(Mild spoilers for the first two episodes of The Twilight Zone follow.)
A comedian finds out that getting what he wants comes with a price. An investigative journalist is on the flight from hell. These are our first steps into The Twilight Zone, reimagined by horror maestro Jordan Peele. The first two episodes have debuted on CBS All Access, though the first episode, “The Comedian,” is available on YouTube for free; If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s time to dive into the place where science and superstition meet.
Between Us and The Twilight Zone, Jordan Peele is having a banner 2019. If I sound like I’m gushing about his work, that’s because I am. Moody and atmospheric, Peele and his writers and directors have created something that not only feels like it honors the originals but brings us something fresh and exciting.
My favorite of the two episodes released was “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” which smartly adapts one of the most famous and often parodied episodes of the original series. Adam Scott stars as Justin Sanderson, investigative journalist, who tunes into a true crime podcast only to find out it’s narrating the disappearance of the flight he is on. There are plenty of layers to the mystery, and Scott’s naturally likable persona works perfectly as Justin. The claustrophobic setting only heightens the tension, and the use of a true crime podcast is absolutely a stroke of genius.
This isn’t to say that the first episode doesn’t shine as well. Kumail Nanjiani is stellar as Samir Wassan, a struggling comedian who wants to make a living telling pointedly political jokes that get people to think. A pitch-perfect Tracy Morgan plays an older comedian who gives him advice to make things more personal; the trouble is, making things more personal means that whoever Samir jokes about winds up disappearing. Nanjiani should already consider himself in the Best Guest Actor race in the Emmys; his performance is incredible.
For those interested to know if the reimagining keeps up the political subtext (and sometimes outright text) of the originals, never fear. Both episodes pack in the commentary, and all of it is well-earned. I am excited to read the thinkpieces written on both episodes, particular on “Nightmare,” as I found that to have some fascinating layers. Going into the show, we know it’s a suspense show full of twists and surprises. What matters more is how Peele and his writers room use those twists to convey interesting commentary on the themes of the episodes themselves.
I wouldn’t expect less from Peele, whose sharp Get Out won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar and whose sophomore smash Us is breaking box office records. He’s assembled a strong directorial and writing team that creates an outstanding visual language as well as taught, suspenseful scripts. Peele has also clearly hired directors who get their actors, as both Nanjiani and Scott turn in outstanding work, and the supporting cast is equally strong.
This new, inclusive, equally sharp Zone is thrilling and addictive. I already am counting down until the next episode. With more star turns promised in upcoming episodes (I personally cannot wait for Sanaa Lathan, Steven Yeun, and John Cho to make appearances) and equally chilling and engaging tales on the horizon, Peele’s series is already can’t miss television. I personally am welcoming this new journey into The Twilight Zone.
(image: CBS All Access)
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