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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

“The Twilight Zone”: Ranking All 10 Episodes of the Reboot’s Second Season

Rod Serling‘s The Twilight Zone changed television for the better. He and his team thoroughly examined the human condition through the use of groundbreaking thought experiments, all the while serving up some of the finest writing on the small screen. 

When Jordan Peele rebooted the series last year, critics and audiences alike agreed his version fell short of imposing expectations. Seeing as the 1959 series tackled topics that its contemporaries — largely escapist and family-friendly fare — dare not bring up, doing the same thing but in a modern setting just did not work in the reboot’s favor. Heavy-handed social messages frequently superseded creative storytelling, and any sort of intrigue was either minimal or absent altogether.

Unlike the first season, the second’s arrival was more downplayed. Another change was its scheduling habit; all ten episodes were simultaneously released. Season Two was already off to a curious start. Yet, as everyone worked their way through the episodes, the wary ones couldn’t help but feel like things were going to be different this time around.

While Season Two isn’t outstanding all across the board, the various improvements and a greater consistency in quality make the Twilight Zone‘s return all the more enjoyable.

10. The Who of You

Directed by Peter Atencio
Written by Win Rosenfeld

An out-of-work actor (Ethan Embry) develops the uncanny ability to switch consciousnesses with other people after he fails to rob a bank. However, this experience is nothing short of traumatizing as his tormented mind is passed around from stranger to stranger with no end in sight. In the meantime, a cop (Daniel Sunjata) wants to arrest him for the attempted robbery, but he can only do so if the suspect is returned to his rightful body.

As much as body swapping is a cliché nowadays, the device can work under the right conditions. Audiences will surely feel every misstep in the protagonist’s fraught and agonizing mind trip; the sharp, if not peculiar, twist near the end is worth a mention. On the downside, the plot wears thin, and Billy Porter is incredibly underused as an all-seeing swindler. The theme of feeling like you’re trapped in someone else’s skin is also not lost on viewers — the new Twilight Zone definitely understands that sentiment.

9. A Small Town

Directed by Alonso Alvarez-Barreda 

Written by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due

The snowy hamlet of Littleton is in need of serious fixing, but the lousy mayor (David Krumholtz) is too inept for that kind of undertaking. That is, until the former mayor’s widower (Damon Wayans Jr.) finds a scale model replica of the town. As he tinkers with what he assumes to be just a toy, he magically repairs all that’s broken in the real town. The mayor then decides to take credit for something he obviously didn’t do.

The most important thing to say about Season Two is that there are no outright bad episodes. Something like “A Small Town” is modest. Maybe too much. Besides some noteworthy visual effects — the massive spider is a sight to behold — the story comes off as a tad too plain.

8. Ovation

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Story by David Weil
Teleplay by Emily C. Chang & Sara Amini

A struggling singer (Jurnee Smollett) is handed a strange coin before the gifter, a famous musician (Sky Ferreira), dies in front of her. Now, the singer is offered the chance of a lifetime as she’s cast in a televised talent show. Audiences all around love her, but looking beyond their unconditional devotion, she sees something unnatural and scary about the world as well as herself.

Although exposing the dark and disposable side of fame is nothing new, “Ovation” breathes just enough life into an old chestnut that it entertains on the most fundamental levels.

7. A Human Face

Directed by Christina Choe
Written by Alex Rubens

In this one-location story, a couple (Jenna Elfman and Christopher Meloni) discovers an alien in their house following a cosmic flare. The creature absorbs their dead daughter’s (Tavi Gevinson) memories and replicates her appearance. The parents are then given a life-changing choice.

Again, the show chooses clarity over complexity. It is easy to write another harrowing alien invasion tale, but “A Human Face” takes a completely different route. The ending here is truly bittersweet.

6. You Might Also Like

Directed and written by Osgood Perkins

One of the best things about the reboot has been its desire to reference the classic series through easter eggs and sight gags. “You Might Also Like” continues the tradition but goes one step further. In the episode, a housewife (Gretchen Mol) looks to acquire a new product that is intended to make life easier. As she and others later learn, the device’s creators have different plans for their consumers.

Osgood Perkins’ overwhelming affinity for triangles is front and center in the season’s closing episode. His knack for the unconventional is present, too. This is genuinely the weirdest and most confounding offering in the reboot so far. The callbacks to the 1959 show are appreciated, and the episode looks like it was fun to make. Be that as it may, “You Might Also Like” is a certifiable head scratcher that banks on its sheer kookiness and visual appeal.

5. Downtime

Directed by JD Dillard
Written by Jordan Peele

From Philip K. Dick to the Wachowskis, sci-fi authors and auteurs have suggested our lives are nothing more than artificial realities. Jordan Peele lends his skills as a writer in this astoundingly pensive episode. “Downtime” begins with a recently promoted hotel manager (Morena Baccarin) learning her world is nothing more than an invention of technology.

“Downtime” may come off as simple, but it’s affecting. It is thoughtful and just the kind of story that the original Twilight Zone would have come up with.

4. Try, Try

Directed by Jennifer McGowan
Written by Alex Rubens

“Try, Try” addresses a pressing topic in today’s social climate, but it does so without the clumsiness of Season One’s “Not All Men.” A meet-cute goes terribly wrong for a woman (Kylie Bunbury) when her savior (Topher Grace) turns out to be a creepy stalker who is reliving the same day over and over.

One shouldn’t mistake this episode as the show going back to its old ways; “Try, Try” is infinitely more clever than that. The stark conclusion and Jordan Peele’s revealing and astute narration — Grace’s character is just as trapped as his victim — are nothing short of brilliant.

3. Meet in the Middle

Directed by Mathias Herndl
Written by Emily C. Chang & Sara Amini

A man (Jimmi Simpson) suddenly hears a stranger’s (Gillian Jacobs) voice in his head one day; she hears him, too. From there, the two engage in a physically distant relationship that can never be anything more so long as they’re apart. Regardless of the obstacles before them, the two agree to finally meet.

Audiences anxiously wait for the other shoe to drop in “Meet in the Middle,” an insidious story about twin souls. Viewers will linger over the chilling ending long after Peele’s closing statement.

2. 8

Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Written by Glen Morgan

At the bottom of the ocean, a team of researchers look for displaced sea creatures. They find a unique species of octopus that is highly coveted by a pharmaceutical company. Capturing the dangerous and elusive mollusk will be no easy task, though.

Season Two has been positively diverse when it comes to the kinds of stories it tells. X-Files alum Glen Morgan, also one of the reboot’s executive producers, wrote some of the better episodes last season (“A Traveler,” “The Blue Scorpion”). Here, he crafts an expertly oddball story which Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the great minds behind The Endless, punctuate with deep-sea dread. “8” distinctly belongs in the aquatic horror category with elements of Alien thrown in for good measure. It’s ambitious and risky; this is the kind of experimentation the new Twilight Zone can benefit from. As absurd as an episode about a hyper intelligent, killer octopus sounds, it’s hands down one of the season’s standouts.

1. Among the Untrodden

Directed by Tayarisha Poe
Written by Heather Anne Campbell

At a boarding school, a new student (Sophia Macy) is bullied by her classmates. When she realizes one of them (Abbie Hern) has psychic abilities, the two become secret friends. In exploring the other’s extraordinary talents, the new girl makes an unsettling discovery about herself.

“Among the Untrodden” is an impressive depiction of teenage growing pains seen through a supernatural lens. It’s more raw and straightforward than other episodes in the season, but the ending is absolutely devastating and startling.


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