The genius of Rod Serling, who created the revered anthology series called The Twilight Zone, is indisputable. Filled with fantasy, science fiction, suspense, horror and black comedy, the television classic has a number of episodes containing not-so-thinly veiled real-life lessons. While nearly every episode functioned as a little morality play, here are five that we love.
Number 12 Looks Just Like You
Set in a dystopian future, adults have their bodies surgically altered into a more attractive model. However, 18-year-old Marilyn Cuberle is perfectly satisfied with her plain face, confusing family and friends who all know that Marilyn’s father committed suicide after regretting his own “transformation.”
Lesson – Fast-forward to today’s adults who eagerly seek cosmetic surgeries with some going so far as wanting to look like their favorite idol. Still, many are now choosing to reverse those decisions by removing implants and forsaking liposuctions. Natural beauty is to be appreciated.
A Passage for Trumpet
Down-and-out trumpet player Joey Crown has no friends, no money, and no job prospects thanks to alcoholism. Feeling worthless, Joey sells his beloved trumpet, goes on a drinking binge, and steps in front of a speeding truck. When he comes to, Joey assumes he’s dead since no one seems to see or hear him. After meeting a man named Gabe (short for “Gabriel” — get it?) Joey learns that he’s in limbo and has a choice to go back, “take what you get and live with it.” He decides to live and eventually meets a young woman who becomes romantically interested in him.
Lesson – Life can still be rich and rewarding beyond what we think will make us happy.
One More Pallbearer
Millionaire Paul Radin holds a grudge against three people – a high school teacher who failed him after he was caught cheating, a colonel who had Paul court-martialed after disobeying orders, and a reverend who made a public scandal out of a woman who committed suicide over him. Radin invites the three to his bomb shelter. With the help of sound effects and fake radio messages that simulate an impending attack, he invites them to take refuge if they will just apologize for their past actions. Valuing honor above their lives, all three refuse and leave. Unable to cope with the fact that he’s deluded himself about his own character and left all alone, Radin loses his mind.
Lesson – It all boils down to having self-awareness and taking responsibility for our actions or we could find ourselves sitting in a rubble of our own making, pallbearers in our own death march.
I Sing the Body Electric
A widower solicits the help of a robot grandmother in caring for his three children. The two youngest are ecstatic, but oldest daughter Anne — still bitter about the loss of their mom — is not so welcoming of the new “grandma.” One day, the new grandma pushes Anne out of the way of a moving truck, saving the girl’s life. Anne grows to love her and by the time all three children are about to leave the nest, it also signals time for Grandma to move on and return to the factory where she’ll be prepared for another family.
Lesson – Simply put, love and patience can win over a multitude.
The Incredible World of Horace Ford
Toy designer Horace Ford is preoccupied with the “good old days” of his childhood, leaving his wife, mother, and colleagues frustrated. Upon a visit to his old neighborhood, Horace discovers nothing has changed — including the ages of his boyhood friends. He returns to the neighborhood on several occasions; one night, the boys complain to him about not being invited to his birthday party. Suddenly, Horace is a boy again, but his friends start to bully and assault him. After his wife finds him, Horace grows up, returning to his own age group and realizing that his childhood was not all that pleasant after all.
Lesson – Years go by, but beware. Some old friends may continue to do the same childish or even reckless things and never grow up.
Editor’s Note: We would add these two lessons: always keep a spare pair of reading glasses handy (Time Enough At Last) and don’t ask what’s in the restaurant specials (To Serve Man).
Fair Use image of “The Twilight Zone”
Great article, and five good examples.
“Time Enough At Last” and “To Serve Man” are probably my favorite episodes. Then there was the William Shatner episode where he tries to warn the pilot that there’s a monster on the wing pulling wires out. That’s how Rod Serling kept us guessing: Is the passenger just paranoid/crazy, or is there really something out there? You can never be too sure, but at least verify for yourself.
Yeah, too many wonderful episodes…”Time Enough…” is one of my personal faves, too! Thanks for reading.
To serve man was one of the best ever… another was the episode of the mushrooms and the other of the girl that had the surgery to look normal like the piglet people… Lol! Suspense till the end. BKK
The episode “The Obsolete Man” was one of my favorites. Like RS said “Not a future that will be but might be….Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.” He’s not too far off the beaten path!
Wonderful piece. Well done. Benny Herrmann!