Thursday, June 25, 2020

[Review] Season 2 of “The Twilight Zone” Is Off to a Mixed Start

Anthology series almost always present a mixed bag of offerings, as each episode varies in tone and genre. Even Rod Serling’s beloved The Twilight Zone delivered middling episodes on occasion, especially once you take individual taste into account. The great highs and groundbreaking work of Serling’s series easily overshadow any bad, though, making subsequent reboots an intimidating, Herculean task. So, it’s not surprising that the reception to the first season of producer Jordan Peele’s new update was mixed across the board. Of the three episodes screened for critics, season two looks to continue that trend.

Exclusively available on CBS All Access, all of season two drops at once, versus the weekly episode release schedule of The Twilight Zone’s inaugural season. The new season kicks off with “Meet in the Middle”, a meet-cute tale starring Jimmi Simpson and Gillian Jacobs, directed by Mathias Herndi and penned by Emily C. Chang and Sara Amini. Simpson’s Phil is a lonely bachelor longing to find the one, subjecting himself to awkward dates from online matches. It’s in the middle of one particularly uncomfortable date that he forges an unexpected and random telepathic connection to a stranger named Annie (Jacobs), a woman living in a different part of the country. Their link sparks a full-blown romance, but in this show, nothing is ever quite as it seems.

With the relationship all internal, much of this episode requires Simpson to do the heavy lifting. While the relationship evolves through playful banter inside Phil’s head, it’s up to Simpson to physically convey the evolution of their romance on his own. He’s more than up to the task, as his range of expression and physicality effectively gives rooting interest in Phil’s ultimate happiness. The downside, though, is that the bulk of the episode spends so much time building the quieter moments that it’s a bit of a slow-burn. One that crescendos into a satisfying though predictable conclusion.

Billy Porter in “The Who of You” Photo Cr: Dean Buscher/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Episode two’s “The Who of You” picks up speed with a fun meditation on empathy via body-swapping. Directed by Peter Atencio and written by Win Rosenfeld, this episode stars Ethan Embry as struggling actor Harry. Tired of not being given the chance he feels he deserves, Harry makes a bold, risky move to claim what he’s owed. It results in a bizarre body-hopping journey with the police on his trail. Embry’s energy level, combined with the zippy pacing, makes this episode an enjoyable one. Billy Porter steals his brief appearance, transforming exposition into a potent moral lesson.

The Osgood Perkins-directed/written episode “You Might Also Like” stars Gretchen Mol as a housewife excited about the latest home product release designed to make everyone’s life so much easier. As she begins to notice she’s losing track of time, however, she sees that perhaps this new product might be hiding an unsavory truth. Of the three episodes, “You Might Also Like” delves the farthest into the genre space, delivering a mind-bending journey into sci-fi with a little bit of horror thrown into the mix. It’s also one that ties directly into the original series, acting as a riff on 1962’s “To Serve Man” episode.

“You Might Also Like” — CBS All Access series THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The craftsmanship and talent involved with this modern reboot are top-notch. The well-acted and produced episodes carry forth Serling’s modus operandi of wrapping socially relevant parables in engaging suspense, sci-fi, and horror packaging. It’s far less successful at continuing the original series’ reputation for compelling twists, though. Many of the twist endings here feel easily foreseen or like tacked on afterthoughts. The extended length of the episodes in comparison to the original series might contribute to that. As a result, some of the episodes suffer from bloat.

There’s a ton of potential for season two with episodes by notable genre names like Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), J.D. Dillard (Sweetheart), and Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (The EndlessSpring) still on the horizon. There’s also a lot of potential for season two to reach the same highs that episodes like last season’s “Replay” delivered. For now, though, season two is off to a mixed start.

All of “The Twilight Zone” season two drops exclusively on CBS All Access on June 25, 2020.


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