Beyond Sight & Sound: The Twilight Zone

For Twilight Zone Day, Mazmanian talks The Twilight Zone and how TV shows today just don’t measure up.

You turn on the TV and put on that show you like — you know, the one about the people who have complicated lives because of their own dumb choices. Or maybe it’s the procedural cop drama that collars the bad guy while the show’s flawed former-palm-reader-turned-consultant laments over the fact he sold his crystal ball on eBay. You pop some popcorn in your mouth and tune out.

TV no longer tells stories; it shows hyperrealism that’s a cheap cardboard cutout of our world today. It’s about teams of people complimenting one another as written by someone who took a college class on yin and yang and its hidden meaning. It is no longer about the individual; the singular person is now the hunted because, clearly, he is insane, unless he works for the cops, then he can be cracked-up nuts but be shown in a credible light.

More and more, each day, we are shown how we are wrong and they are right. This message often comes in a nice box with a bow at the end of any episode. You are no longer allowed to think; the characters do that for you.

Artwork by J. Q. Hammer

The Twilight Zone flies in the face of modern TV standards, not because of the cheap sets or sometimes-questionable acting or being old, but because it asked questions that it felt comfortable not answering. Numerous episodes end with a twist of some kind that made its audience have to talk about what it was presenting. Like all good speculative works, The Twilight Zone usually addressed modern political or social issues in each episode but wrapped it up well enough that it was digestible to the masses.

It did this either out front for everyone to see or subtly through an even more absurd plot device like mannequins coming to life or gold being worthless. Even at its most insane level, The Twilight Zone did something that has been lost for modern TV audiences: the ability to show normal people dealing with issues that were beyond fantastic. I’m not talking about Hollywood’s go-to professions, but rather, trashmen, clerks, shoe shiners, or even kids. By showing everyday people in these crazy situations, we were given a window into a world that was very similar to our own and we were shown the extreme.

You turn on the TV today and you’ll find a lot of the same flavor of vanilla. Lots of talk with zero thought behind the words, but we like this stuff because it’s comfortable. We can wrap ourselves up in a warm blanket of paranoia and feed on the bonbons of fear and feel safe because the palm-reading cop will save us from the darker guy who has the funny accent, which clearly means he’s evil.

Modern TV shows, minus a few exceptions, paint in hues of black and white. The Twilight Zone was black and white and painted everything gray, because even when beauty is warped or that altruistic political leader isn’t what he seems, those fantastic ideas are more real than the broke college graduate who can somehow afford a studio that takes up the entire floor of a building while she tries her hand at love.

For this Twilight Zone Day, go, watch, and question.

Nick Mazmanian is the author of Where Monsters Lie & Other Tales, and when he isn’t banging away at the keyboard writing stories or emptying his thoughts onto his website,, he can be found working on a multitude of projects that range from video games to podcasts about Batman to YouTube shorts to adventuring into the wide world with his wife and dog. You can also find him on Twitter.

J. Q. Hammer is an illustrator from San Clemente, California. His unique art style has led him to create artwork for various companies, such as Capcom and Comic-Con International, and he has illustrated everything from comic books and sex columns to whiteboard business cartoons. When he is not throwing ink down on paper, you can catch him and his artwork at many monthly pop-up galleries in Los Angeles, and on Twitter.

Post originally published on 5/11/15.