Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Return of the Twilight Zone Marathon

One of the pleasures I permit myself is the Syfy Channel's Twilight Zone Marathon, traditionally held twice a year — around New Year's Day and around the Fourth of July.

I don't know how long this has been done. When I first became aware of it, the marathon was two, even three days long. It always included the holiday, and it included the day before and/or the day after the holiday as well.

Over the years, the marathon has grown gradually smaller. At some point, it was reduced to two days, and now it is only one day. It makes me wonder if this tradition's days are numbered — so to speak.

A few years ago, Syfy experimented with the format a little. Most of the time, the marathon had been strictly episodes from the original Rod Serling–hosted series, but one year, half of the marathon was devoted to those original episodes and half of the marathon was episodes from the reincarnation of the series in the mid–1980s.

I rather liked that arrangement. It gave me an opportunity to see some episodes I hadn't seen in more than 20 years. But Syfy hasn't done that since.

Anyway, I am writing all this because the Fourth of July Marathon is two weeks from today, and I have been looking at the online schedule to see which episodes are being shown.

I wish I could report that a rarely seen episode will be shown at a certain time, but I saw nothing on the schedule that I haven't seen fairly frequently over the years. The marathon starts at 7 a.m. (Central) on the Fourth of July and wraps up at 5 a.m. the next day.

I've always had a fondness for the Twilight Zone's historical episodes, but my favorites — "Back There," which was about the Lincoln assassination, and "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms," which was about Custer's Last Stand — are not scheduled.

Most of the episodes that are considered iconic today are scheduled to be shown, like "Nick of Time," in which William Shatner and his new bride are prisoners of a fortune–telling machine in a diner; "Where Is Everybody," the very first episode in which Earl Holliman hallucinates in a sensory deprivation unit; "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," in which Shatner believes he sees a gremlin trying to sabotage the plane in which he is traveling; and a couple of Burgess Meredith's best episodes, "The Obsolete Man," about a librarian who is declared obsolete, and "Time Enough at Last," about a voracious reader who survives a nuclear exchange and suddenly finds himself with enough time on his hands to read all the books he has always wanted to read.

(Those last two, incidentally, will be shown back to back.)

Another classic episode is "To Serve Man," about a group of seemingly generous benefactors from outer space whose only real objective is to fatten the people of earth so they can be a food source for aliens.

That one will be shown on Fourth of July night. You can watch it if you don't have to go to a fireworks display somewhere.

In the absence of any rarely seen episodes on the schedule, I guess I will warn you not to watch certain episodes that I find tedious. (Obviously, you may disagree with me on one, some or all of these so please take my recommendations with the customary grain of salt.)

At noon (Central), the marathon will feature "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You," a futuristic episode in which every person undergoes a transformation into his/her choice of one of several perfect bodies. A girl (Collin Wilcox) who is about to be transformed resists, preferring to hold on to her individual identity.

That would have been a good message — except the character capitulated in the end.

I always skip that one. I also skip the one that is scheduled to follow it, "I Sing the Body Electric," which was about a family without a mother. The father was torn between his duty as a breadwinner and his role as a parent. The solution seems to be a robotic grandmother.

There were some abandonment issues that were raised by the story, but it didn't have the Twilight Zone's usual punchy ending. Written by Ray Bradbury, it was mostly the basis for a short story Bradbury would publish a few years later.

"It's a Good Life," which is scheduled for 3 p.m. (Central), starred Bill Mumy as Anthony, a little boy who could wish things away — and consequently terrorized his little town.

A lot of people regard it as one of the best episodes of the series, but I don't. I suppose I liked it well enough when I first saw it, but it didn't have the staying power with me that it had with others. Some of the episodes I can watch over and over again, but not this one. Maybe Mumy is too solidly entrenched in my memory as the little boy from Lost in Space, one of my TV favorites from early in my childhood.

Whatever the reason, I generally skip that episode. I plan to skip it two weeks from today, too.

Other than that, though, I'm fine with the schedule, and I'll probably spend most of the Fourth of July in the Twilight Zone. As usual.