08 November 2018

The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue NW: Season 1 in the books (5/24)

I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice.  It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply.  In almost everything I’ve written there is a thread of this:  man’s seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.
– Rod Serling

In perfect harmony with my first survey, lo! who knows how many years since, I find that the closing episodes of the first season do The Twilight Zone great credit.

:: SPOILERS follow ::

The wrily comic “The Chaser” has been one of my favorites from the first.  A young man desperately in love, Roger succeeds only in exasperating, or maybe boring, the object of his attentions, Leila.  Prof. A Daemon asks if “the glove cleaner” is what he has come for.  The Professor’s library is an inspired bit of staging, and was entirely Director’s Discretion–Douglas Heyes felt that the conversation between the Professor and Roger would be of much greater interest than if they just chatted over a kitchen counter.  The classic cautionary tale to illustrate Be careful what you wish for…  Wonderfully apt use of the Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture, for exactly the reason that this love does not end to the Romeo’s satisfaction.

Jack Klugman and John Anderson bring out the rich sublimity in “A Passage for Trumpet.”  And an achingly exquisite score.   Klugman took admirable pains to look as if he was actually playing the horn.

Orson Bean as “Mr Bevis” winds up telling his guardian angel Thanks, but no thanks.  When an ethereal being (in sharp contrast to “A Passage for Trumpet”) pushes you towards conformity with an iron hand, it’s a dark day for Heaven.

Marcia really has no clue at the start of “The After Hours,” which is, after all, exactly what a vacation should accomplish, isn’t it?  A mysterious elevator, and a flawed golden thimble which sets the whole rediscovery in motion.

In spite of the trying circumstances of production, “The Mighty Casey” came out of the refiner’s fire unscathed.  At the last, Jack Warden makes lemonade with the lemons Life gave him.

Not only is “A World of His Own” exhilaratingly strong as a season-closer, but pokes expert fun at Mr Serling in his closing remarks.  A wonderful example of ad hoc television collaboration.

The season as a whole, I think, remains vigorously fresh.  An admirable percentage of the episodes are first-rate; and even in this second survey, when none of the stories benefit from sheer novelty, I don’t consider any of the screenplays weak or tiresome.  If pressed, I suppose I consider “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” and “The Fever” the ‘low points’ of the season, but that is in the context of superb comparisons.

There is also (still, as I am no longer a novice in the Zone) an elation at the thought that the series will wax stronger yet.  But there is no denying that there are already ‘instant classics’ here in the first season:

“One for the Angels”
“Walking Distance”
“The Lonely”
“And When the Sky Was Opened”
“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”
“The Hitch-Hiker”
“The Purple Testament”
“Mirror Image”
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
“A World of Difference”
“Long Live Walter Jameson”
“People Are Alike All Over”
“Nightmare as a Child”
“A Stop at Willoughby”
“The Chaser”
“Passage for Trumpet”
“The After Hours”
“A World of His Own”

Call this my personal A+ list, since most of the remaining episodes are grade-A.  I spun the list ex tempore, and now I count 18 of the 36 episodes of the first season.  Nor do I feel any need to winnow it in the least:  a strong start to a landmark TV series.


Jeffrey Smith said...

Tangentially the best acting in live theater I have ever seen (mind you I have not seen that much) was Klugman as the father in All My Sons. He himself the character so well that seeing him walk out for the curtain call was a complete shock, since he had just blown his brains out offstage three minutes before.

Karl Henning said...

I can picture it, knowing both how great Klugman could be, and how intense All My Sons is.