Like a lot of Twilight Zone fans, I found myself disappointed with season 1 of the CBS All Access reboot. It wasn’t the worst show I’d ever seen–just very medium. So it was with tentative baby steps that I approached the new season, and here’s what I found out in my Twilight Zone season 2 review.
A Brief Discussion of Season 1
image via CBS
As I mentioned in my look at the season 2 trailer, season 1 of The Twilight Zone was thoroughly inoffensive. I generally enjoy most anthologies, because you never know what you’re going to get. And if you approach season 1 like it’s any ol’ anthology, it’s very just fine.
But it’s not any ol’ anthology. It’s the newest heir to The Twilight Zone name, and as such, it has big shoes to fill. And it didn’t fill them. Coming from Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, the same company that produced Get Out and Us, made its failure even more inexplicable. Both films successfully married horror with social themes–you know, the exact thing at which The Twilight Zone excelled.
Watching the first season (and watching the show squander its potential) was painful. The social commentary was blunt and the writing wasn’t much better. The original show was able to deliver a bit of dialogue like “Familiar, is it, Captain? It was the Nazi theme music at Nuremberg, the new lyrics to the Götterdämmerung, the plaintive litany of the master race as it lay dying” in service of a powerful theme. Or there’s that episode’s closing narration:
All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s Earth.
This new season, though, didn’t seem to get any deeper than, “Society, am I right?”
And it never got dark. As a certified spooky b-word, I hate that. Even CBS’s Evil, which plays on regular broadcast television, is more unnerving.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episodes
image via CBS
As with season 1 (or with any anthology), what we have here is a mixed bag. When these episodes worked, they were great. And when they didn’t, what a slog.
Speaking of, they did course-correct one aspect that really did wonders for the show. Overall, these episodes don’t run as long as the episodes in season 1. Those episodes didn’t need that length–the stories could have been told better in episodes that were more tightly written. Comparatively, the shorter lengths and better writing already elevate this season.
And it shows from the beginning with “Meet in the Middle,” the first episode. Starring Jimmi Simpson as Phil, a man who thinks he’s met his dream woman, Annie (Gillian Jacobs), this episode clocks in at a relatively brisk 43 minutes. And it ends in a twist much darker than I would have expected from season 1. That boded well for the season as a whole.
Following it up with “Downtime” and “The Who of You” was also a good sign. Although neither were as dark as “Meet in the Middle,” they were clever and entertaining in their own ways. Like season 1’s “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” “The Who of You” maybe goes a twist too far at the end, but it pulls it off better than its predecessor.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Review
image via CBS
Unfortunately, though, this trifecta is followed by some of the weakest episodes of the season. “Ovation,” with its tale of an aspiring musician who gets everything she wanted, has an interesting idea but it never does anything novel with it. It’s also the first episode to feel long. “Among the Untrodden,” about teenage girls experimenting with psychic powers, has similar issues. It has a neat hook, but never enough bite.
And “8,” the episode that follows them, just doesn’t go anywhere. As Glen Morgan, who also wrote the classic X-Files episode “Ice”–also about a research team who may have something uninvited in their base–wrote this one, I expected more. At the conclusion, with its ominous twist, I wanted to feel terror. Instead, I felt, “Hmm.”
Thankfully, the two episodes after that worked much better for me. First up is “A Human Face,” in which a grieving couple look for solace in an unexpected place. I wish it ended more ambiguously, but as it is, it leaves you with a satisfying enough sense of menace.
And then there’s “A Small Town.” It’s about a widower who discovers an easy way to make changes in his suffering little burg. The episode doesn’t seem to be sure about what it’s trying to say, exactly, but it is fun to watch.
I can’t really say the same about “Try, Try,” the next episode, though. While Topher Grace and Kylie Bunbury are pleasant enough as a couple of strangers who meet by maybe not chance, the episode in general just feels light.
We end with “You Might Also Like,” which didn’t work for me at all. Maybe I’m just immune to Oz Perkins’s work. Because I know this episode has already received a lot of praise, but it just left me cold. It’s ostensibly a throwback to one of the most iconic episodes of the original series. I don’t really like that one, so it doesn’t bother me that this one doesn’t really do anything with the allusion. What does bother me is that this episode has no bite. For all its style, the message of the episode basically amounts to “Society, am I right?”
And that’s indicative of the season as a whole. While it’s better than season 1, it could still stand to go darker. It’s supposed to reflect the world, after all. And the darkness seems only to be getting closer.
What did you think of season 2 of The Twilight Zone? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on social media.
featured image via CBS
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.