Thursday, November 03, 2016

'It's a Good Life' Wasn't as Good as They Say

A handful of Twilight Zone episodes are generally regarded as classics by most of the series' fans.

"It's a Good Life," which aired on this night in 1961, is one of them.

Now, ordinarily, I agree with that kind of assessment from my fellow Twilight Zone fans. Over the years I have found that Twilight Zone fans are kind of like members of a club. We tend to be like minded about most of the episodes.

(For example, a high school classmate read an article I wrote recently about one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes and told me it was one of her mother's favorites, too. I've never met her mother, but that just about convinced me that, if I ever do meet her, I'll almost certainly like her. She clearly has very good taste.)

This, however, is a rare exception.

I never particularly cared for "It's a Good Life." I don't really know why.

Was it the acting? No, the acting was good. Bill Mumy played a 6–year–old boy named Anthony who terrorized a village in Ohio, mostly by reading minds and doing away with anyone who had "bad thoughts," especially about him but really about anything Anthony liked. He was particularly noted for whisking anyone with offensive thoughts to a cornfield, and they were never heard from again.

Cloris Leachman played his mother. Leachman, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in "The Last Picture Show," has been recognized many times for her work in television. Clearly the supporting cast was top notch.

Was it the story? No, I can't say I had a problem with the story. It was based on a short story that was published in 1953, and it was pretty good.

It was just one of those cases when the individual elements were good, but when they were combined, it just didn't work for me.

Now perhaps my reaction to this episode has always been based in part on the fact that I have never had children. The experience of parenthood would certainly influence how a viewer perceives this episode. Parents must deal with the insistence of children, who are usually powerless to pursue insistence too far.

But what if a 6–year–old had the ability to do more than throw a tantrum when denied his/her way? Like terminate a perceived oppressor through psychic power?

Mumy was a little older than 6 when he made this episode, and I must concede he personified the image of the insistent child. He appeared in two other Twilight Zone episodes, both of which I liked better than "It's a Good Life," although they are not as highly regarded by most Twilight Zone fans.

(He also reprised his role in an episode of the revival of Twilight Zone in 2003. Leachman appeared with him, as did his own daughter who had inherited his psychic powers in that episode.)

As I say, I just never cared for the episode. Lots of Twilight Zone fans do like it. Perhaps my friend's mother is one of them. But just because some folks share certain preferences does not mean they will see everything the same.