Dare I say, The Twilight Zone is the greatest television show of all time. Feel free to disagree, but at least acknowledge the profound impact that The Twilight Zone has had on the sci-fi genre and on the television industry in general.
My first introduction to this outstanding program was as a child scrolling through the channels and then accidentally landing on The Twilight Zone, at which point I decided to give it a chance. And, after five minutes of tuning in, there was no going back, I was hooked.
What makes The Twilight Zone so special? Well, first of all, the host, Rod Serling, is just about the coolest dude of all time. He appears at the beginning of every episode to introduce the premise and then typically appears again somewhere near the end of the episode to recite a thought-provoking proverb.
Oh, and Rod isn’t just a pretty face. He was also the show’s head writer and executive producer. The man was a visionary and the result of his vision was a show with mind-boggling sci-fi concepts, incredible screenwriting, great acting, and an overall aura of intrigue and mystery.
The amount of subsequent media that was inspired by the original episodes of The Twilight Zone is absolutely astounding. The 1998 film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey is loosely based on an episode of The Twilight Zone. Other films like Jacob’s Ladder, Ex Machina, Ruby Sparks, and The Box can all claim The Twilight Zone as their conceptual parent.
All 156 episodes of this iconic series are mind-bending entertainment that has had a lasting effect on pop culture. But, in this article, I’ll try to narrow it down to just the very best episodes ever made. This is the dimension of imagination. It’s a dimension we call the Twilight Zone.
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
One of the greatest aspects of The Twilight Zone is the show’s ability to bring the darkest parts of human nature to light, and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” does that perhaps better than any other episode.
The episode begins with a UFO appearing over a small suburban town. Not long after, electrical anomalies start to occur, which makes everyone in the town wonder if they’re in the midst of an alien invasion. It doesn’t take long for the people of the town to start accusing each other of being aliens and committing acts of violence against the neighbors that they’ve lived next to for their entire lives.
This episode touches on the accusatory and distrusting tendencies of people in times of distress and paranoia, like that of the cold war era in which this episode was made.
People who were civil the day before are ready to kill one another at the first sign of danger. Those who are considered different are the first ones to be accused, while everyone else gangs up against them, showing the herd mentality that human beings can be prone to. Overall, this episode accurately depicts one of the ugliest consequences of paranoia and fear-mongering.
The Obsolete Man
Maybe I’m biased because I just absolutely love the way that they say the word “obsolete” in a low, booming tone in this episode, but I also think that “The Obsolete Man” should be considered one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone ever for its commentary on totalitarian authority.
In a society much like that of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, a man named Wordsworth is sentenced to death for being “obsolete.” What exactly does that mean? Well, Wordsworth is a librarian and, in this futuristic dystopian society, there is no need for books any longer.
Wordsworth is given the freedom to choose how and when he is going to die, and he makes a very interesting request. Without revealing too much about the ending of the episode, Wordsworth is essentially able to show the world just how flimsy the authority of the totalitarian state is.
Wordsworth accepts his death with grace and courage, all while defending his right to pursue his own passions as a human being. While Wordsworth may have been declared obsolete, the lesson he imparts in this episode is surely still relevant today.
It’s a Good Life
“It’s a Good Life” was probably an inspiration for the 2012 film Looper, in which a young boy with telekinetic powers threatens the entire world. Similarly, in this episode of The Twilight Zone, a little boy named Anthony has supernatural powers and is also telepathic, so he’ll basically kill you if you even think a bad thought about him.
As a result, everyone in his community and even his caretakers are forced to walk on eggshells around the little boy if they want to live. Anthony even controls the television programming for the whole town, and everyone must tell him how much they enjoy his programming more than what used to be on television.
Things come to a boil when a certain man in the town gets drunk on his birthday and starts singing. Unfortunately for the man, Anthony does not like singing. The man starts calling Anthony a monster and begging the other townspeople to kill him and end his reign of terror, but no one has the courage to do anything.
This episode is considered one of the best-ever episodes of The Twilight Zone because of the excellent storytelling as well as just how terrifying it is. Watch “It’s a Good Life” and you’ll be just as scared of Anthony as the townspeople.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
The gremlin from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” has become so iconic that it’s nearly impossible to not include this episode in the best-ever episodes of The Twilight Zone. Most people already know the premise even if they’ve never seen it.
William Shatner plays a man flying home after spending some time at a psychiatric hospital, so already we have an unreliable narrator in the mix. The man’s previous mental breakdown happened on a plane, so this flight is his chance to prove that he’s fully recovered. Unfortunately, the man starts seeing some sort of gremlin-like creature on the wing of the plane.
The gremlin does not look the least bit realistic, but more like a guy in a cheap Halloween costume. That doesn’t matter, though; what’s really important is the decisions that the man must make. Does he tell the other passengers about the gremlin at the risk of sounding insane? Or does he keep these sightings to himself at the risk that the gremlin is real and actually endangering the plane? It’s quite the dilemma.
The acting and writing in this episode is absolutely fantastic, making it scary and gripping despite the fact that the monster looks entirely unrealistic.