Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tandava's Guide to the Zone--2013-14--Part II: New Year's Day--Midnight to 7pm

And the Zone goes on!!

We continue from yesterday's entry (8am to Midnight), keeping with the tradition of airing the superb "Midnight Sun" at the stroke of the New Year.

And so what follows is the short list of my favorites, followed by the complete list of Twilight Zone episodes to be aired on SyFy from midnight New Year's Day through 7pm, with comments and mini-reviews, so you can sift the wheat from the crap.

Fortunately, although there are only two from the Time Top 10, they are two of the best: "Walking Distance" (which J.J. Abrams considers the series' best episode, and I am inclined to agree) at 12:30 AM, and the iconic "It's a Good Life" at 1:00 PM (listed in red below) -- and there are quite a few gems!

A third entry will follow covering 7pm through 9:00am Thursday morning, Jan 2nd.

So, the other two categories are:

(1)  My Personal Favorite Episodes – These are underrated gems with strong scripts and beautiful performances – in green.

(2) Episodes Worth Watching – These have flawed scripts or execution, but often have strong performances and/or ideas – in blue.


My Favorites  Short List
(Click the time to jump to the episode description.)

12:00 AM  The Midnight Sun
12:30 AM –  Walking Distance
1:00 AM  The Lonely
1:30 AM  Judgement Night
2:30 AM – The Last Flight
4:30 AM  The After Hours
8:00 AM  A Thing About Machines
9:00 AM  The Silence
10:00 AM  Death's-Head Revisited
12:00 PM  In Praise Of Pip
1:00 PM  It's A Good Life
1:30 PM  Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
5:00 PM  Number Twelve Looks Just Like You

Full List  With Descriptions

12:00 AM – The Midnight Sun – Earth has been knocked off its orbit and is gradually approaching the sun. Thermometers pop, a painting melts off its canvas (this is actually a painted wax tablet on a hot plate!), but this apocalyptic tale is most interesting for its relationships – an excellent script, beautifully acted. Note: They played this one at NYE midnight last year too... coincidence? Um... no.

12:30 AM –  Walking Distance – I LOVE this episode, a classic (#2 on the Time list) about a frustrated exec who, longing for his boyhood days, visits his hometown – only to find himself a grown-up amidst his own childhood. Insightful lesson about valuing the present and not romanticizing the past.

1:00 AM  The Lonely – Convict Jack Warden spends lonely days on an asteroid until his supply ship pal brings him a realistic robot – in the ethereally beautiful form of a young Jean Marsh (best known as Rose from Upstairs, Downstairs). A touching, romantic story. Features Ted Knight as an obnoxious crew member.

1:30 AM  Judgement Night – Nehemiah Persoff just knows a nearby U-boat will blast his passenger steamer. But no one one board will believe him! (And exactly how does he know anyway...?) Excellent performances, great ending and a sweet cameo by The Avengers' Patrick MacNee

2:00 AM – The Four Of Us Are Dying – Guy who can change his face learns he can’t change his scumbag nature.

2:30 AM – The Last Flight – During a hopeless dogfight, a World War I pilot abandons his best friend by flying into a cloud–and 42 years into the future, landing at a modern airfield. A touching, beautifully acted tale of cowardice, duty, and heroism at the last minute. A rarely-aired gem. And check out the vintage 1918 biplane!

3:00 AM – The Purple Testament – Mediocre tale of a WWII soldier who sees a portentous "light" on his comrades' faces. Basically an anti-war story which offers only the resigned observation that in war, people die and you can't save them (or yourself); title is from Richard III: "He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war." Notable only for a good performance by a pre-Bewitched Dick York.

5:00 AM – Nightmare As A Child – Freaky, annoying brat spooks schoolteacher. Or does the marm have more to fear? Find out, if you can stay awake through this snoozer. Features TZ's second-favorite child actor Suzanne Cupito (aka Dallas' Morgan Brittany); also featured in "Caesar and Me" (6:30 PM 1/1).

4:00 AM – Mr. Bevis – Loser gets all he desires (money, nice apartment, fancy car & chauffer), only to learn he can’t be his true whackadoo self and keep up appearances. Moral: Enjoying who you are is worth more than anything money can buy -- or money itself. A worthy message that deserved stronger delivery.

4:30 AM  The After Hours – Stunning Anne Francis finds herself wandering the non-existent floors of a creepy department store. (Wait... is that mannequin watching me??)

**** Paid Programming! GAHHH!!! ****

9:30 AM  A Thing About Machines – One of my all-time faves about a guy who beats up on his machines – which, in 1960, included his typewriter, electric razor, TV and car –  and they gang up to have their revenge. The dawn of Skynet... ("Now, why don’t you get out of here, Finchley!!")

8:30 AM – The Prime Mover – Compulsive gambler cajoles his telekinetically-enabled pal (an enjoyable Buddy Ebsen) into to helping him cheat Vegas. Doesn't work out too well, but could be worse. Moral: Be happy with what you have; know when to quit.

9:00 AM  The Silence – Tense, beautifully acted study in interpersonal dynamics and irony. Based loosely on Chekhov's The Bet, there is no supernatural hocus-pocus in this one. And there is no need for any. (And no Doctor Who jokes please... :-> )

9:30 AM – The Arrival –  Mystery plane lands itself at airport. The flight inspector "with a perfect record of solving cases" brings in a team to investigate. Everyone sees different registration numbers, seat cushion colors, then all but the investigator disappear. Could it all just be the investigator's guilty conscience hallucinating? Ummm... maybe... Sigh.

10:00 AM  Death's-Head Revisited – Former Nazi captain's trot down memory lane via Dachau brings him to some unexpected denizens. Top-notch performances by Joseph Schildkraut and Oscar Beregi Jr.

10:30 AM – A Piano In The House – Enchanted ivories reveal uncomfortable secrets; akin to "What's in the Box" (6:00 PM 1/1) and "A Most Unusual Camera" (4:00 PM 12/31 -- be glad you missed it), and slightly better than either. But only slightly.

11:00 AM – The Last Rights Of Jeff Myrtlebank – Small-town good ol' boy James Best wakes up at his own funeral, and seems much improved by the experience! Cute, folksy tale.

11:30 AM – Hocus-Pocus and Frisby – A braggart gas station attendant's tales of prowess are believed by some seriously gullible aliens who want to take him home as a specimen of Earth's finest.

12:00 PM  In Praise Of Pip – I LOVE this episode. I REALLY love this episode (and did I mention I love this episode?). Jack Klugman (RIP to a beloved actor) delivers a top-notch, tragic performance as a dying no-good trying to do right by his serviceman son, Pip (a much less fearsome Billy Mumy). Sweet, sad magical ending.

12:30 PM – Uncle Simon –  Two despicable people in a screeching, unredeemable story. Sadistic eponymous Uncle berates greedy, gold-digging niece caretaker into an "accidental" (and fatal) lapse in care. Twist ending? Yeah, but who cares. By the time it's over you'll want to twist off your head. Geeks may get a kick out of the brief cameo of Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot; the ambulatory prop also appears on "The Brain Center at Whipple's" and in miniature in "One for the Angels" (8:00 AM 12/31).

1:00 PM  It's A Good Life – One of the most famous episodes (#3 on the Time list) featuring little Billy Mumy as a terrifying child who can create and destroy at will. The brilliant Cloris Leachman is his petrified mother. ("That’s a good thing you did… A real good thing… Now please wish it into the cornfield!").

1:30 PM  Five Characters In Search Of An Exit – A soldier, a clown, a tramp, a bagpiper, and a ballerina wake to find themselves in a doorless empty room. Well-played and engaging.

2:00 PM – The Hunt – This mediocre folksy tale by The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr. has been recycled as internet glurge. Guy and dog have died and are walking along the road to heaven. Guy at pearly gate says, “No dogs allowed.” Guy says, “I ain’t going nowhere without my hound…” Sheesh. (This one has also been recycled as Internet glurge.

2:30 PM – Little Girl Lost –  Little girl has slipped into another dimension. Can her parents and their conveniently present physicist pal rescue her before the portal closes forever? Decent script but bland acting. Tune in for the final 10 minutes for all you need to know.

3:00 PM – The Little People – Ego and physical relativity clash in this memorable (though mediocre) episode, which has been lampooned  in The Simpsons, South Park, and Futurama. Good performance by Claude Akins.

3:30 PM – A Kind Of Stopwatch – Blabbering bore gets comeuppance via magical timepiece. Even The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything was better than this turkey.

4:00 PM – Probe 7 Over and Out – Stranded astronaut Richard Basehart, meets hostile alien female on deserted planet. She hurls rocks at him. Or maybe it's just foreplay. Now, what shall we call this place...? (Appropriately rhymes with "dearth.") The same story is better told in "Two" (1:00 AM 1/2).

4:30 PM  The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms – Spooked National Guard tank crew gets drafted into Custer's 7th Cavalry. Big whoop.

05:00 PM  Number Twelve Looks Just Like You – Dystopic utopia where everyone is beautifully identical and lifts their pretty mugs with a glass of Instant Smile. (Perhaps an inspiration for Scott Westerfeld's excellent Uglies series -- where a "beautiful world" has a particularly nasty underpinning?) Mediocre script saved by Collin Wilcox's terrific performance.

5:30 PM  Black Leather Jackets – Evil leather-clad alien (dressed this way to "blend") falls for local Earth girl in this poor man's Avatar.

6:00 PM – What's In The Box – Lame and ridiculous episode about a couple’s bickering leading to accidental murder and capital punishment. Freaky TV predicts it all. There, now you don’t have to watch it and aren’t you glad?

6:30 PM – Caesar and Me – Satan-spawn dummy drives hapless ventriloquist Jackie Cooper to a life of crime – matched in evilness only by tormenting then-child actress Morgan Brittany (later of Dallas fame). The same material is handled much better in "The Dummy" (9:00 PM 1/1).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tandava's Guide to the Zone--2013-14--Part I: New Year's Eve--8am to Midnight

Welcome back to the Zone!!

Once again we spend the final hours of the year, and the newly minted hours of the next, in that land between shadow and substance, of things and ideas: The Twilight Zone.

And while the SyFy channel is only airing 86 episodes of this timeless series (down from 90 episodes in last year's New Year's marathon), it appears to have dumped quite a few of the turkeys and will treat us to some of the very best.

The fun begins at 8:00 AM on New Year's Eve, and continues through 9:00 AM on January 2nd (each evening will take three hours off between 5:00 AM and 8:00 AM for "Paid Programming").

As every year, all ten of Time Magazine's Top Twilight Zone Episodes will be featured; they are in red. As usual, the bulk of these are on New Year's Eve, with a few gems during primetime of New Year's Day, along with some lesser known favorites, such as In Praise of Pip (12:00 PM 1/1/) starring a magnificent Jack Klugman, who left us last year, and TZ's favorite child actor Billy Mumy (also known for his work in Babylon 5), as well as Ida Lupino's "The Masks" (11:00 PM 1/1) -- the only episode to be directed by a woman --and A Game of Pool (7:00 PM 1/1) (featuring Klugman and the sublime Jonathan Winters, who passed earlier this year), in green, and finally a few that are not perfect, but have notable performances in blue.

So, as usual, here is a short list of my favorite episodes which will be aired on Monday, December 31st, followed by a full list of all the episodes to be broadcast on 12/31, containing brief descriptions and my personal, subjective, and highly opinionated reviews of each -- and hopefully not too many spoilers. Celebrity names and other items of interest are bolded and linked.

Happy Zoning!

My Favorites  Short List
(Click the time to jump to the episode description.)

8:00 AM  One For The Angels
8:30 AM  The Sixteen-millimeter Shrine
10:00 AM  And When The Sky Was Opened
12:00 PM – Long Live Walter Jameson
12:30 PM  A World Of His Own
1:00 PM – Mr. Denton On Doomsday
1:30 PM  People Are Alike All Over
3:00 PM  King Nine Will Not Return
3:30 PM  Nick Of Time
4:30 PM  Night Of The Meek
5:00 PM  A Penny For Your Thoughts
5:30 PM – The Odyssey Of Flight 33
6:00 PM  A Hundred Yards Over The Rim
7:00 PM  Where Is Everybody?
7:30 PM – Time Enough At Last
8:00 PM  The Hitch- hiker
8:30 PM – The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
10:00 PM – Eye Of The Beholder
10:30 PM  The Invaders
11:30 PM – The Obsolete Man

Full List  With Descriptions

8:00 AM –  One For The Angels – A nice way to start the Marathon. One of TZ's more successful dark comedies features Ed Wynn as a fast-talking salesman who must use his skills to save a child's life. Features the third of three cameos of Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot (miniature, in this case) in the TZ; others include "Uncle Simon" (12:30 PM 1/1) and "The Brain Center at Whipple's" (which surprisingly will not be aired this time; it is not my favorite, but it is a treat compared to the execrable "Uncle Simon").

8:30 AM  The Sixteen-millimeter Shrine – Luminous Ida Lupino stars as a reclusive aging movie star, immersed in the films of her youth. Sunset Boulevard, served up Zone-style with a bittersweet dose of wish- fulfillment. Score is by Sunset Boulevard's composer/conductor Franz Waxman. Catch Lupino's deft direction in "The Masks" on 1/1 at 11:00 PM.

9:00 AM  Escape Clause – I only like this one because I like David Wayne, but it’s not a great episode, just a grim morality play about the value of mortality. *Yawn!*

9:30 AM – Perchance To Dream – Neat psychodrama with some freaky felinesque dream sequences. Not bad; not great.

10:00 AM And When The Sky Was Opened – Well played, creepy episode about astronauts returning to earth… or did they? Or were they ever here? Or were you?? TZ makes us question our grasp of reality.

10:30 AM – What You Need – Magical peddler who can give people exactly "what they need" moments before they need it is menaced by a small- time thug. Comeuppance awaits the thug, and the peddler reveals a refreshing hint of cold- bloodedness, uncharacteristic of the Zone. Mixed feelings about this one mostly due to the script's weak dialogue. Based on a superior short story by Lewis Padgett.

11:00 AM  I Shot An Arrow Into The Air – Three astronauts survive a crash on an asteroid (where the atmosphere and gravity are the same as on Earth, but no one notices this). Limited provisions stir bloodthirsty behavior. Yes, Rod, people in crisis are just no darned good.

11:30 AM – The Fever – Well-acted but ultimately hokey morality play about gambling addiction.

12:00 PM – Long Live Walter Jameson – TZ's most successful working of the "morality of mortality" theme features fine performances, a strong script and a touch of righteous revenge.

12:30 PM  A World Of His Own – Sweet story about the reality of reality features the only time Serling interacts with his characters.

1:00 PM – Mr. Denton On Doomsday – Touching old west tale about top-gunslinger-turned-town-drunk finding redemption. Fine performances by Dan Duryea, Martin Landau and Doug McClure.

1:30 PM – Third From The Sun – Trigger-happy world leaders have their finger on the button! Doomsday is near! Time for a select few to secretly gather their families to escape to a nearby planet. Hm... now what planet would that be..?

2:00 PM –  People Are Alike All Over – Astronaut Roddy McDowall crashes on populous Mars, and consoles his fears with the thought that Martians (who include the radiant Susan Oliver)  and humans must be "alike" ...

2:30 PM – A Nice Place To Visit – Another be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale about the true nature of Heaven and Hell. In 1960 it might not have been painfully predictable...

3:00 PM  King Nine Will Not Return – WWII B-25 Captain Robert Cummings finds himself stranded in the desert with only the carcass of his King Nine, lost 17 years before. Is it a hallucination? Time travel? Both? The de rigueur twist ending is now a TZ cliché, but still worth watching for a strong script and Cummings' excellent performance.

3:30 PM  Nick Of Time – A charming script and low-key performance by pre-Kirk William Shatner (yes, I used "low-key" and "Shatner" in the same sentence) grace this cautionary tale about superstition and self-determination.

4:00 PM – A Most Unusual Camera – Lame-assed episode about three greedy morons undone by a magic camera. Hokey, ridiculous, predictable ending. Skip it.

4:30 PM  Night Of The Meek – Down-and-out department store Santa, Art Carney, loses his job but finds a bag of gifts and plays Santa one last time for the neighborhood kiddies. But is it just an act? Beautiful, touching episode.

5:00 PM  A Penny For Your Thoughts – Not a classic, but one of my favorites, featuring a young Dick York (the first Darren from Bewitched.)

5:30 PM – The Odyssey Of Flight 33 – A 707 picks up a freak tail wind and travels back in time. Run-of-the-mill by modern sci-fi standards, but notable for its apparently realistic cockpit dialogue created by Serling's aviation writer brother, Robert Serling.

6:00 PM  A Hundred Yards Over The Rim – Underrated episode featuring a very young Cliff Robertson as a pioneer dad who will go yards, miles and years to heal his ailing son.

6:30 PM – The Shelter – "Maple Street" meets the lazy grasshopper. The industrious ant of this tale has built a bomb shelter for his (and ONLY his) family, and his neighbors scoff – until there is an emergency... Bloated prose and one-dimensional characters make this a must-miss.

7:00 PM  Where Is Everybody?  – Guy finds himself alone in an empty town, with hints of residents recently present (lit cigarette in ashtray, etc.). Eerie and amusing, most worth watching because this is the pilot that sold the series to CBS.

7:30 PM – Time Enough At LastBurgess Meredith at his lovable best as a devoted bookworm constantly thwarted by his boss, wife, and everyone else – until a touch of armageddon gives him new lease on life. #10 on the Time list.

8:00 PM  The Hitch-hiker – A driver keeps seeing the same hitch-hiker thumbing a ride as she heads west…. A deliciously Hitchcockian morality/mortality play about fear and acceptance of the inevitable. #5 on the Time list.

8:30 PM – The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street – #4 on the Time list. The text of one is included in grade-school anthologies. Beautifully written masterpiece about fearing thy neighbor. The brilliant Claude Akins is considered the lead, though it is a true ensemble piece. Don’t miss it.

9:00 PM – A Stop At Willoughby – Beleaguered exec finds himself in his childhood hometown. Similar to "Walking Distance" but trades insight for sentiment. Some people really like this one; I can do without it.

9:30 PM – The Howling Man –  A visitor to a monastery is disturbed to find the monks have a screaming guy locked up. Well, they must have a good reason… A lot of people like this one. I think it’s pretty meh. Features John Carradine as a monk.

10:00 PM – Eye Of The Beholder – A classic (#9 on the Time list) about the relativity of beauty, the lengths we will go to be beautiful – or to at least conform – and the dangers of conformity. Note: the girl at the end (Donna Douglas, of Beverly Hillbillies) is a different actress than the one under the bandages ( Maxine Stuart), but she speaks in her own voice – doing a very good impression of Stuart!

10:30 PM  The Invaders –  Agnes Moorehead's virtuoso 25-minute wordless monologue; riveting with a slick twist at the end. #7 on the Time list.

11:00 PM – Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up – This was voted 8.5 on the IMDB, but I think it’s dopey and ridiculous. Bus passengers are stranded at a diner – but there is one too many. Oh, and rumor has it that a spacecraft crashed nearby. Give me a break.

11:30 PM – The Obsolete Man – The superb Burgess Meredith is back to his book-loving ways, this time as a librarian in a dystopic totalitarian future, where both he and his books are declared obsolete.