THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Director: Owen Harris
Writer: Alex Rubens
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Amara Karan, Diarra Kilpatrick, Ryan Robbins, Tracy Morgan
Now, he’ll have to decide what really matters to him when the laughter stops and how much he’s willing to give…to the Twilight Zone.
I’ve had a lot of conversations over the years with my friends about who would be a good replacement for Rod Serling in a reboot of The Twilight Zone. Obviously, Rod Serling is almost totally irreplaceable, but it’s still a fun conversation to have. We threw around names like Neil Gaiman, M. Night Shyamalan, and Rob Zombie… with some of them being more well-received than others.
The reboot in 2002 went with Forest Whitaker. I love Whitaker as an actor, but the person presenting the show should really have something to do with its creation. It just feels better that way. When it was announced that Jordan Peele was both producing and presenting this newest revival, it felt like a lightning bolt of “oooooh, yes, perfect” hit me.
For good or bad, the first entry in the new series seems like an average episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s a good concept that could use more exploration and less repetition. It also definitely didn’t need to be as long as it was. You’d think a benefit of the show being on a streaming service would be some flexibility in episode length based on the demands of the story they’re telling. But nope, “The Comedian” is a season four style hour-long when it should have been a season one style half hour.
The story has a standard Twilight Zone hook. Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani) is a standup comic whose material is… not great. It’s preachy, impersonal, and not very funny. Samir has a run-in with a comic legend, J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan), who ominously tells him that the secret to success is to get more personal. Samir takes the advice by doing a bit about his girlfriend’s dog and getting some laughs. But when he gets home, the dog isn’t there, and his girlfriend Rena (Amara Karran) has no memory of the dog ever existing.
You can tell how this is going to go from here.
Nanjiani proved himself an engaging lead in The Big Sick, and he does a great job here, as well. It’s fun to follow him through the various stages of a tale like this: the confusion of figuring out the rules, the glee of abusing the power, the sorrow of going too far. He’s a game actor, and he does his best to keep us engaged. The problem is the repetition. Too many of the standup sets play the same beats over and over. It’s all right that most people who are familiar with The Twilight Zone will guess the ending immediately because it’s ultimately about the journey. But when the journey starts to drag on so much, an obvious ending can make the whole thing feel like a waste of time.
I wouldn’t go that far though. There’s a lot to like about the episode. The direction by Owen Harris is slick. Both episodes of the series that I’ve seen so far have looked great. One of the best parts of the original series was the stark, black and white photography and how different directors played around with it. I also really enjoyed Tracy Morgan’s performance. He was just the right amount of intriguing and ominous. It was a classic character type, and he knocked it out of the park.
The best thing about this outing was Jordan Peele. I had a big grin on my face when he appeared for the first time to give the opening narration. His look and his delivery were a perfect homage to Rod Serling without devolving into parody.
Hopefully, the rest of the series can follow suit.