Next month we’ll celebrate our ninth anniversary here at the B-Movie Catechism (yeah, can you believe they’ve let us get away with this for almost a decade now). Anyway, it seemed appropriate to do something special for our tenth year, and since binge watching is all the craze these days, we thought we’d give it the old college try around these parts. However, if we’re going to spend that much time in front of the boob tube, then whatever show we choose needs to be something worth the effort. With that in mind, you’re invited to join us every other day or three (or whatever, you know how we are) for however long it takes as we binge on dimensions of sight and sound and the very mind itself by watching every episode ever of… The Twilight Zone.
S01E01 - Where Is Everybody
“Mike Ferris (Earl Holliman) finds himself walking into a town utterly devoid of people, with no memory of who he is or how he got there, the only clue to his identity being the Air Force jumpsuit he's wearing. Thus began the first episode of The Twilight Zone, the pilot, the half-hour that sold the series”
All in all, this tale of an amnesiac airman who finds hmself all alone in the world is a fairly safe start for Rod Serling’s brilliant little brainchild. It’s sophisticated enough to separate the show from kiddie fare like Captain Video and literate enough to distinguish itself from previous prime time efforts such as Science Fiction Theater, yet there’s nothing in it so offbeat that it would scare off potential advertisers. That last bit was pretty important because, at that time, adult science fiction was considered something of an oxymoron by the people footing the bills for broadcast television. So even though Serling was a much sought after screenwriter, his treatment for the series’ pilot still needed to be light on any sci-fi elements and steer clear of the twist endings and social commentary that would soon become staples of the show.
Fortunately for us all, Serling was able to give potential backers for The Twilight Zone exactly what they needed to see to greenlight the show while still producing something worth watching. As sci-fi legend Charles Beaumont would note in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction soon after the show’s debut, while he found the central mystery of the isolated, lonely astronaut to be pretty standard fare, “there was one element in the story which kept me from my customary bitterness. The element was quality… It shone in the dialogue and in the scene set-ups. And because of this, the story seemed fresh and new and powerful.”
And besides, even though it wasn’t chock full of sci-fi, it’s not like the story was lacking in depth. The theme of coping with loneliness which permeates the episode is one Serling would return to multiple times over the course of the series, and one which is still prescient if the recent success of The Martian is any indication. As Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted noted, “The ache of loneliness has haunted human beings from the time of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. It has become particularly acute in modern societies where individualism is rampant and where the acquisition of things is exalted… The antidote to loneliness lies in stretching beyond our own little world and reaching out in faith to the living God… No one but God can calm our restlessness. Nothing created can still the longings of the heart. To deal successfully with feelings of being isolated and all alone, we have to reach out to what is greater than our selves. We need to believe in God and to experience His love. This call extends to us all; it is hidden within our loneliness.”
Okay, so The Twilight Zone’s debut didn’t actually point towards that solution, but it did make viewers contemplate the problem, and that’s a far cry from had come before in televised sci-fi. The series was off to a very good start.
Twilight Tidbits: Be sure to keep an eye out for the town square the astronaut wanders into as it would show up in lots of places over the years including films such as Gremlins and the Back To The Future series.