Monday, December 29, 2014

The 10 Best Twilight Zone Episodes

Just in time for your New Year's Day Twilight Zone marathon.

To distill a show like the Twilight Zone down to its ten best episodes is a fools errand. Undoubtedly, no matter what you put on the list, people will object. Especially when classics such as 'I Sing The Body Electric' and 'To Serve Man' aren't included. While great episodes that deserve a place high in the pantheon, I didn't stick with popular vote. Rather I went with episodes that embody the qualities of the show; storytelling, great acting, brilliant writing, and of course, a sense of irony. Each one of the following picks contain more than one of those qualities. Read the list and then sound out below how much of a fool I am for not including your favorite episodes.

10) The Obsolete Man

"I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages!"

Rod Serling's totalitarian future has a familiar feel for sci-fi fans. A government run state that puts everyone in their place. For those who don't fit into a role -like the humble, God-fearing librarian in this tale- they are ruled "obsolete" and sentenced to a death of their choosing. Most of the story is drawn around just two characters: Romney Wordsworth a librarian (played by Burgess Meredith, who appears twice on this list. Yes, of course THAT episode is on here. I'm not crazy) and the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) who condemns Wordsworth to death and in so doing finds himself a victim of the aforementioned zone. It has some of the best lines out of any episode and more than delivers on the twist end. 

9) I Am The Night-Color Me Black

"That's all there is is the majority. The minority must have died on the cross two thousand years ago."

Written by Serling largely as a reaction to the JFK assassination, the episode centers on a small town about to hang a wrongfully convicted man for the murder of a bigot. On the morning of the hanging, the sky remains dark without any sign of the sun. A manifestation of the hate in the town. The episode feels especially relevant again in light of recent unrest and injustices. It's also one of the best examples of how the Twilight Zone managed to build narratives on current events and tackle issues while still delivering the dose of speculative fiction fans loved.

8) One For The Angels

"Mr. Bookman I have the very odd feeling that you're taking advantage of me."

Ed Wynn appeared in another of my favorite episodes, that sadly doesn't make this list. His place however cannot be denied in this tale of a hapless pitchman who never delivered the big pitch, but found a place in the heart of neighborhood children. After tricking death, he finds himself having to pitch the greatest sales pitch of all time to save the life of a little girl. It's also worth noting that a young Murray Hamilton who plays death, just reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt now.

7) A Stop At Willoughby

"It's push push push, all the way, all the time."

The ultimate in escapism fantasy as well as proof (to me) that Rod Serling punished people in the Twilight Zone as a reflection of people who ticked him off in real life. Just theory of mine. Now, I won't give away the ending if you haven't seen it, cause lord knows I hate 54 year old spoilers, but there is some ambiguity left to the hero's fate. I tend to be optimistic and go for the happy ending on this one even if it looks contrary to the world the protagonist is exiting. It's tremendously biting and sweet all at once. Frankly, I'd likely get off at Willoughby myself.

6) The Midnight Sun

"Why don't we just...just burn up?"

The earth is knocked out orbit and getting closer to the sun. As the heat intensifies, two women in an apartment building try to hold on as long as they can. The twist at the end could almost be called a cheat if it wasn't so perfect. All at once funny and echoing the doomed quality that permeates throughout the whole episode. It's quite possibly one of the best in the series for embodying the short story feel of Twilight Zone. Like a long joke with a short punchline, it delivers.

5) A Kind Of Stopwatch

"You're the one guy that makes me wish they never repealed prohibition."

There's a special kind of hell for blow-hards in the series and this one features one of the best. McNulty, an obnoxious man with an opinion on every subject finds himself with an unusual stopwatch. One that can freeze all of existence in time around him. Obviously a twist ensues, and it's a good one. McNulty is played excellently by Richard Erdman. Fans of Community may recognize him as Leonard.

4) The Silence

"Your voice has become intolerable."

It's hard to discuss what makes this particular episode so memorable without giving away the twist. The setup is simple, a club with rich gentlemen is frequented by a young man who chatters on constantly. Annoyed by him, a rich colonel in a bid to shut him up, wagers with him that he can't remain silent for a year. Setting up in his basement where he can be monitored a supposed battle of wills plays out. The ending is incredibly brutal and showcases how quite often, in the Twilight Zone, no one wins.

3) The Shelter

"Normal? I don't know. I don't know what normal is. I thought I did once. I don't anymore."

An episode that was parodied by the Simpsons (quite a few were actually) revolves around the only family on the block with a fallout shelter. When it seems like a bomb is headed for their street, a once happy community devolves into panic and madness as everyone tries to claim a place in the shelter. One of Serling's glimpses at the nature of man, it still resonates today for showing how in desperation, the worst in people can come out. Also it has Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka being a total bastard. So there's that.

2) Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?

"You wouldn't happen to have an eye in the back of your head, would you?"

After reports of a UFO crashing, police track down a suspected alien to a small diner that houses the passengers from a bus. The only problem is that there are 7 people in the diner, and only 6 were on the bus. The episode is particular delight for Jack Elam who outdoes any of his other wild man performances.  He's hilarious and unnerving at the same time. The story is great for building tension and the ending doesn't disappoint either. 

1) Time Enough At Last

"And the best thing, the very best thing of all, is there's time now..."

Does anyone argue this episodes place at the top of any list? It's the quintessential episode that really defines the parameters of the show, from the irony, to the personalized hell, to the twist ending. Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) a nebbish man who works at a bank, and has an overbearing wife wants nothing more in the world than to be left alone to read. While spending a lunch in the bank vault hiding so he can read, bombs are dropped, leaving him the only man left alive. Walking among the wreckage he finds the remains of a library, and time enough to read the lot. Course that's not the end, and if you've never seen the episode and somehow escaped a million parodies, I won't spoil it. It is heartbreaking, and it is perfect.


So that's it. Many an amazing episode was left by the wayside. I kind of hate myself now having done this. I ended up leaving so many of my own personal favorites off the list. Fact is, I'm pretty upset with me, and I don't agree with my own list. I guess it's the nature of the show, it has something for everyone. So now, if you will please, let me know below which episodes you feel I criminally left out of the top 10. I'll probably agree with you.


  1. Excellent list!
    I am partial to A Stop at Willoughby & Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?...

  2. I was nine or ten years old, when The Twilight Zone first aired (yeah, I'm that old). I LOVED it and wasn't happy when they took it off the air. I tired to never miss an episode. I can't argue with any of your picks. It's one of those things where a top ten, just isn't enough. I totally agree with your number one pick. One other that would have to be in my top two or three, would be "The Eye of the Beholder."

    I watched them all again about twenty years ago. I was expecting them to be all campy and not as good as I thought they were as a kid. I found that I liked them even more, because I didn't pick up on all the little details, the first time around. GREAT post Tim!


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