Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Deja Vu TV

In the fall of 1985, the second incarnation of Twilight Zone sparked some spirited debates among some of my friends.

Some did not think it lived up to the original. Others did. I guess I fell somewhere in the middle. I liked the series, thought it was often as good as the original (which, to be fair, I have only seen in syndication), but sometimes I thought the episodes were disappointing.

That wasn't a fatal flaw in my opinion. I was sometimes disappointed in original episodes, too.

But I always felt that an episode that aired 25 years ago last night — "The Misfortune Cookie" — lived up to the standards of the original.

In more ways than one.

The story was clearly a Twilight Zone tale. A food critic who takes great delight in writing mean reviews that lead to the (sometimes premature, sometimes unwarranted) closing of restaurants becomes aware of an out–of–the–way Chinese restaurant and begins writing an extremely negative review without having eaten the food.

Perhaps so he can plausibly claim to have been to the restaurant, he stops by for dinner but doesn't eat the food and immediately asks for his check. The owner gives him a fortune cookie which he says is "special."

The critic's fortune cookie predicts that a "grand reward" is just around the corner. The critic leaves the restaurant and literally collides with a jewel thief and recovers all the stolen gems. The jeweler insists on giving him a $1,000 (a "grand") reward.

The critic is hooked and returns to the restaurant for lunch the next day. His negative review has already been printed, and people have been canceling their reservations all morning. Now contrite, the critic promises to smooth everything over with the readers, but first he wants a Chinese lunch and another special fortune cookie.

This one strikes the food critic as ludicrous. It says, "April arrives bringing romance," but he knows it is really September, and he storms out of the restaurant.

Yet only minutes later, he meets a woman who has just arrived in the city and seems lost. They hit it off and agree to have dinner together. The woman says her name is April.

After that, though, things begin to turn against the food critic in true Twilight Zone fashion.

The critic, of course, takes April to the Chinese restaurant for dinner, but the fortune cookies are not to his liking. April's cautions her that a mistake in judgment will soon be made clear to her. The critic's cookie tells him he is going to die, and he explodes, ranting at the owner of the restaurant.

A chastened April leaves and, shortly thereafter, so does the critic, who proceeds to an appropriate demise.

Frankly, I thought the ending of the episode was a little weak — but I felt the same way about some original episodes.

Like some of the original episodes, this one featured a well–known actor (Elliott Gould), who played the role of the food critic.

Another tradition that began in the original Twilight Zone series was the emergence of some talented actors, previously unknown but not fated to remain that way.

I don't think any of Gould's castmates fit that description. I mean, if any has gone on to do much beyond this Twilight Zone episode, I'm not aware of it.

I seldom see Twilight Zone episodes from the mid–1980s so your only opportunity to see it may be through YouTube.

But, if you're a Twilight Zone fan, watch it and ask yourself if it doesn't belong next to any episode from the original series.