By Staff Writer Samantha Wahl.
The moment has come: the long-awaited Jordan Peele-led Twilight Zone reboot has premiered. In true twenty-first century style, the first episode was released online.
It was until recently available for all to see on YouTube; the series will be available on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access.
But does the Peele-helmed project live up the legacy of Rod Serling’s original pop-culture juggernaut? Read on to find out.
Needless to say, spoilers for the Twilight Zone episode “The Comedian” lurk ahead.
The plot of “The Comedian” relies on an old Twilight Zone standby: a deal with the devil. In Serling’s original series, characters would make deals for things like youth, money, or a chance to re-live the past.
This character, Samir Wassan (Kamail Nanjiani) makes a deal for success in his comedy career.
The crowd will laugh at anything he says, just as long as he gives them something real; meaning, a story about a real experience in his life. As Wassan offers up different aspects of his life to the public in his standup comedy act- his dog, his relationship, people he knows- those things disappear from existence, with nobody but Samir remembering them.
As Samir realizes his newfound power, he explores the reality of being able to erase things from existence.
The result is a character arc that is realistic and therefore terrifying; almost any audience member can relate to Samir’s desire for success and the temptations his feels regarding his powers.
This only makes his eventual downfall more disturbing. He falls into an infinitely lonely downward spiral, aware that mentioning people will erase them yet seemingly intoxicated by the acceptance his fame brings him.
Veteran Twilight Zone viewers will notice that “The Comedian” is longer than Serling’s old-time episodes. “The Comedian” runs at nearly sixty minutes, which is double the runtime of the classic Twilight Zone episodes that aired from 1959 to 1964.
Unfortunately, this increase in length doesn’t correlate to richer storytelling. The Comedian drags palpably after a certain point, and doesn’t rely on the suspense or mystery that made the original series so iconic.
The audience understands Samir’s power from the beginning, and at a certain point it begins to feel repetitive. This sixty-minute episode could have been a thirty-minute episode, and that’s disappointing.
However, the cast puts in a strong performance. Nanjiani is a likeable and believable everyman; the secondary characters are all vivid and fairly true-to-life.
Unfortunately, I sometimes found them- whether it was Samir’s nephew, or his rival standup comedian, or his girlfriend, or his girlfriend’s coworker that showed up for thirty seconds- more interesting than Samir’s situation.
Historically, the Twilight Zone has used predictability and the inevitable dread that comes with it to heighten the stress of an episode.
Most of the time, you could predict what was going to happen. There would be one moment at the end when it would all come together- the “stranded” astronauts would realize they were on Earth, the family would suddenly realize the masks had become their faces, or whatever creepy twist was in store, became evident.
But in this Twilight Zone, we get that moment too soon; then we get it for thirty more minutes. I am personally in love with the original run of Twilight Zone, but this one had me… bored.
However, I still have hope for Peele’s Twilight Zone.
The writing is good, except for that pacing issue. And it’s only one episode. This is especially comforting considering The Twilight Zone is an anthology series, so subsequent episodes will involve different characters, and could be written in completely different styles.
I really want to like this reboot, so I’m hoping that is the case. In any series, there are episodes that drag a bit. I’m hoping that’s all this is, and that me and this Twilight Zone just got off on the wrong foot.