‘The Twilight Zone’ Season 2: Jordan Peele Returns With a New Set of Bizarre Tales
Season two of CBS All Access’ revival of “The Twilight Zone” is another weirdly entertaining set of stories in the tradition of its original predecessor. When Jordan Peele unveiled his update of the classic Rod Serling show that set the standard for TV strangeness, there was much curiosity as to what the director of “Get Out” and “Us” would have in store. It turned out he truly was after something that mixed contemporary updates with loving tribute. Season two never strays and presents a fresh mix of different tales all connected in how they bend reality.
The first few episodes capture the tone of the season, which consists of 10 overall. What we get is a parade of individual lives all broken or unsatisfied in their own ways. “Meet in the Middle” stars Jimmi Simpson as Phil, a lonely single guy who cannot find one good date. During one such outing he starts hearing a voice in his head later identifying itself as a woman named Annie (Gillian Jacobs). The two begin to form a bond through literally just talking. Eventually Phil understandably wants to meet Annie in person. “The Who of You” follows Harry (Ethan Embry), a broke actor with a frustrated girlfriend who decides to use his perceived skills to rob a bank. But during his ill-planned crime his very being seems to transfer into other people’s bodies and they in turn transfer over into other people as well. In “You Might Also Like” a bored suburban woman, Mrs. Warren (Gretchen Mol), is desperate to get “The Egg,” a futuristic device that promises eternal bliss away from the world’s problems. As you can already guess the device is not all that it seems.
As with the original “Twilight Zone” the best way to enjoy these stories is to approach them without any hint of how they culminate. In other words, do not spoil. What can be said is that Peele’s take on this franchise remains enjoyable “dark lite.” The writing and directing is a friendlier heir to recent somber anthology shows like “Black Mirror” and “Room 104,” which ironically enough owe their existence to Serling’s vision. One of the executive producers is Glen Morgan, who wrote and produced many episodes of “The X-Files,” another groundbreaking descendant of Serling. We get the same cold cinematography using lots of greys and cloudy skies, or in the case of “You Might Also Like” the clean surfaces of suburbia look very lonely and eerie. Peele again hosts every episode, appearing in a suit and tie to introduce the main theme of the weird trip we’re about to embark on.
While the show has yet to get as edgy or unsettling as the last lengthy revival of “The Twilight Zone” in the early 1990s, there is still a lot of fun to be had in its creepy yarns. “Meet in the Middle” is a wicked parable about the idea of getting to know someone from afar. The way Phil and Annie start chatting through what seems to be a psychic bond is the same as when people meet online. He snoops into her Facebook and realizes Annie is married, but what’s the harm if it is just “talking” for now? We have to wonder if he is getting “catfished,” but just wait for how the episode makes a complete turn into a climax that’s insane and bloody. In great “Twilight Zone” fashion the episode lures you into a romantic, very mushy story before pulling the rug with savage glee.
“The Who of You” and “You Might Also Like” never get as good as “Meet in the Middle” only because they try to go for more complicated premises that struggle to explain themselves. The former is still very entertaining even satirical. Harry represents every struggling actor you have ever come across in Los Angeles or New York, holding on to his dream while realizing he has no capital. The episode then turns into a standard but rowdy sci-fi trip where Harry’s mind or personality, or whatever, keeps switching bodies. One moment he enters the body of an older female clerk at the bank he’s robbing, then he becomes a cop and so on. Those he touches also get trapped in other people which makes for hilarious scenarios. Billy Porter of “Pose” makes a great cameo as a psychic who tries to help Harry. The best part is the ending, which not only pokes fun at any actors’ fantasy but returns to that trademark, eerie “Twilight Zone” use of humor.
“You Might Also Like” is the oddest episode of the first few. It makes up for its hard to follow script with atmosphere. There are a lot of alluringly twisted sequences mocking TV ads, showing us suburban families living like drones in the bliss of “the Egg.” But how the device works, or what it even looks like becomes frustratingly hazy. We barely get any hints as to who Annie is, or what happened to her family. She is a “Mrs.” but wanders her plush suburban house alone. Greta Lee is a scene-stealer as a suburbanite who drives with a demented smile. Fittingly enough the episode becomes easier to grasp when it suddenly switches into an alien invasion angle.
“The Twilight Zone” returns at just the right time, when the news itself can read like a Rod Serling script. Peele’s narration is delivered with a great, soothing sophistication, and one almost wishes he would appear at the end of the nightly news to explain what is going on in the real world. But as a show this one keeps delivering what it promises. In these strange times it’s enjoyable pop entertainment, bending reality and providing a true escape.
“The Twilight Zone” season two begins streaming June 25 on CBS All Access.