Jordan Peele reboots The Twilight Zone.
PICTURE, IF YOU WILL, a legendary and seemingly indestructible intellectual property created in 1959 by a fellow named Rod Serling. An eloquent Jewish playwright raised in then-Waspy Binghamton, New York, he sympathized with underdogs, the misunderstood, and the persecuted. As a writer-producer in early television, he was pushed out of live theatrical drama because his politics were too confrontationally leftwing, only to realize, like intellectuals in authoritarian countries behind the Iron Curtain, that you could speak truth to power if you swaddled your lessons in metaphor and symbolism. As the creator of the most famous anthology program in TV history, he served as the series’ on-camera narrator, a hard-boiled shaman in a suit and tie, raising and lowering the curtain on a number of modern parables, his summation always ending with some variant of a phrase both playful and ominous: “in the Twilight Zone.”
Enter Jordan Peele, an actor turned filmmaker who went from the sketch series Key & Peele to the staggeringly profitable horror satires Get Out and Us, whose knack for turning genre to political ends made him the logical heir to Serling’s legacy. CBS had already tried reanimating The Twilight Zone several times. The show originally ran on the network for five seasons. It was resuscitated as a 1983 film, produced by Steven Spielberg and narrated by Burgess Meredith, which is now remembered mainly for two things: George Miller’s remake of a classic 1950s Zone episode, the Richard Matheson–scripted “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and the gruesome on-set deaths, in a John Landis–directed installment, of two child actors and star Vic Morrow. There was a mid-’80s version narrated by Charles Aidman and an early-aughts UPN version hosted by Forest Whitaker. All produced episodes that held their own against Serling’s originals (which were remade and reinterpreted alongside the new stuff), but none had the same impact. And the recent resuscitation of the anthology format (most strikingly via Net flix’s Black Mirror) made yet another incarnation feel less necessary.
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April 1, 2019