Every year, the Sci Fi channel celebrates Independence Day with a two-day marathon of episodes from The Twilight Zone, one of the most enduring and renowned anthology series in the history of television.
If it's too hot outside for fireworks and cook-outs this July 4th, you can opt for a long, lazy weekend indoors with TZ on your tube. Rod Serling is so cool, you might not even need to turn on your air conditioner!
Submitted for your approval: These are the ten stops you shouldn't miss when traveling along the shadowy road that winds through…The Twilight Zone.
1. "A Kind of a Stopwatch" - Not airing during marathon
Annoying motor-mouth Patrick McNulty spends his days boring everyone to tears and dreaming of a world in which he's a respected and popular man about town. One day, a stranger gives McNulty an old stopwatch that has the power to stop time around him. At first, he uses the watch to amuse himself, until realizing that it could be the key to making his lofty dreams come true. As happens with all residents of the Twilight Zone, McNulty's repeated temptations of Fate come back to bite him in the end.
Twidbit: You'll recognize the premise as one that's been recently recycled in the 2002 sci-fi teen flick, Clockstoppers, and Adam Sandler's 2006 comedy, Click. The ep was also parodied in "Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off," a segment from The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror XIV.
2. "The After Hours" - Not airing during marathon
Anne Francis stars as Marsha White, a woman who heads to a large department store in search of a gold thimble. (Talk about the times changing. I mean, really, who buys thimbles anymore?) Much to Marsha's dismay, she accidentally gets locked in the empty store overnight. At least she thinks it's empty - but some very lively mannequins have a few surprises in store.
Twidbit: Playing to the common childhood fantasy that store mannequins come to life at night, this episode is a bit more fanciful than frightening, yet still very satisfying. If you're looking for something a little scarier, try the excellent Cliff Robertson episode, "The Dummy." Those little wooden boys are always creepy! Unfortunately, neither "The After Hours" nor "The Dummy" is being shown during the 4th of July marathon. What is Sci Fi thinking?
3. "And When the Sky Was Opened" - Airs July 3 at 12:00 pm EDT
Three astronauts crash-land in the desert after a space flight, during which their ship disappeared from the radar for 24 hours. No one knows what happened in that lost day, but strange things start happening upon their return. When space buddies Ed Harrington (the charming Charles Aidman) and Clegg Forbes (old-time über-hottie, Rod Taylor) visit a bar, Harrington disappears from right under Forbes' nose. Immediately after he vanishes, no one has any recollection of Harrington's existence, not even hospitalized astronaut #3, Gart Williams (Timothy Hutton's dad, James). As Clegg vainly tries to jog his friend's memory, he's overcome with a strange sensation of "not belonging" on Earth and runs out of Gart's hospital room. When Gart tries to follow, he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of Clegg's nightmare. An awesome, surreal trip through the Twilight Zone where not everything makes sense, this episode may frustrate people who like their stories wrapped up into neat little packages. Others will love the ambiguity, because it's left up to the viewer to decide what is real and what is illusion.
Twidbit: Watch out for Rod Taylor's fantastic flip-out after Harrington's disappearance, where he can't think straight enough to say anything but, "You're crazy! You're…you're CRAZY! You're crazy, you know that? You're…you're CRAZY!"
4. "Eye of the Beholder" - Airs July 3 at 2:30 pm EDT
One of the most universally recognizable and beloved TZs of all, this tale focuses on the plight of Janet Tyler, a disfigured woman going through her last of many failed plastic surgeries. Through most of the episode, the doctors' and nurses' faces are obscured, placing viewers in the same world of darkness in which Janet lives under her layers of bandages. All of this secrecy may also make it easier for most viewers to figure out the twist but the big reveal still packs a powerful visual punch, and the societal message within is thoughtful and timeless.
Twidbit: This popular episode, starring soap actress Maxine Stuart and Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies, has so permeated pop culture that references to it can be found everywhere. Perhaps the best-known and funniest parody was a skit on Saturday Night Live featuring Pamela Anderson in the lead role.
5. "A World of Difference" - Not airing during marathon
This episode has often been compared to The Truman Show and, more recently, Stranger Than Fiction. A remarkably convincing performance by Howard Duff helps make this largely underrated installment a series highlight. Duff is Gerry Raigan, a troubled actor who convinces himself that he is actually Arthur Curtis, the character he is portraying in a film. His vain attempts to prove his identity to everyone else are heartbreaking, but he gets no sympathy from his shrewish ex-wife, Nora. When Jerry's agent tells him that the Arthur Curtis picture is being scrapped, he frantically rushes to the set in the hopes of preserving his "other life."
Twidbit: Nasty Nora Raigan is played by Eileen Ryan, the real-life mother of often-nasty actor, Sean Penn! See if you can spot the family resemblance.
6. "Night Call" - Not airing during marathon
Long-time character actress and frequent TZ guest-star Gladys Cooper plays Elva Keene, a bored, old, wheelchair-bound lady who rarely communicates with anyone but her housekeeper. During a storm, she receives a strange phone call, but can't hear anyone on the other end. She continues to receive similar calls full of nothing but crackling static, until one night when a man creepily croaks that he wants to talk to her. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery, Elva contacts the telephone operator who gives her some rather shocking news. The two lead ladies are fantastic in their roles, and that disembodied voice is guaranteed to give you the chills!
Twidbit: "Night Call" is a less gruesome version of an old urban legend.
7. "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?" - Airs July 4 at 11:30 am EDT
During a snowstorm, a bus driver and his six passengers make a pit stop at a greasy spoon. Soon after, two policemen arrive to inform the gang that a UFO crashed nearby and a trail of footprints led them from the ship to the diner. When the bus driver does a head count, he realizes that there are now seven people in his group, and paranoia takes over as everyone tries to weed out the alien. This unforgettable ep serves up a great ensemble cast, and the double twist is the cherry on top!
Twidbit: Illustrating how quickly normal people shift to irrational behavior in the face of fear is a specialty of the Zone. For more finger-pointing panic, check out the classic, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" (airing July 3 at 4:00 pm EDT), or the less effective wartime drama, "The Shelter" (airing July 4 at 8:30 am EDT).
8. "The Midnight Sun" - Airs July 4 at 5:30 pm EDT
Nora and her landlady, Mrs. Bronson, are the only two residents left in their apartment complex after a panic sends everyone searching for shadier surroundings. An unthinkable phenomenon occurred one month prior - the Earth's orbit shifted, causing the planet to gradually head closer and closer to the sun. With the end near, Nora and Mrs. Bronson try to comfort each other during their last hours. However, the landlady soon succumbs to the heat, leaving Nora alone and frozen with fear. What seems to be just an interesting character study turns out to be one of the most original plots in the series, with a truly unexpected twist.
Twidbit: Lois Nettleton (Nora) died earlier this year, and is often recognized by younger generations as George Costanza's girlfriend's mother, who catches George eating an éclair out of the garbage on an episode of Seinfeld.
9. "Nick of Time" - Airs July 3 at 6:30 pm EDT
William Shatner and Patricia Breslin are cast as Don and Pat, a honeymooning couple forced to stop for auto repairs in small-town Ohio. While they wait in a nearby café, Don becomes obsessed with a table-top fortune-telling machine that seems to have all the right answers. Pat begins to wonder which is more frightening - the accuracy of the machine's answers or Don's self-destructive superstition.
Twidbit: The Shat also appeared in another episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which is far more popular, but far less engaging.
10. "Ring-A-Ding Girl" - Not airing during marathon
An under-appreciated gem, this episode tells the story of Bunny Blake, a glamorous movie star who receives a very special ring from her hometown fan club. The ring beckons her back home, where it continues to send Bunny cryptic messages that hint at an impending tragedy that could affect many of the locals.
Twidbit: Try not to dwell on the supernatural time-space paradox involved, and soak up the atmospheric beauty of Bunny's final scene - one of the series' most haunting images.
Classics That Didn't Make the Cut:
"To Serve Man" - Airs July 4 at 10:00 am EDT
Next to "Eye of the Beholder," this story of big-headed, too-good-to-be-true aliens, is one of the most familiar and memorable TZs. It's definitely a four-star episode, but one that relies heavily on its twist, giving the reruns less impact. On the other hand, The Simpsons' parody, "Hungry Are the Damned," from the very first Treehouse of Horror, is positively hilarious and almost commands multiple viewings!
"Time Enough at Last" - Not airing during marathon
This iconic episode is one of four starring Burgess Meredith as a character that he was so good at playing - the milquetoast but lovable loser. It's a fine episode, but this is one instance where the series' signature "ironic twist" actually spoils things. Most of the time in The Twilight Zone, the comeuppance fits the "crime," but Meredith's character, Henry Bemis, is just a nice guy who loves to read! Watching him suffer such an undeserved, harsh fate makes it hard to truly enjoy this story.
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" - Airs July 3 at 8:30 pm EDT
William Shatner reacting to the gremlin on the wing of his airplane is fun for a while, but this little monster story certainly isn't the most compelling of this historic series.
Sci Fi's full schedule for July 3 and July 4.
Give us your favorite TZ episode.
Story by Becky Broderick
Starpulse contributing writer