The second season of The Twilight Zone is like a bag of gummy bears, they all look great, but half the batch is filled with flavors that aren’t pleasant to the pallet. Jordan Peele returns to play the Narrator for another ten episodes of the second season of this revival. Much like the first season, half the episodes have the spark of commentary about the world we live in. The rest feels like fluff. Peele and company spend way too much time making the show look great instead of getting the story right.
The Twilight Zone is at its best when it is exposing the flaws or redeeming qualities of humanity. The aspects of society that ground us are featured prominently in episodes 1-5. “Meet In The Middle” showcases a man named Phil Hayes (Jimmi Simpson), who has plenty of experience with disastrous dates but gains more than he bargained for when he realizes a woman close to his own age, Annie Mitchell (Gillian Jacobs), who’s in an abusive relationship with her husband and also has a young daughter.
This episode is great because it reminds me of the film Her (2013). Simpson and Jacobs have great chemistry. Audiences will buy their relationship because they sell the dialogue with so much emotion and support. The twist of this episode is good but particularly cruel. “Meet In The Middle” does a decent job of commenting on the perils of online dating, and the show starts strong because of it.
Episode two, “Downtime,” is a solo outing involving a hotel manager named Michelle Weaver (Morena Baccarin) who discovers her life is a simulation. Baccarin has always been a great actress, but this episode doesn’t exercise her considerable range. The twist is obvious and telegraphed, given Michelle’s emotional responses to the situation she is in. I love the interesting detail that tech support chooses skateboarders as avatars to speak to Michelle about the predicament she’s in. The situation was made more comical because of it. Audiences will be disappointed that this episode is so weak given that it was written by host and suspense savant Jordan Peele. Overall, “Downtime” is one of those episodes that may cause audiences to shut down rather than restart.
Episode three sees actor Ethan Embry return to The Twilight Zone for the first time since his appearance on the failed series revival in 2002. “Who You Are” showcases Harry Pine (Embry), an out of work actor, who discovers he can body hop into anyone just by staring at them. This new gift comes in handy when he becomes desperate for cash to pay the bills, he body-hops to escape the police lead by a detective (Daniel Sunjata).
This episode is much more fun than most will give it credit for. As an actor, getting the opportunity to be someone else would be a dream, so it’s fascinating to watch that play out. The end twist of this episode is something I wasn’t even paying attention to when I saw it. All the characters work well together, and the different actors who have to inhabit the personality of Harry Pine do so adequately. “Who You Are” is a fun body swap episode that makes way for my favorite episode of the season.
Episode four is “Ovation.” The premise is simple. A down on her luck singer-songwriter gets the big break of a lifetime when a popstar gives her a special coin that allows her to be adored by anyone who listens to the music that she plays. The adoration this songwriter receives comes in the form of applause that does not and will not stop as long as she has the coin. Jurnee Smollett takes the lead role here, and her performance has so much range throughout the entire episode as she becomes successful and then fades into obscurity. This is a dramatized version of a VH1 Behind The Music episode, and it works. The end of the episode is a complete jaw-dropping moment. If you’re not paying attention, it will completely knock you for six. This was a fantastic, well-crafted episode supported by performances from Thomas Lennon and Tawney Newsome. “Ovation” is a great price of fame story that really deepens an artist’s connection to her music while also exposing the vanity of fame.
Episode five, “Among The Untrodden,” blends story elements from the 1996 film The Craft and the early 2000s movie Mean Girls. The premise of this episode is pretty simple. A mean girl, Madison (Abbie Hearn), makes friends with a new student, Irene (Sophia Macy), who likes telekinetic and psychic abilities even though she doesn’t have them. Madison discovers through a classroom assignment that Irene may not possess psychic abilities, but she does. The two girls become friends, and let’s just say even though Madison has abilities, she’s not aware of how strong they are. This is an excellent episode about believing in yourself and how strong wish-fulfillment can be. Sophia Macy is quite good in her role of being the outcast. Abbie Hearn gives off the personality traits of someone like Santana from Glee portrayed by the late great Naya Rivera. Both actresses really do their best work to make the friendship believable as it forms between the two young women proving that people can be stronger together when they believe in each other than pushing himself to socialize in high school cliques.
Episode six and seven are probably the two weakest of the entire season. “8” focuses on a deep-sea diving expedition where they find a specific type of octopus with intellect and the genetic properties to both save and advance the human race. This episode of this show reminds me a lot of the John Carpenter classic The Thing without the creature having the ability to shapeshift. The lead actor in this episode is Joel McHale. This role does nothing for him in terms of giving him anything to work with. This may partially be why I don’t particularly find myself drawn to it, and I don’t think audiences will be either. We know that the octopus they discover has nefarious intentions for the entire oceanic team. We’re just waiting for it to make its move. Once this happens, there are no stakes left in the whole episode. This episode is definitely the definition of filler and can be skipped. Episode seven is even worse.
Episode seven is called “A Human Face” and stars Jenna Elfman and Christopher Meloni as grieving parents who encounter a new alien who can shapeshift into their recently deceased daughter. The entire episode consists of the alien convincing the two parents that even though it’s not their daughter, it should be treated as such. I found this episode to be entirely unpalatable mostly because it’s just two people fighting their own grief and blaming each other for the death of their daughter. The alien is basically trying to be a healing presence for them to move forward with their lives while the town is being invaded with the same species of alien. There’s nothing to learn from this episode. This could. It’s a real missed opportunity for the show and the writer who spent time working on that episode.
Episode eight is called “A Small Town.” This episode centers on a grieving widow played by Damon Wayans Jr., who discovers a full-scale model of the town that he lives in. He finds that if he adds things to the model, it will also affect the town he lives in. His motivation for changing things in the town comes from the fact that his wife, who was mayor of the town, died, and the person who took over, has just mismanaged everything. The mayor is portrayed by David Krumholtz, an actor that I really like. Unfortunately, the only personality trait he is given is to be smarmy, and that didn’t do enough to provide the character with any depth. There really isn’t much of an ending or even a twist within this episode to make it unique. It’s the kind of lifeless filler that would be OK to watch while you’re doing something else.
Episode nine is called “Try, Try.” I like this episode a lot because it focuses on the idea of people forcing their way into your life and how you deal with that. Topher Grace plays a man who can relive the day he’s currently in, and he becomes obsessed with a woman he finds attractive. The plot goes so many interesting places in the beginning that it’s kind of sad that the episode deteriorates into a stalker plot at the end. The one interesting thing with this episode has going for it is the moral of the story. The idea that a fixation on someone may mean they’re always looking for a reason to defends themselves. Beyond that, this really wasn’t that interesting of a story to tail.
The final episode is called “You Might Also Like.” This episode deals with society’s obsession with consumerism. Supposedly, a newly released egg product will help people get rid of all of their problems. This episode features the return of the Kanamits from the original Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” As villains, I find them interesting but slightly goofy. I thought the idea of using a product to kill humans and use them for food based on their own greed and neediness was brilliant—a solid final entry for an uneven season.
After reviewing both seasons of this modern iteration of The Twilight Zone, I can tell you that the series will never be appointment television. I was never eager to see the next episode of the season. Audiences like the series because it represents a departure from reality that turns societal norms on its head. As intriguing as that may be initially, the thrill is a momentary one. I like The Twilight Zone, but unfortunately, the writing isn’t strong enough to continually captivate a new audience. Imagine if you will a critic, intrigued by a show’s place on the television landscape, hoping it can transcend modern conventions of storytelling he critiques to see science fiction in faraway worlds. Unfortunately, the drudgery of weak storytelling rears its head, and audiences will only be passively entertained rather than deeply committed to that place that exists just outside an individual’s mind in The Twilight Zone.