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The Twilight Zone: Season 1 Review

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Hugely influential to this day, this remains essential viewing

★★★★★

One thing that comes up over and again in the interview material included on this terrific release is that actors like Burgess Meredith, who have had long, prolific and distinguished careers, tend to get more recognition for one or two guest spots on Rod Serling’s strange anthology TV series than all the movies and other shows they’ve made. Four-and-a-half decades after the show’s 1959 debut, it is still a part of pop culture, as proved by annual parodies on the Simpsons Hallowe’en shows, or the way you can suggest spookiness by warbling Marius Constant’s unmistakable theme tune (try to creep someone out by humming the X-Files theme and see where it gets you) or imitating Serling’s clipped narration (“Next stop… the Twilight Zone!”).

These shows have been repeated countless times and packaged and repackaged on all home video forms — but they still hold up, and this genuinely is a definitive issue, with bright, sparkling new transfers. The first season doesn’t have Serling’s on-camera presence until a joke in the last episode, which led to his visible presence thereafter, and the tone varies as the show finds its own distinctive voice. The look is fixed, with noirish cinematography to suggest a world askew, and Serling’s writing style is all his own (though great shows in later seasons would be scripted by others, such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont). But we get episodes devoted to psychological fantasy, horror, science-fiction, sentimental drama, even Western and sit-com. The 'funny' episodes tend to be duds, but the scary or thoughtful ones are treats.

Everyone will have different favourites, but the nastiest piece here is The Fever, about a tourist in Las Vegas whose life is ruined by an evil fruit machine. The most profound is The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, about mass hysteria, and the most moving The Lonely, about a prisoner and his robot.