Worst to Best
The Twilight Zone
2002-2003 Season

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29 Tagged

While not excessive, there is bad language in a lot of these episodes as an attempt at "realism". Within the first couple of minutes here, we learn how a graffiti artist is "pissing" on another's work, is a "bitch", and, in the decision to kill him, the term "screw it" is used. Hardly the dialogue of Tarantino, but still notable in a show of this nature. I should point out that I don't have an issue with such material in and of itself, but that it's all about context. The rest of the episode isn't awful, and is notable for only featuring two speaking parts for Caucasians, the rest made up of a black and Hispanic cast. That said, it's an episode about gang culture, so, while lead character Marcus is sympathetic, it's not quite as progressive as it would perhaps like to be.

28 Sanctuary

While the original series occasionally had its share of obnoxious characters, the writers generally understood that you at least had to empathise with the people in the episodes, even if you didn't necessarily agree with their actions. For example, the classic 1959 episode Walking Distance features a stressed-out ad executive in the form of Martin Sloan, but he's still a character that the audience can feel for, and even be sympathetic towards. Whereas the sports agent seen in this episode is brash, impatient and rude. To the credit of the episode, he does soften and become more likeable as it progresses, but it omits the basic tenant of any good series, in that you're initially not behind the characters.
     There are other similarities with Walking Distance, in some senses... the episode also sees a businessman take his car off a regular route and into a place that shouldn't exist. Except in this instance, Scott Turner (Rob Estes) doesn't find himself in his own past, but in paradise. What takes place next is fairly engaging, if a little silly in execution, though as it's the shortest episode at 19'14 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome too much. (Should you care, the longest regular length episode is Sunrise at 23'02 minutes).

27 Last Lap

At date of writing, this episode has the indignity of being the lowest-rated on the IMDb, its 5.6/10 rating putting it just below To Protect and Serve and Azoth the Avenger Is a Friend of Mine. (The highest-rated, at 7.7/10 is Cradle of Darkness for reasons which I can't quite fathom). While the first two versions of The Twilight Zone are generally more popular, this isn't the lowest-rated episode to carry the Twilight Zone name: the 80s episodes The Wall, Song of the Younger World/The Girl I Married and The Crossing all score lower with voters, The Wall a lowly 4.3/10. (Of the original series, then it's perhaps no surprise that the least-regarded instalment is Cavender Is Coming, scoring 5.7/10).
     Featuring a man dying of terminal cancer who watches his best friend be killed in a car crash, this episode is intriguing throughout, as Andy (Clifton Collins Jr) wonders how his cancer has been cured, and why no one else is grieving his friend. That the final resolution doesn't really make a lot of sense is possibly what sees this one so lowly rated, but it's a viewing experience that keeps you guessing almost up until the final "twist".

26 Fair Warning

Taryn Manning (Tiffany 'Pennsatucky' Doggett from Zone favourite Orange is the New Black) plays a flower seller being stalked by a creepy pet store worker (Devon Gummersall). The episode does a nice job of keeping the viewer guessing throughout, and although the final resolution is a little silly, it plays out as one of the least offensive efforts of the UPN show.

25 The Collection

Jessica Simpson stars as babysitter Miranda Evans, assigned to look after Danielle Randall (Ashley Edner). Danielle has a collection of dolls with a mind of their own, and, while the climax is startlingly obvious even just a couple of minutes in, the route getting there is either faintly scary, or faintly ridiculous, depending on point of view. Although it has virtually no connection to the story here, the original series featured an episode where a man believed dolls were real, the classic Miniature. Such a comparison illustrates the difference between the two series, and not just because the 1963 episode is better acted. In the 60s one, Robert Duvall gets to play a role where, while reactive, he responds both emotionally and verbally to those around him. Although it was one of the double-length episodes of season four, and consequently had almost an extra half an hour to play with, it was still a story that operated on a more intricate and human level, as opposed to this somewhat silly "jump and scare" runaround. There is some attempt at self awareness with many mentions of horror movies, but ultimately it all feels a little too generic to really come off.

24 Eye of the Beholder

A remake of the 1960 episode by Rod Serling, even down to using the same script. One of Rod's worst yet inexplicably most popular scripts, it features an overlaboured ending which tells us the meaning of the title not once, but four separate times. The original programme could occasionally be a little preachy, and this was one of its low points, made even more glaring by being dragged into the present day. Yet what really harms it as entertainment is the fact that the "twist" should be obvious to anyone within a couple of minutes. That twist won't be revealed here, but suffice it to say that had the episode - and this remake of it - gone by the alternate title of "The Private World of Darkness", it may not have been QUITE as obvious. 1962 episode To Serve Man is another that has its twist, via its title, "in plain sight", but in far more of a "rug pull" way.
     The "twist" is even more obvious in colour, where there's no noir or unusual angles, merely people with their faces obscured for no real reason. A classic example of how flat and lazy this revival series can be is drawn from simple things like the "Leader" giving a speech on TV... the original has a clear, drop down screen that descends from the ceiling... this remake has a widescreen TV placed on top of a cabinet, and TVs plugged into the walls.
     Lastly, the episode shows a pitfall of modern television's tendency to promote diversity without correct thought and attention. The original series was progressive for its time - indeed, in 1961 it was even awarded the Unity Award for Outstanding Contributions to Better Race Relations - but this particular episode featured an all-white cast. This remake casts two black actors, including the "Leader"........ of the fascist organisation that runs the world.

23 One Night at Mercy

Seinfeld's Jason Alexander turns up in a hospital as Death, who decides he wants to take a break. Tyler Christopher plays a doctor assigned to treat him, a thankless part as he's never given real genuine reactions to what he says, taking it all in his stride. There's a nice twist at the end, though it's one viewers will have probably seen coming.

22 Shades of Guilt

Ira Steven Behr was the Executive Producer and the showrunner on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Zone's favourite Star Trek series. He went on to be one of four Executive Producers on this version of The Twilight Zone, and wrote four episodes: The Executions of Grady Finch, It's Still a Good Life, Chosen and this one.
     Behr was more than capable of tackling race politics with precision, as with the classic DS9 episode he co-wrote, Far Beyond the Stars. Here, however, he produces one of the great "guilty pleasures" of the 2002 series, an instalment with more own goals than it's possible to count. The basic story involves a Matt McGreevey (Vincent Ventresca) driving through the streets at night when what looks like a potentially threatening person bangs on his window. McGreevey drives off, and the man, who turns out to be a college professor, is killed. As the professor in question was black, it opens up questions about racial prejudice, despite the fact that being scared and driving off is a natural reaction that many people would have to a stranger banging on their car window in the middle of the night, no matter what race they are. To say nothing of the fact that he only feels real guilt when he discovers the guy was a professor and not, presumably, some menial worker.
     But, as this is The Twilight Zone, McGreevey starts to become black himself. Eventually this is achieved through a genuine African American actor taking over his part, but initially it involves Ventresca, almost inexplicably, being painted with dark make up. In 2017 this would create what is known, somewhat gratingly, as a "Twitter storm", but just 13 years ago it was somehow seen as acceptable to have a white man wearing tan make up on TV.
     Such unintentional and misguided hilarity continues, with the professor's widow and his best friend accepting his story inside two minutes, then turning their back on him, seemingly just angry at the overstated message of the episode, and not remotely freaked out by the fact that there's someone walking around wearing her dead husband's face. This is the problem when a well-meaning but clumsily-handled "issue" episode gets out of hand: the logic within the narrative and characterisations takes a back seat to the message that it's promoting, so much so that the ending doesn't even make any sense. Ultimately this is an episode that really does mean well, but is both ludicrous and offensive in equal measure. Ranking it amongst the rest of the episodes is difficult, because for something so bad, it's incredibly entertaining.