Monday, April 11, 2011

A Day in Beaumont

Since I have written here, from time to time, of my admiration for the quality of the reincarnation of the Twilight Zone series in the mid–1980s, it seems only right and fair that I should mention the 1985–1986 season finale, which aired on this night 25 years ago.

Call it equal time.

Two episodes aired during that hour that night. Neither was particularly good — and, frankly, I was disappointed. The quality of the episodes, as I have mentioned frequently in the past year (which is the 25th anniversary of the first season of the series remake), was often equal to the original — in my opinion, anyway — and I was really expecting something special from the season finale.

But the episodes that were shown 25 years ago tonight definitely were not worthy of the original.

Picking apart either one would be sufficient to prove the point, I think, so let's focus on the first episode that was aired on April 11, 1986.

To be candid, it started in a very Twilight Zone–esque fashion. A young couple had stopped along a lonely desert road outside a fictional town called Beaumont on "Wednesday 1955" (honest, that's all the audience was told) to fix a flat when they saw a flying saucer making its way across the sky. It disappeared behind a small hill.

The couple investigated and found a spaceship on the other side of the hill — with alien beings coming and going. Frightened by what they had witnessed, the couple made a mad dash for their car and barely escaped the aliens.

The two decided to find the local sheriff and tell him what they had seen, but the sheriff was skeptical. He told them there had been reports of a legitimate crash in that area, and he offered to go back with them to see it. When they arrived, Air Force personnel were on the scene, and wreckage could be seen strewn along the hillside.

A major who appeared to be well acquainted with the sheriff greeted them and explained what had happened. After he walked off with the sheriff, an officer offered to show the couple something, but they begged off and made their way back to the car. Behind them, the officer asked the major if he should radio ahead, but the major replied that the couple weren't going anywhere.

Sounds ominous, doesn't it?

Well, if the story sounds good up to this point — and, I'll confess, I was still intrigued when the show took its first commercial break of the evening — but it rapidly went downhill from there, and I'm sure it would be even worse for today's audiences.

For openers, after coming back from the commercial, the episode picked up with the couple stopping along that lonely road in the desert to use a pay phone that just happened to be out there in the middle of nowhere. Very convenient.

(Remember, cell phones were still part of the distant future in 1986 — let alone 1955.)

After that, the story began to resemble something like "The Stepford Wives" (name your preferred version) or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (again, pick your version). The couple split, with the man seeking help from the newspaper's editor and the woman trying to radio for outside help at her uncle's place.

But neither got what they were looking for. The man saw abnormalities in people's hands (to be honest, I never saw what he supposedly saw), and the woman insisted that her uncle wasn't her uncle, anymore. "He's one of them!"

(Maybe I am, too ...)

They jumped in their car and tried to make their getaway, but a spaceship began following them and fired lethal rays at them — strangely enough, though, while the spaceship could travel however many millions or billions of miles through space it had come, it could not hit a 1955 station wagon with a death ray from what would have to be considered close range.

Then, just as implausibly, the ship sucked the car up through the air, and the couple found themselves inside the ship — which they disovered was being piloted by three of the skeptics they had encountered in Beaumont. Turned out everyone in town was an alien — even the young woman.

If you've seen any one of several visitors–from–outer–space flicks that were made in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, you're sure to experience a sense of deja vu if you watch this episode today.

And that, I thought, made it kind of anticlimactic.

You might recognize the actor who played the young man. He is Victor Garber, who has had roles in a few popular movies (i.e., "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Titanic"), but, mostly, he's been a guest star on several TV shows.

He received a couple of awards for his work in the series Alias.

And a few of the other cast members might look familiar, but none would be terribly noteworthy.

The original Twilight Zone dabbled in some science fiction stories as well. The town in the story that aired 25 years ago tonight took its name from a fellow named Charles Beaumont, who wrote several episodes for the original series, including some that, in hindsight, might have inspired this episode — at least, in some ways.

Tragically, Beaumont died long before the second Twilight Zone series came along.

His stories were often quite good, I thought. A few are even regarded as classics today. And, to be candid, some were not so good.

But even the worst was better than "A Day in Beaumont."