CBS All Access just gave nostalgia-seekers something to watch this weekend. As promised, the streaming service has released a version of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone series in black and white. It’s an homage to the 1959 show, of course, but it should also add a sinister edge to scenes that previously felt too… well, colorful.
The option has arrived right as CBS has finished releasing the first season. There’s not much riding on the black and white version when the service has already renewed the show for a second run, but it illustrates the freedom streaming providers have versus their conventional counterparts. They can produce alternate takes on a series without worrying about the hassles of redistributing it — you just have to watch whichever edition tickles your fancy.
Saturday brought some big news for fans of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot.
The show is going black & white. The full-color version will still be there, but a black & white option will be available to anyone who wants to kick it old school and watch the suspense-horror series in a style that more closely mimics the look and feel of the original series.
It’s important to note something here. The Twilight Zone reboot is a CBS All Access exclusive. It doesn’t air on TV at all. If you want to watch it, you’ve got to subscribe to the network’s Netflix/Hulu-like streaming service, for which you’ll pay a minimum of $7 per month.
Not every show can pull off a black & white gimmick like this, but it certainly makes sense for The Twilight Zone. It couldn’t have been terribly laborious or costly for CBS to deliver this alternate viewing format either. An easy win aimed directly at fans, and fans alone.
Even if this specific gimmick doesn’t make much sense for other shows, the underlying concept is a smart idea. As the number of cord-cutters continues to rise and individual broadcast networks look for new ways to compete with streaming titans like Netflix and Hulu, niche appeal is going to matter just as much as mainstream appeal.
Think about how CBS All Access pinned its launch to Star Trek: Discovery, another fan-centric series. I’m still not convinced keeping shows like that and Twilight Zone off the network airways is doing CBS any long-term favors, but it’s no doubt helped the streaming service.
That said, over time I think we’re going to see fewer streaming-exclusive shows, not more. It’s costly to produce a whole season of TV, and for the time being services like All Access are more novelty than requirement. Eventually, a majority of viewers will realize they can wait for a season of something to end, pay a few bucks for one month of service, and binge away.
I don’t know CBS’s financials here, but I can’t imagine that’s an ideal scenario for the network.
That’s where gimmicks come in. If you love The Twilight Zone, maybe you’ll want to keep that subscription around a little longer so you can see how the series changes in black & white. Would deleted scenes and alternate endings keep you around? Commentary tracks?
It’s not the kind of stuff that would appeal to every viewer, but that’s the whole point. There’s too much content for any reasonable person to keep up with in 2019, and so choices need to be made. Peppering a service like CBS All Access with fan-pleasing extras could create enough of an edge to convince a steady base of subscribers that they should stick around.
The Twilight Zone going black & white could just be a one-off gimmick, but I’d rather look at it as a trial balloon. As more streaming services compete for your attention, they’re going to look for new and unusual ways to keep you on the hook. That’s what this feels like.
It’s not often that streaming services are willing to release new versions of their shows to cater to fans, but CBS All Access is willing to make an exception. It’s launching a black-and-white version of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone on May 30th to cater to fans who wished the show harkened back to the look of the original. It shouldn’t alter the actual content, but it might help if watching in color feels like a crime.
The new take won’t necessarily lead to a surge in new viewers. That’s not necessarily the point, though. CBS is arguably taking advantage of the very nature of a streaming service — it can release modified shows with relatively little effort, making die-hard Twilight Zone fans happy without having to change the experience for anyone else.
It’s impossible to overestimate the cultural impact of the original The Twilight Zone.
So many lovable elements of current TV — like anthology formats, twist-based plots, and cerebral moral plays — became popular through its success, and they continue to pervade some of the medium’s best efforts to date. Unrelated movies are said to have “Twilight Zone-ish” twists, and its tone is so well known that simply humming its theme song is universal shorthand for “shit’s getting spooky.” Not bad for a show that premiered in the 1950s.
While modern successors to The Twilight Zone exist, Black Mirror being the most popular, nearly all attempts to emulate Rod Serling’s original vision have fallen flat. TV reboots in the 1980s and in 2002 left little impact on the series’ legacy, and nobody wants to talk about the 1983 movie. In fact, what movie?
Since it’s proven difficult to capture the lightning in a bottle that made the show great, Jordan Peele’s 2019 reboot is a bold-ass move from the get go. After watching the first four episodes of the new The Twilight Zone, I can say that it seems like his risk paid off.
The new The Twilight Zone captures the uneasy feeling and creeping anticipation of many of the original series’ iconic episodes. Even though nearly everyone watching will be prepared for some kind of twist, the buildup and delivery of some episodes’ final moments is gut-wrenching. The show uses many of The Twilight Zone’s classic methods — montages, line repetitions, and full-circle storytelling — to lull the audience into a sense of comfort before smacking them in the face with a last-minute surprise.
Twilight Zone‘s strength remains in how quickly things go sideways for everyday people — and what their reactions can tell an audience about themselves.
The first two episodes of The Twilight Zone are “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” They are also the two best episodes provided for review. “The Comedian” is an excellent start to Peele’s new Zone, with a straightforward story hammered into wild shapes by Kumail Nanjiani’s unhinged performance as a down-on-his-luck stand up who accidentally bargains for a horrible power. It is the most classically Twilight Zone-y of the episodes, with familiar beats and a twist that wouldn’t be out of place among the original’s better offerings.
“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is a different animal. It is ostensibly a remake of one “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” an original episode famous for starring a young William Shatner. But in practice, it’s a strong example of how far and well Peele is willing to stretch The Twilight Zone’s mythos. To say too much about the differences between the two episodes would be to spoil its shocking ending, but suffice to say it involves a prophetic podcast, Adam Scott, casual racism, PTSD, and a very familiar gremlin puppet.
Peele himself is intimately involved in each episode of The Twilight Zone, having taken over Rod Serling’s role as the well-dressed narrator who introduces and concludes every story. He doesn’t try to emulate Serling’s solemn newscaster tone but has his own, Peele-y gravitas. He’s having fun being the center of this warped universe, and it’s just as fun watching him.
The Twilight Zone has always been about putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and the reboot does a great job of highlighting the hidden menace in commonplace situations. Sure, there are magical camcorders and mysterious strangers, but the strength of the show remains in how quickly and simply things go sideways for everyday people — and what their reactions to being plunged into a dimension of impossibilities can tell an audience about themselves.
Of the many Twilight Zone reboots and resurrections, this feels like the first one to get it right. It understands what was good about the original, and effectively transports old fans and new converts to the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition…and welcomes them back to The Twilight Zone.
It is a binge as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between watching yet another season of Gilmore Girls and an ill-advised, impromptu viewing of The Grudge. Its duration lies between “No way do I have time for that!” and “Yeah, I’ve got an afternoon to kill.” It is an area of Netflix known only to your queue as… The Twilight Zone.
With Jordan Peele’s reimagining coming to CBS next month and four of the series’ five seasons currently available on Netflix, now is the perfect time to revisit the iconic 1960s sci-fi anthology The Twilight Zone.
But be forewarned, this is one streaming sleeper cell that can and will suck you into its twisted, black-and-white hellscape, an interdimensional place of obsession that you (and all of your spare time) will likely struggle to escape. I should know — I’m still there.
If you’ve previously caught Twilight Zone re-runs on the odd hotel channel, it is unlikely you regard them as particularly addicting. Clocking in at only 25 minutes a pop, these self-contained stories were designed to be seen one at a time by the series’ original weekly audience and, as a result, remain satisfyingly bite-sized for modern viewers.
However, when the anthology and its namesake universe are presented to you all at once as an illustrious wonderland of effective storytelling and deep-seeded nightmares, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in the antiquated terror.
As Mashable’s Senior Entertainment Reporter Alexis Nedd explained, bingeworthy shows often provide juicy cliffhangers or twists at the end of each episode, developments that impose upon the viewer an immediate need to further uncover the series’ plot by watching the next chapter. While The Twilight Zone lacks a central storyline to employ this exact method of guiding viewers further into its clutches, it achieves the same effect through its unique formatting.
The anthology’s 138 episodes occasionally overlap to retread themes, but remain primarily connected by host and creator Rod Serling’s cryptic intros and outros. Serling and his bookend monologues act as a kind of central circuit breaker to theTwilight Zone’s horrors. His mesmerizing voice and chillingly calm demeanor weave these seemingly separate narratives into one carefully crafted world, designed to poach human fear with deft expertise while providing little explanation for its cruelty.
It will become increasingly difficult to resist breaking out the murder boards and tinfoil hats.
When you binge The Twilight Zone, you finish each episode under the ominous hang of the non-answers provided by Serling. You are repeatedly forced to believe that whatever terrors you have just witnessed occurred to these characters for some indescribable, yet cosmically justifiable reason — and, even more troublingly, accept that similar fates will soon befall others.
As the pressure to swallow the unforgiving nature of the Twilight Zone mounts episode-by-episode, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist breaking out the murder boards and tinfoil hats. In its complete form, The Twilight Zone demands answers with alarming urgency. Despite knowing such answers can never be found, you will want to suss them out, digging deeper and deeper into the series’ archived tales for non-existent clues.
Moreover, watching The Twilight Zone‘s grainy, black-and-white scenes unfold on a modern device adds to the unsettling yet gripping nature of the series. Watching actors and actresses in the 1960s, many of whom are now deceased, portray horror stories with no knowledge that you would be watching their performances decades later feels at best creepy and at worst voyeuristic. The sensation that you shouldn’t be seeing what you’re seeing quickly makes devouring episode-after-episode that much more tempting.
With all that in mind, it may seem as though your Twilight Zone binge is an inevitability. And while that may be true, I implore you, when you do take a moment of reprieve from your streaming marathon, take stock in reality. Appreciate the color of your surroundings, watch a few cat videos, order PostMates, or otherwise indulge in your 2019 luxuries.
If you don’t, the next time Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” you may begin to wonder whether it’s you or the binge hitting “next” in… The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone: Seasons 1-3 and 5 are now streaming on Netflix. Seasons 1-5 are available on Hulu.