, though it was a concept Cameron had toyed with since the late 80s.

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