Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not Only in The Twilight Zone


In what has become a New Year's tradition, I look forward to the Sci Di Channel's continuous airing of back to back episodes of "The Twilight Zone" with the unbridled enthusiasm and eagerness of a child on her first day of school. That is, you know you're going to learn some incredible life lesson, whether you wanted to or not. Growing up, I watched the comparatively fluffier "Star Trek," having had a mild crush on Captain Kirk and always getting a kick out of Spock's delayed "humaness." Not to mention the thrill of the idea of "beaming" oneself anywhere, much less another planet. I watched the campy "Lost in Space," whose ridiculous but highly entertaining plots concerned everything from a giant plant wrapping itself around the Jupiter 2, to watching Will Robinson turn green, and of course the Robot flailing his mechanical arms that looked like glorified slinky's, trying to warn everyone of danger--usually too little too late. As a child, I learned the language of television space: forcefields, space pods, warp factors, fazors, transporters. But "The Twilight Zone" offers another realm, with a level of sophistication about the complexities of human behavior and situations that no other show captures. Not only that, but Seling incessanatly drove the point home that goodness inevitably comes with a little evil, and that evil people can still have some goodness in them. Rod Serling's dramatic introductions, with his low, self important voice, warn us we are being taken into another world. I learned recently that he wrote most of the episodes, and I am amazed everytime I watch that the situations dramatized encompass so much of our everyday lives. His characters are people we can identify with - office workers, musicians, rebels, athletes, children, the elderly, the rich and the poor. The messages are clear throughout: greed and evil will be punished; goodness and selflessness will be rewarded (most of the time); you can go home again, but it doesn't really work; you can sometimes predict the future, but you shouldn't play with fire; be careful what you wish for, or you may get it--and finally, things are never what they appear to be. A pair of shoes, a tin can, a swimming pool-- in recent episodes, these were all conductors to passageways in life - transforming characters into other people, taking them to other places, and forward and backward in time. It seems to me there is no more appropriate occasion then New Year's to think about time in this way - as fluid, and real, and a life force to be reckoned with as much as fire and water. In the end, the truth about "The Twilight Zone" is that it often leaves us hanging, and much like life, ask more questions then it answers. The last episode I watched New Year's Day before drifting off to sleep, showed a plane suspended above the earth, that mysteriously had broken the sound barrier. At one point, the land below that was supposed to be New York was populated with dinosaurs, and in another moment The World's Fair and New York City in 1939. You only hope the pilot can get it right to get the plane back to 1961, but Serling leaves you hanging. Ironically, the next day I treated myself to a viewing of the 1973 Woody Allen classic "Sleeper," and the similarity in themes was striking --that science typically promises more then it can deliver, that one should be wary of goverment agencies (and the use of political allegory to make a point about the human condition), that everything we thought was bad for us at one time might now be considered good, that one man's relic is another's treasure...and finally, that the only certainties in life are sex and death. I'm sure Allen and Serling would have had a lot to talk about.

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