Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Twilight Zone (1985): The Best and The Worst

Happy New Year!
"Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment. A blessing of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty, 'God be between you and harm and all the empty places you walk.'" - Harlan Ellison

CBS revived The Twilight Zone in 1985 to go up against NBC's Amazing Stories that was spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. The 80's Twilight Zone was headed by Executive Producer Philip DeGuere (creator of Simon & Simon), Supervising Producer James Crocker and Sci-Fi author Harlan Ellison whom wanted the anthology series to be writer driven like the original series. The trio was able to get writers such as Ray Bradbury, Rockne S. O'Bannon, Alan Brennert... As a result the 80's Twilight Zone had some of the best stories written for television which rivals the original series. It also had a huge cast of stars like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Tambor, Fred Savage, Shelley Duvall... Even some of the episodes had notable directors like Wes Craven and Joe Dante.

The intro of the Series kicks off with a great cover of The Twilight Zone theme done by the Grateful Dead thanks to Philip DeGuere being a long time associate of the band. The awesome voice of Charlie Aidman narrates the first 2 season. As with the absence of Aidman during the 3rd season, quality in the show was absent as well. CBS no longer had faith in the series after the 2nd season. They cut the episodes from a running time of 45min to 25min. Filming moved up north to Canada and video (instead of film) was used. Even the original production team lead by Philip DeGuere, James Crocker and Harlan Ellison was let go. This was much more cost efficient for CBS and the result was some of the worst TV episodes ever. I kind of understand why the studio lost faith in the show. The show didn't draw in as many ratings as the First Season and some of the episodes in Season 2 was forgettable. But Season 3 was just bad. I don't even remember most of Season 3 and I just watched them again recently. Even with that said, I highly recommend getting the collection on DVD. Not only does it have some of the best of what American TV has to offer, the episodes are coupled with some very interesting commentaries.

Last year, I'd listed 15 of the Best and 10 of the Worst episodes from the original Twilight Zone. This year, I present to you 15 of the Best and 10 of the Worst from the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone. I included the 1985 Grateful Dead opening on the bottom and the list is right after the "JUMP!"

A list of The Best and The Worst after the "JUMP!":


1. Dreams for Sale
Season 1
Episode 2 (segment 2)
October 4, 1985

Starring Meg Foster (Cagney & Lacey) and a guy who looks and sounds like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons. This short segment touches upon one of the dream philosophies that will be explored in The Matrix many years later.

2. Chameleon
Season 1
Episode 2 (segment 3)
October 4, 1985

One of the few episodes directed by Wes Craven. Written by one of the show runners, James Crocker and starring Terry O'Quinn (Lost) who goes up against a shape changing alien. Terry O'Quinn is always dealing with shape changing entities.

3. Nightcrawlers
Season 1
Episode 4 (segment 3)
October 18, 1985

One of the few episodes written by Philip DeGuere. It's about a Vietnam Vet bringing the war back home. It's not "just" shell shock because, we are in the Twilight Zone after all. Years later the X-Files had a very similar story starring Tony "Candyman" Todd

4. A Message From Charity
Season 1
Episode 5 (segment 3)
November 1, 1985

Writer Alan Brennert introduces us to a very interesting concept of time traveling. James Cromwell is in this as Charity's father. One of my all time favorite Twilight Zone episodes (original series or any incarnations of TWZ). This was where the 1985 revival found its stride.

5. Paladin Of The Lost Hour
Season 1
Episode 7 (segment 2)
November 8, 1985

Written brilliantly by Harlan Ellison (one of the three show runners) and directed by Allan Smithee. This is another one of my absolute favorites. Danny Kaye and Glynn Turman (Dr. Woodward of Super 8) does an amazing job portraying "the Paladins of the Lost Hour."

6. Dealer's Choice
Season 1
Episode 8 (segment 3)
November 15, 1985

"What's the Devil doing in Jersey?"
"I think he lives here!"
Another Wes Craven episode starring Danny Hedaya as the Devil who plays a game of poker in order to win the souls of: Morgan Freeman, Garrett Morris, M. Emmet Walsh and Barney Martin. Barney Martin plays a poker player named Marty in this episode, you might know him as Morty Seinfeld, Jerry's father in Seinfeld.

7. The Shadow Man
Season 1
Episode 10 (segment 1)
November 29, 1985

Rockne S. O'Bannon (Farscape) and Joe Dante (Gremlins) is responsible for this creepy episode about a nerdy kid encountering a Shadow Man.

8. Her Pilgrim Soul
Season 1
Episode 12 (segment 1)
December 13, 1985

Directed by Wes Craven and beautifully written by Alan Brennert based upon a William Butler Yeats poem, "When You Are Old". This episode touches upon the idea of an A.I. program becoming sentient. Sort of a "Ghost in the Machine." One of my favorite episodes of any TWZ with some brilliant acting by Anne Twomey as Nola and Kristoffer Tabori as Kevin. This episode also stars Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh of Office Space).

9. Gramma
Season 1
Episode 18 (segment 1)
February 14, 1986

I just realized this episode was aired on Valentine's Day. Another one of my all time favorites of any TWZ. Harlan Ellison's adaptation of the Stephen King short story "Gramma." Directed by Bradford May (original Hawaii Five-O), this episode scared the crap out of me. Barret Oliver (Bastian in The NeverEnding Story) is left on his own to take care of his creepy senile grandmother and discovers that she's a practitioner of The Necronomicon.

10. Button, Button
Season 1
Episode 20 (segment 2)
March 7, 1986

Adapted from a Richard Matheson story, a young couple acquires a box with a red button. If they push the button, someone whom they don't know will die but they will receive $200,000 tax free. This was remade into a movie in 2009 directed by Richard Kelly, starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella called The Box.

11. Grace Note
Season 1
Episode 23 (segment 2)
April 4, 1986

Julia Migenes-Johnson plays a young talented opera singer who sacrifices her dreams because of family duties. Being The Twilight Zone, it's never that straight forward. The young opera singer receives a gift, a glimpse into the future...

12. The Story Teller
Season 2
Episode 27 (segment 1)
October 11, 1986

A young teacher,Glynnis O'Connor, discovers that one of her students is keeping his great, great grandfather alive with stories. The student is played by a very young David Faustino, you might remember him as Bud Bundy of Married With Children.

13. The Toys Of Caliban
Season 2
Episode 29
December 4, 1986

A mentally challenged boy has the ability to summon anything he can imagine. Written by George R.R. Martin, this episode is kind of a remake of "It's A Good Life" from the original TWZ starring Billy Mummy.

14. The Junction
Season 2
Episode 32 (segment 2)
February 21, 1987

Two miners are trapped in a cave in. They later find out that not only do they have to get over their racial differences, they also need to get over their time displacement issues. Another good time traveling episode.

15. The Cold Equations
Season 3
Episode 51 (segment 2)
January 7, 1989

Based on a short story with the same name written by Tom Godwin. A stow away on a cargo vessel carrying a shipment of vaccinations discovers that she made a horrible mistake. A great episode that reminds us that 80's Twilight Zone is in fact a good show (mainly season 1). There was such a drought of good episodes in Season 3 that this episode felt like such a refreshing oasis.

Here are some of my other favorite episodes. I didn't want to exclude these episodes but I had to limit my "Best of" list to 15. If not, I'd won't know where to stop. The ones listed above out weights some of the ones here by a slim margin:
  • Shatterday (Bruce Willis)
  • A Little Peace And Quiet (Melinda Dillon)
  • Wordplay (Annie Potts)
  • The Burning Man (A Ray Bradbury story. This episodes has a very young Danny Cooksey in it. You might know him as Sam McKinney in Diff'rent Strokes or John Conner's friend in Terminator 2)
  • Dead Woman's Shoes (Brilliant acting by Helen Mirren. This episode the reason why I have this additional "favorites list." It also stars Jeffrey Tambor, you might know him as George Bluth Sr. in Arrested Development)
  • Wong's Lost And Found Emporium (this episode evolved into the SciFi Channel's mini series: The Lost Room. Another tough one to cut from the above list.)
  • Monsters!
  • A Matter Of Minutes
  • The Elevator (Another Ray Bradbury story. Starring Stephen Geoffreys, Evil Ed from Fright Night)
  • To See The Invisible Man (Another reason for this list. For some reason this episode creeped me out when I was kid.)
  • The Once And Future King
  • A Saucer of Loneliness (Shelley Duvall in an episode with an interesting, unconventional idea on flying saucers)
  • Private Channel
  • Song Of The Younger World
  • A Game Of Pool (Esai Morales aka Joseph Adama. The "Old Man's" father in Caprica. Here's a little bit more Battlestar Galactica (2004) trivia in the 80's TWZ: Michael Hogan (XO Saul Tigh) is in "The Hunters" and Dean Stockwell (Cylon John Cavil) is in "Room 2426")
  • Something In The Walls


1. Little Boy Lost
Season 1
Episode 4 (segment 1)
October 18, 1985

The title of this short episode references the excellent 1962 episode of the original series, Little Girl Lost. Unfortunately, this episode is one of the weakest with outdated ideals and concepts. A commentary on if women should chase after their careers or start a family. The boyfriend in this episode is a huge douche which doesn't help matters. Is there any way this episode can get more 80's? Groan...

2. Ye Gods
Season 1
Episode 5 (segment 2)
October 25, 1985

This episode takes on the concept of the Greek Gods in a modern setting. Cupid tries to get a cold, calculative business man to fall in a love. An 80's commentary on the "yuppies" (business) world. The best part of this episode are the shots of the World Trade Center.

3. Teacher's Aide
Season 1
Episode 7 (segment 1)
November 8, 1985

Adrienne Barbeau (Wes Craven's Swamp Thing) is the new teacher at a school full of degenerates and gang members. She gets possessed by the "school spirit" *rolls eyes* and "punishes" the bad students. An entertaining episode. It's fun to watch Adrienne Barbeau kicking ass but the nonsensical ending makes this one of the cheesiest and worst episodes of the 80's Twilight Zone.

4. Opening Day
Season 1
Episode 10 (segment 3)
November 29, 1985

Martin Kove (John Kreese, Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid) plots to kill Jeffrey Jones (Principal Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) in order take over his life and be with his unfaithful wife. Horrible episode.

5. Still Life
Season 1
Episode 14 (segment 1)
January 3, 1986

A young husband discovers an antique camera with old expedition pictures inside. The natives in the pictures starts to come to life as cameras captures the soul and such BS. TV episodes like this never works.

6. The Misfortune Cookie
Season 1
Episode 14 (segment 3)
January 3, 1986

Terrible episode about a harsh food critic getting his just "desserts" through fortune cookie fortunes. ugh...

7. Quarantine
Season 1
Episode 17 (segment 2)
February 7, 1986

A space weapons engineer is woken up from cryogenic sleep into what seems to be a utopian society. It turns out that the pacified citizens needs his help in destroying his descendants before they can come back to Earth. Modern man is evil blah blah blah...

8. Nightsong
Season 2
Episode 27 (segment 2)
October 11, 1986

A DJ conjures her old lover as she plays their old song. This was too 80's even for the 80's.

9. The Girl I Married
Season 2
Episode 35 (segment 2)
July 17, 1987

A troubled couple meets younger versions of themselves and learns the meaning of "love." Bleh... I'm not against love but this episode is poorly executed.

10. Crazy As Soup Sandwich
Season 3
Episode 64
April 1, 1989

A low life seeks help from a crime boss to deal with a demon after he sold his soul for racing tips. Wow! Huge drop in quality here. The Season 3 show runners were able to coax Harlan Ellison back to write another episode. I wonder if he did it halfheartedly. This was pretty bad. Tonally, this episode feels a lot like a Monsters episode.


  1. Thanks for the kind words about the 80s TZ, but you left out two very important people responsible for the show's quality. Harlan Ellison would be the first to admit that the series was actually "headed" by Executive Producer Philip DeGuere and Supervising Producer James Crocker, both of them fine writers themselves. They were the ones who put together the writing team, including me, and made it a writer-driven show. Sadly, Phil is no longer with us, so it's especially important to me that he receive his due.

  2. Hi Alan, thanks for the comment and the reminder. I KNEW I forgot something. I'll update the post. I was using Wikipedia and Philip DeGuere and James Crocker is not in the article. That teaches me for trusting wikipedia. Thank you for a great show and two of the best stories I'd seen on TV or anywhere for that matter (A Message From Charity and Her Pilgrim Soul). I hope I wasn't too unkind with my Worst List. The Worst of the 80's Twilight Zone (or most of 80's TV) is still a lot better than most of the programs we are getting in the last decade.

  3. Thanks for setting the record straight. I don't agree with all your best and worsts, but that's what makes horse races and I think you're spot on as far as most of them. Glad you enjoyed the series as much as we enjoyed making it.

    1. Not a problem. Thanks again for visiting and for the great stories!

  4. I agree with most of this, except I'd swap 'Dealer's Choice' with 'I Of Newton' - a similar story with much better acting and a more clever ending. Dealer's Choice was awful - like a drunk Quentin Tarantino directing a sitcom.

    I actually enjoyed Quarantine, perhaps just taken by its message that mankind might be a harmonious, enlightened species in a few centuries.

    Misfortune Cookie was a good episode let down by a stupid ending.

    Teacher's Aide freaked me out when the teacher became a monster, but is terrible apart from that.

    Examination Day should have definitely been in the Best list. That episode chilled me to the bone!

    We can all agree though that Still Life, Opening Day and Ye Gods were downright terrible

  5. "Her Pilgrim Soul" is my all time favorite TTZ episode. "Paladin of the lost hour" is my second favorite.