Are you ready to go back to “The Twilight Zone”? Jordan Peele and CBS All Access sure hope you are. After the massive success of “Get Out” and “Us,” Peele continues his quest for worldwide domination with a reboot of the Rod Serling masterpiece that changed science fiction forever. Reworking ideas from the original series in his own inimitable style, Peele’s riff on “The Twilight Zone” is mesmerizing and unforgettable. Just as Serling brought voices he liked to the program, Jordan Peele collaborates with talents like Ana Lily Amirpour, Glen Morgan, and a great ensemble of actors to produce a show that’s so good you’ll want to get that subscription to CBS All Access.
The twists and turns of the four episodes sent to press would get Serling's approval. A stand-up artist (Kumail Nanjiani) discovers that the path to fame requires personal exposure in “The Comedian”; a mother (Sanaa Lathan) finds a camera that can reverse time in “Rewind”; a traveler (Adam Scott) discovers a podcast about the disappearance of the plane he’s currently on in Peele’s reimagining of a classic called “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”; a remote police station finds a new inhabitant (Steven Yeun) in its basement cell in “The Traveler.”
Revealing too much about any of those narratives would spoil the storytelling joy of “The Twilight Zone.” He doesn’t get writing credit, but he does appear as narrator a la Rod Serling, and his hand as executive producer is all over these four episodes. They are so confidently structured, unfolding like Peele’s films in the sense that you’re always a step behind the narrative, eager to see what’s around the next corner. I’ll admit to some fear when I saw the running time of “The Comedian” topped 50 minutes (especially given how almost all of the season four episodes of the original, which are double the other seasons, would have been better at half the running time), but you never feel the length. And then “Nightmare” is notably shorter. It’s so great to see companies allowing a show like this to play with running time, freed from time slot restrictions in a way that allows them to simply tell their stories in the best manner possibly.
As Serling did with his show, the new “Twilight Zone” is a funhouse mirror on modern concerns. “Comedian” mines how much artists are willing to use the people around them to further their careers, and how we willfully give over our privacy on stages and social media. “Rewind” is one of the most racially charged episodes of television I’ve seen in years, and Lathan gives a stunning performance as a woman who can keep rewinding time but can’t stop her son from being targeted by a racist cop. Think about that thematically—the cycles of violence that can’t be stopped even with supernatural intervention. This is smart, challenging television, designed to provoke conversation as much as startle audiences. The ‘80s and ‘00s reboots of "The Twilight Zone" relied too heavily on the hook of the twist that was redefined by Serling, whereas this version mimics more of how he embedded social and political messages into his narratives.
It will be interesting to see how audiences take to this version of “The Twilight Zone” given how many still don’t even know CBS All Access exists, but I can’t imagine that keeps it down for long. People will be talking about “Rewind” and TV doesn’t get much more entertaining than “Nightmare.” I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be around during the original airings of Serling’s show and experience twists like the end of “Eye of the Beholder” and “To Serve Man” with the rest of the world. Even in this era of Peak TV, it feels like there aren’t enough shows that really unite the country and get people talking. Peele's “The Twilight Zone” will be one of those.