The Twilight Zone, 1959-1964, 5 stars

The top Twilight Zone  episodes

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, March 16, 2017

The Twilight Zone is my pick for the top narrative-fiction television series of all time. So, of course, picking the best episodes is a tough task.

The show aired on CBS in five seasons (1959-1964) and included 156 episodes, a vast amount when compared to shows of today. Seasons 1-3 and 5 consisted of 30-minute episodes while season 4 aired hour-long ones. (That extra time allowed creator Rod Serling and the other writers to focus more on character development, but several episodes lacked the tight, succinct quality of earlier seasons.)

When compiling this list, I anticipated picking 25, but as my list of alternates grew, I settled on 38. Yet that’s not a random number. It’s a number associated with perhaps the creepiest Twilight Zone story of all time – and it’s true!

Images copyright “Twilight Zone”/Cayuga Productions/CBS

The top two Twilight Zone writers – other than Serling, of course, who wrote most of them – were arguably Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. I love the former for not just his TZ episodes but also Somewhere in Time and Duel. But Beaumont has a more interesting personal history. Seemingly fascinated with aging, Beaumont is credited with many TZ episodes, among them Long Live Walter Jameson and Queen of the Nile, which both dealt with people who never grew older. Yet Beaumont himself, while a writer for the show, contracted a strange illness that, astonishingly, caused him to age rapidly beyond his years. He died in 1967 at the age of 38, just four years after falling ill and three years after The TZ ended its run.

With that macabre tale in mind (and to honor Beaumont), I present my list of the 38 best episodes, organized chronologically and linked to their Wikipedia pages. (The 10 best are in ALL CAPS, and my pick for best single episode is in ALL CAPS AND RED.) They encompass many topics and styles, from straight suspense to morality tale to science fiction to romance. I’ve left off a few classics that usually turn up on these types of lists, such as It’s a Good Life, Living Doll, Time Enough at Last, The Invaders and To Serve Man (which doesn’t mean much if you already know the ending of the famous book), eschewing notoriety for quality of story, direction, cinematography, acting, etc. Yes, legacy and influence are important qualities – and the episodes I mentioned are still worth watching – but I think you’ll find that the ones listed below represent the very best The TZ had to offer. It’s a show that’s been imitated, remade and relied upon for inspiration, but never equaled.

 

Season 1 (1959-1960)
Where is Everybody?
WALKING DISTANCE
PERCHANCE TO DREAM
JUDGMENT NIGHT
And When the Sky Was Opened
THE HITCH-HIKER
The Last Flight
MIRROR IMAGE
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
Long Live Walter Jameson
A Nice Place to Visit
THE AFTER HOURS

 

Season 2 (1960-1961)
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Nick of Time
A Hundred Yards Over the Rim
The Silence
SHADOW PLAY

 

Season 3 (1961-1962)
The Passersby
The Grave
Deaths-Head Revisited
Five Characters in Search of an Exit
Nothing in the Dark
One More Pallbearer
Person or Persons Unknown
Four ‘O Clock

 

Season 4 (1962-1963)
In His Image
He’s Alive
The New Exhibit
Passage on the Lady Anne

 

Season 5 (1963-1964)
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
You Drive
The Long Morrow
Number 12 Looks Just Like You
NIGHT CALL
Queen of the Nile
THE MASKS
I Am the Night – Color Me Black
Stopover in a Quiet Town

 

Top 5 performances by an actor in a leading role
Dennis Hopper in He’s Alive
Nehemiah Persoff in Judgment Night
William Shatner in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Rod Taylor in And When the Sky Was Opened
Dennis Weaver in Shadow Play

Top 5 performances by an actress in a leading role
Gladys Cooper in Night Call
Anne Francis in The After Hours
Vera Miles in Mirror Image
Inger Stevens in The Hitch-hiker
Collin Wilcox in Number 12 Looks Just Like You

 

Copyright 2017 © Cameron Meier