While it’s still open to debate, I prefer to argue that there probably is no other program that influenced so many early television producers and stars as THE TWILIGHT ZONE. It’s constantly cited as the inspiration behind so many people – cast and crew – who got into the business. Its singular theme music even today evokes exactly the kind of magical, mystical quality it did back in its heyday. And the acting performances for a television anthology program simply set the standard for what was possible on the device so many dubbed ‘the boob tube’ in TV’s infancy.
RLJ Entertainment has once again done the admirable by stripping away all of the bluster that sometimes accompanies a set’s special features, and they’ve released another “episodes only” installment, this time bringing ZONE’s fourth season front and center for audiences to experience and re-experience again.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
What makes the fourth season so special?
Well, critically, there’s plenty to love about the show. With guest stars like Bill Bixby, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Duvall, the stories continued to explore the limits of Rod Serling’s imagination; but the real bonus (and modest controversy) involved the show’s expansion from the ½ hour format to a full sixty minutes of programming. I’ve read some of the scuttlebutt about why the change happened – much of which gets attributed back to the network (CBS) and their tampering with their line-up of the day – and I suppose some criticism is legitimate. In fact, some of the subject matter involved in these stories don’t have what I’d call the “intellectual weight” to hold up under scrutiny for a full hour – it is, after all, fantasy, and the central conceit of the ‘twist ending’ can be seen a mile away through all of the narrative baggage. Still, there are some outings – “The Thirty Fathom Grave,” “He’s Alive,” and “The New Exhibit” – that benefit from greater exploration afforded by the longer format. At the end of the day, this’ll probably always be a bone of contention for ZONE purists, but I can clearly see both sides of the argument.
Besides, where else can one get the diversity of storytelling but from THE TWILIGHT ZONE? Whether it be drawing back the curtain to challenge the reality of everyday life or dabbling in the realm of space exploration and time travel, Rod Serling’s seminal program continues to delight audiences even to this day. Many of the installments here – due to the expanded time limit – haven’t been aired as often have the shorter ones, and, for that, this may very well be the set to own for those of you who believe they’ve seen everything the ZONE has had to offer. Mind you, it ain’t perfect, but, as I said, this is just about as good as TV gets.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON is produced by Cayuga Productions and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, I’m continually amazed by how well these black-and-white transfers have held up with their age. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this release from RLJ is an episodes-only collection – there are no special features or interviews – so they’re a bargain investment to a viewer like me who typically only has enough time to re-explore the stories and performances over and over again. Kudos!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. The fourth season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE endures despite the change in format from ½ hour to full hour storytelling and despite that fact that the modest revamp forced a few of the seams to the surface. (Don’t fret, as producers returned to the ½ hour format in Season 5.) What emerged, however, was even stronger character-driven material, a broader palate under which the actors could explore these curious flights of fancy. (Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of my personal all-time ZONE favorites – a Dennis Hopper vehicle called “He’s Alive” – is part and parcel of why the hour-long format worked as well as it did.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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