Worst to Best
The Twilight Zone
2002-2003 Season

The Twilight Zone is so beloved here that the site was even named after it. However, an unsuccessful attempt to bring the show back in the early 2000s has never been seen before here at The Anorak Zone. Watching it for the first time, was it unfairly maligned or justly forgotten?
     


by
THE ANORAK
JANUARY
2017


The series aired from September 2002-May 2003 on the UPN network, and was not renewed for a second season. The DVD of all 22 episodes (containing two stories each) is available via Amazon. In the meantime, please join me in ranking the season from worst to best. Please note that an effort has been made to avoid excess spoilers in this article, but some major plot points are inevitably discussed in some of the entries.

43 Hunted

In the future, a group of soldiers are tracking a genetically engineered monster in the woods. An adventure so generic that the racial minority gets killed first, and the lieutenant barks out "stay with me!" to a dying man without any sense of ironic detachment. Other lines so archaically corny include "I'm through running... I'm going to put an end to this nightmare." It's an episode that makes you yearn for someone to say they'll "head them off at the pass", a witless, joyless collection of Predatoresque cliches.
     The final twist - that the monsters are really humans, and the characters we've been watching are unwitting cyborgs - is a decent enough reveal, but awful in execution, not least the fact that an android's hand being cut off makes his arm grow by half a foot. But then comes the final twist... his baby with his wife is "unplugged". This beggars the question as to how he didn't know he was really an android if he's fully aware his child is electronic in the first place. Risible, characterless, fourth-rate sci-fi.

42 Sunrise

The 2002/03 series of The Twilight Zone was, within reason, broadcast pretty much in the same order as it was produced. In particular, episodes 8 to 18 ran in the order in which they were made, just with the occasional switch around of stories within the episodes themselves (so that the one produced first occasionally went out second in the format's "two stories in each instalment" set up). But with what would have been episode 19, we get another big change - Sunrise and Burned, the episodes produced next in the run, were held back until the season finale.
     Those expecting this meant a grand send-off for the show will be disappointed... this version of The Twilight Zone, while it definitely has its moments, is by far the weakest to date of the versions of the show, and episodes like Sunrise are the final nail in its coffin. Any TV exec pondering over whether or not to give the show another shot would only have to look at this goofy tale - five friends discover an Aztec artefact, looking suspiciously like polystyrene, which blocks out the sun over the entire Earth - and they'd instantly sign off the cancellation form.

41 Harsh Mistress

Lukas Haas is one of the more famous faces in the series, here playing wannabe rockstar Corey Williams. After discovering a guitar he bought belonged to one of his musical heroes, Williams is terrified when the possessed guitar begins to attack him, and uses its strap to strangle his girlfriend. The premise is, if anything, even sillier than it sounds, and the execution risible. However, one commendable element of the series is how many interracial friendships and relationships the series depicts. Such an element makes the show quite progressive.... even if many of the friendships break down, and the black character is usually just the support. Or, in the case of this episode, the victim of a homicidal guitar.

40 Homecoming

Homecoming sees an MIA soldier come back to his wife and son, attempting to rebuild relationships. As this is The Twilight Zone, which dictates that something unusual must happen, it's blatantly obvious that all is not what it seems, and so the mid-episode "revelation" that the father is really dead comes as no real surprise. In many senses the programme should be judged on its own merits for a fresh audience, but, as it's called "The Twilight Zone", it's almost impossible not to compare it. In that original series of wonder, each supernatural element would be treated with appropriate reverence and wonder. Here, confronted with the revelation that his father is dead, Trace Mallone (Penn Badgley), accepts it as if it's the most natural thing in the world, even going for drives with his deceased dad, and not once questioning how he has corporeal form. This is particularly galling during one romantic moment that fades into the next day, whereby the viewer is forced to accept that the mother of the household has effectively slept with a zombie.
     You can argue that this is a story that operates on an emotional rather than logical level, but with Mark Snow's music at its most syruppy and dreadful lines like "I didn't have the words. That doesn't mean... I didn't have the feelings", it's hard to take this one as seriously as it demands. As this is a war that was taking place while the episode aired, the events are treated with respect, though it's a particularly badly-acted instalment, rendering everything as mawkish and trite. There's a certain production sensibility behind these episodes that does, especially 15 years on, give most of the series the whiff of something from the Hallmark Channel. It's unfair to compare most series to the crime drama The Wire, but it should be noted that the Baltimore show was a contemporary of this programme, giving some idea of the quality of television at that time... the comparison is not favourable.

39 Sensuous Cindy

The thoughtful yet wholesome Twilight Zone gets updated for a very different audience here as an engaged man has an affair with a sexual computer program. The twist ending is fairly nice, but this is the kind of stuff that should be beneath the series. It's not that there isn't an interesting story to be told regarding SF and sex, but this juvenile tale isn't it... even host Forest Whitaker smirks and leers like a horny teen in a locker room as he does the on screen narration.

38 How Much Do You
Love Your Kid?

How Much Do You Love Your Kid? sees a reality TV show kidnap a child in order for ratings. A frantic episode sees the mother chasing after her child, in an episode that should have had satirical value but instead comes over as just silly and unbelievable. Thirteen years after this story aired, Derren Brown hosted Pushed To The Edge, where game show contestants were manipulated into attempted murder... however, like most of the episodes in this run of The Twilight Zone, the acting and presentation is too cheesy to take seriously, and, worse, Mark Snow's incidental music is too frantic, almost touching EDM.

1 Next