Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

TV Review: The Twilight Zone

Jordan Peele puts his nerdcore imprimatur on a classy reboot.

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CBS All Access

Those of moderately advanced years may remember what a thrill it was, back in 1993, to encounter The X-Files for the first time. To see a primetime TV show rooted in semi-disreputable genres—sci-fi and horror—that took them seriously enough to bring real money and craft to bear on their revival. Everything about The X-Files, from its woodsy noir atmosphere and baroque conspiracy plot to its eerie earworm synth theme, announced that something new—or at least a cool new take on something old—was suddenly at hand. That feeling didn't last for all nine years of the show's original run—good writing is famously hard to sustain—but the early seasons stuck in your head.

The opening episodes of what I suppose we might as well call Jordan Peele's reboot of The Twilight Zone deliver a similar kick. In exhuming the classic Rod Serling series—which first ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and was one of the inspirations for The X-Files—Peele has found an agreeable outlet for his formidable nerd powers. Not that it's his show—he's one of the series' half-dozen executive producers, not a writer or director. But he's a serious admirer of Rod Serling and he shares Serling's determination to deal with social issues in his work (the late writer was an assertive scourge of racial injustice and the great American war machine).

Most entertainingly, Peele—the Oscar-winning writer-director of Get Out and Us—slips easily into Serling's old role as the show's somber pop-up host and narrator. In a scene set in a roadside diner, the camera will casually come upon him sitting in a booth, having a coffee or whatever; on a remote, rocky beach where something horrible has just happened, he'll suddenly be standing there in his sober black suit, ready to present us with some wonderfully grave pronouncement (telling us, for example, that we're "on a fateful drive through the perilous highways…of the Twilight Zone").

The series itself promises to be a lot of spooky fun. The first four episodes dispensed to reviewers are meticulously lit and beautifully filmed and at several points delightfully scary. The best of them, I think, is the one directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, noted for her enigmatic 2014 vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It's called "The Traveler" and concerns a mysterious character (Steven Yeun) who shows up unannounced at a small-town Alaskan police station one Christmas Eve. The police chief (Greg Kinnear), in boozy good spirits, accepts the puzzling presence of this stranger, with his vintage fedora and inscrutable bonhomie, but one of the chief's officers, Yuka (played by Inuit actress Marika Sila), is immediately suspicious, for, as it turns out, very good reasons. This episode delivers some classic chills and touches down, in passing, on the unending exploitation of indigenous people.

Another episode, called "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet," is modeled on one of the most famous of the original Twilight Zone installments, in which airline passenger William Shatner strives frantically to raise some alarm about a creature perched menacingly on the plane's port wing. As reworked here, with Adam Scott in the Shatner role, the otherworldly menace comes in the form of a true-crime podcast called Enigmatique—which turns out to be the very last show that anyone should ever listen to on a long-haul flight. If you have to expand an old half-hour episode into the hour-long format of the new series, this is the way to do it.

The remaining two episodes are clever ideas that may be stretched a little too thin. "The Comedian" stars Kumail Nanjiani as a standup comic who's bombing onstage until he receives some useful advice from a legendary older comedian (Tracy Morgan), who tells him to kill the political jokes with which he's larded his act and switch to routines drawn from his own life. However, the older man warns darkly, once the audience connects with this more personal material, "it's theirs." What this means is that…well, it's both very creepy and kind of fun.

The fourth episode, called "Rewind," stars Sanaa Lathan as a middle-class mother who's trying to drive her son (Damson Idris) to college, but keeps getting pulled over by a relentless highway patrol officer (Glenn Fleshler). This grim cop is forthrightly racist and, as we soon see, capable of just about any unpleasant thing. Fortunately, mom has an old camcorder that can dispel all problems at the push of a rewind button.

Jordan Peele recently remarked that he saw no need to cast white actors in lead roles in his films. This triggered a tsunami of white-guy bleating on Twitter, but here we see what he was talking about. This is a series that's simply well-cast, with talented actors, many of them somehow not white. It'd be nice if this were to become the new normal.

All of these new Twilight Zone episodes have attractive features – an especially sharp performance here, a beautifully framed shot there. The two best of them venture beyond the arena of simple scares to become haunting in a way that Rod Serling himself would likely have applauded.

(The Twilight Zone will debut next Monday, April 1, on CBS All Access.)

NEXT: On Looking Again at Blackstone

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  1. “Tsunami of white-guy bleating.”? “Many of them somehow not white. It’d be nice if this became the new norm.”? What is this? A Salon or Slate magazine article? It seems like creeping white guilt can’t be kept out of anything, even an allegedly libertarian source. I’m interested in checking out a revamp of The Twilight Zone, but I wont be sharing the guilt boner about “no whites allowed” in a lead role.

    1. Don’t think white guilt is a part of Peele’s master plan. Was just being sincere after seeing this and JP’s other two movies. Am hurt by Salon/Slate aspersion…

      1. The truth, it stings.

      2. Virtue signaling is a pre-requisite for cocktail party invites, I guess.

    2. So even entertainment has to be an Affirmative Action program? Thanks, but I think I’ll be passing on this one.

    3. You left out the part where he mentions that the actors are actually good at what they do. Its not white guilt to want a break from racial monotony as long as you aren’t letting it blind you from talent and skill.

      I see no problem with Peele discriminating in this way. (just like I don’t have a problem with white directors who cast mostly or even exclusively white people) he isn’t getting government involved, he is taking control over the types of films he wants to see. That is a good thing

      1. Its not white guilt to want a break from racial monotony as long as you aren’t letting it blind you from talent and skill.

        I don’t have a problem with Peele or the series. The false narrative is the problem. There was no racial monotony in Serling’s original. See my list below blacks, hispanics, and asians featured as leads regularly in the show. Acting like what Peele’s doing is somehow abnormal or new is the issue. Pretending that the series hasn’t been rebooted and failed a couple times, even with a black host in Serling’s role is the issue. The negligent bordering on willful whitewashing of history to congratulate yourself on defeating the whitewashing of history, the wishing that reality reflected or conformed more tightly to The Twilight Zone because the cast is diverse… That’s the shit sandwich *I* refuse to eat.

        Like the episode suddenly improves if the title of the book is ‘To serve humans equally’.

      2. Which white producers have said “I don’t see the need to cast any blacks”. I mean since the 1950s

        1. Definitely not any of the horror or sci-fi ones. They all need a “guy who dies first”.

    4. I tend to agree. Peele is an intelligent guy, is funny, and evidently is a talented writer and filmmaker, but it’s difficult to offer any good faith responses and genuine arguments against his caricatures, obtuse statements etc without projections of “white bleating” or effectively a “u mad bro?”

  2. This episode delivers some classic chills and touches down, in passing, on the unending exploitation of indigenous people.

    This grim cop is forthrightly racist and, as we soon see, capable of just about any unpleasant thing.

    Oh goodie. Just what I wanted. A lecture on how horrible my race is. Anyone want to bet “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is about white people being afraid of brown people all being terrorists?

    1. Any such bets would be lost — again, I don’t think Peele is a white-guilt guy a…

      1. Do you have to be a white guilt guy to be a racist?

    2. We gon blast up on them terries and drop some hypotheticals on they clavicle.

  3. Well, dang, I really like Jordan Peele and he seems to be quite talented and this sounds like a great show, but when I turned on my TV it was just some news report on the screen. Maybe this TV show isn’t on all the channels all the time but maybe just on one specific channel at one specific time and Kurt Loder just forgot to mention which channel at what time?

    Oh, wait, I googled the show and it seems to be on something called CBS All Access which I have no idea what the hell that even is so maybe I won’t get to see the show until somebody puts it on Youtube or something.

    1. It’s yet another subscription streaming site — sorry the mention of it got left off the above review: https://www.cbs.com/all-access/

  4. Okay, the The Twilight Zone was one of the inspirations for The X-Files, but Kolchak the Night Stalker was the chief one. Kolchak is also closer in spirit, if you think about how neither it nor the X-Files were anthology shows.

    1. I’m a Kolchak person myself…

    2. Loved Kolchak the servies, The made-for-tv movies were merely meh, but they spun off a great series.

  5. While the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits were great, (I’m betraying my love of B movies with the latter, aren’t I?) my real favorite was Night Gallery.

    1. Outer Limits? Rubbish! It manages to round up some great actors, but the writing was awful. Like they grabbed their plots from a night school creating writing class.

      Twilight zone had one stinker per every ten episodes. Outer Limits had one good show every ten episodes.

      Yes, if you liked B scifi then Outer Limits were for you. But most B scifi was garbage too.

    2. Really? I watched Night Gallery, and even still do as it’s syndicated on MeTV. But boy was that show everything that was wrong with early 70s tv. Serling himself hated it.

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  7. “It’d be nice if this were to become the new normal.”

    It’s amazing how racist and bigoted Hollywood can be, and how fragile some people can be when it tries to change.

    1. I don’t get it either, I’m not remotely pc but who cares if one director out of thousands isn’t going to hire white guys? Maybe some of us don’t want to see the 2,561,087th movie starting Leonardo Decaprio or Bradley Cooper. I want to see new talent too

      1. I don’t get it either, I’m not remotely pc but who cares if one director out of thousands isn’t going to hire white guys?

        Because if one director out of thousands refuses to hire black guys, he’ll be blacklisted and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

        I want to see new talent too but if I obliterate the old talent and replace it with the new how do I know anything’s changed? I’m capable of being fans of James Earle Jones and Morgan Freeman at the same time. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice the newcomer for the old timer. Especially in the name of some narrative that portrays Morgan Freeman as some unprecedented representative of a long neglected racial minority in acting and voiceover work.

      2. I view Peele as very ignorant and close-minded. He’s saying that no matter how good a white actor might be he won’t cast him in a lead role because he was born with the wrong skin color. Denying someone an opportunity over something superficial that the person has no control over is wrong–no matter who’s doing it. Was a big fan of ‘Key and Peele’ but in the future I’ll be avoiding any project that has Mr. Peele associated with it.

        1. Exactly. Happy to see great actors, but these attitudes, and the ‘diversity riders ‘where half of the crew had to be minority are as racist as any other thinking. My time is better spent elsewhere, good luck to him.

        2. Exactly. Happy to see great actors, but these attitudes, and the ‘diversity riders ‘where half of the crew had to be minority are as racist as any other thinking. My time is better spent elsewhere, good luck to him.

  8. Shouldn’t CBS notify the FEC about this donation
    to the Trump 2020 campaign?

      1. What is really sad (to me) is that if Kurt had never made such a big point about this, i wouldn’t have even noticed it. i honestly doubt that i would have said to myself ‘gee there sure seems to be a lot of black people on this show’. Which i THINK is how it supposed to be. Kurt, i like you a lot, but you kind of pissed in the soup here, and it doesn’t taste as good now.

  9. cool i love the Zone i’m in

  10. “It’d be nice if this were to become the new normal.”

    Really? Why?

    You know what would actually be nice? This: “This is a series that’s simply well-cast, with talented actors.”

    1. I’m pretty sure Rod Serling is spins in his grave a bit when Kurt Loder makes the fucked up wish that The Twilight Zone was the new normal.

    2. It’d be nice if that were to become the new normal.

  11. The original TZ had a stable of amazing writers and something else we do not have today — a broad moral consensus with which to appeal to.

    Morality plays without morality are bound to fail — no matter how “diverse” shiny objects like “colored people” seem to fascinate Mr. Loder.

  12. This is a series that’s simply well-cast, with talented actors, many of them somehow not white. It’d be nice if this were to become the new normal.

    Become?

    The Big Tall Wish, I Am Night – Color Me Black, The Encounter, The Masks, Dead Man’s Shoes… 156 episodes and I’d bet that if you tally it up, they hit pretty close to the exact demographics of

    Fuck this noise Loder. I was jazzed about another reboot to the Twilight Zone. Now, I hope the future to forgets you as quickly as you’ve forgotten the past. In 10-15 yrs. Peele can go take his place, ironically, next to Forrest Whitaker in this nation’s first black superhero movie.

    1. demographics of the era.

      This will be the third reboot of The Twilight Zone. The second to feature a Black host. To prattle on about racial diversity while openly ignoring the previous reboots exposes you as an ignorant hack, Loder. I’ve defended you in the past but this level of omission combined with irrelevant politicizing is exceptionally terrible.

  13. And another classic is niggerized.

    What?

    Is that offensive?

    I certainly hope so, why waste the mountain of offense that comes with even THINKING of using such a term?

    So why that? Why that term? Why accept the rancor?

    Because this has to stop.

    See, we’re not getting the promised return. Let all the minorities in, force them into places where they look strange, insert them into stories that have nothing to do with them, embrace diversity–embrace it HARD. Fuck it until you’re all a sweaty smiling mass of bruised flesh.

    And everything will be better than it ever was.

    But it’s not. At best–at BEST it’s meh., it’s passable.

    Worse, the things that actually ARE good–the things that aren’t simply showing an Ofcolor in for the diversity of it, are buried under the meh.

    No one gains anything when you pile shit as high as you can because you can.

    If Peele’s Twilight Zone can’t survive without ‘Now With Less Whitey!!!’ and all the attendant political garbage that goes with that, then it needs to be avoided.

    1. And another classic is niggerized.

      Forrest Whitaker hosted a revival that only lasted 1 season in 2002.

      1. You know what always gets me?

        People never ask what the word means.

        They see it, and assume something that fits in with how they think.

        But it’s got a meaning.

        It means that something today has to be ruined because someone, at some point in the past, was racist.

        I watched the Whitaker version. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t ‘woke’ either.

  14. I loled at “real money and craft”

    XFiles had a nothing budget the first two seasons.

    1. That’s where the craft comes in. Those first two seasons (well, also the third) were the very best. Goes to show that it’s not all about budget.

      The moving of production from Vancouver to LA (at the end of the 4th season, I think) also took a toll. The atmosphere was brighter versus the wetness and gloom of the earlier seasons?simply because of the change in climate. But the gloomy Pacific Northwest was a better fit?just like it was for Chris Carter’s other creepy show shot in Vancouver (Millenium).

  15. Jordan Peele recently remarked that he saw no need to cast white actors in lead roles in his films. This triggered a tsunami of white-guy bleating on Twitter, but here we see what he was talking about. This is a series that’s simply well-cast, with talented actors, many of them somehow not white. It’d be nice if this were to become the new normal.

    Freedom of association in business, as in all aspects of one’s life, is a liberty that should be afforded to everyone. The callous and flippant dismissal of criticism and genuine arguments as “white guy bleating”, or choosing only to mention the “white guy bleating” as if more substantial responses are irrelevant, seems very much in bad faith, Kurt.

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  17. Now that I know that it’s a new show just capitalizing on the name, I’ll give it a chance. I feared remakes, and probably?ugh?woke remakes.

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