Hot off the debut of "Us," Peele's highly-anticipated take on Rod Serling's classic anthology television series makes its premiere with two episodes on Monday, April 1. Is it worth subscribing to CBS All Access (or borrowing an account) for? Here's what critics are saying:
Peele's Presence As The Show's New Narrator Works Right From The Beginning
Right now, it's hard to picture a more ideal Serling stand-in than Jordan Peele, and after four episodes, it's clear the sketch comedian turned horror auteur recognizes the power and opportunities within this template. His "Twilight Zone" (along with co-producer Simon Kinberg) is thoughtful, personal, and aggressive in its mission to expand our perspectives.
I'd be straight up lying if I said that particular aspect of the reboot didn't work like gangbusters; there's a visceral jolt that happens every time the camera cuts to Peele, fueled by a potent mix of nostalgia and the filmmaker's current status as a bonafide horror auteur.
Peele got his chops in comedy, but he's the perfect person to pass the torch to as a symbol of how television is progressing to better represent everyone. I can't say this enough.
Thematically, The Revival Feels Both Fresh And Eerily (Or Depressingly) Familiar
This new Twilight Zone similarly explores the issues facing our present moment—young black men targeted by white police officers, global political unrest, deciphering truth versus misinformation—via dystopian hells and Kafkaesque nightmares.
The 2019 Twilight Zone often dabbles in topics that are painfully relevant to today, but the real tragedy is, they were just as prevalent in Serling's time, too. Our progress has been minimal. "I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice," Serling once said. "In almost everything I've written there is a thread of this: a man's seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself."
The Talent-Rich, Diverse Casting Feels Like An Evolution Of The Direction The Original 'Twilight Zone' Took
Peele and Kinberg select their cast and crew with an eye toward highlighting under-heralded talent. Steven Yeun gets to sing Christmas karaoke, but that same episode introduces us to the excellent Marika Sila. Adam Scott gets to show why his serious side is just as charming as his comedy chops, but Chris Diamantopoulos steals every second he's on screen.
To be fair, Serling's run was incredibly revolutionary at the time with regards to casting — in fact, in the first season alone, his series was offering unlikely roles to black performers (see: "The Big Tall Wish") — but this is a total leap forward and it's instrumental to its success. Namely in the sense that the eclectic casting winds up aiding in the aforementioned familiarity that Peele's team goes on to puncture. Finally, we're seeing America in ways that Serling attempted to capture through class.
It Feels Like A More Fitting Successor To Serling's Vision Than 'Black Mirror'…
While some may have dubbed Black Mirror as a modern version of The Twilight Zone, Jordan Peele shows there is nothing like the real thing. Like Bryan Fuller's Hannibal, Peele shows that you can pay respect to the original source material while also taking the show to a new age and add enough to put your own spin on the concept. The result is a personal, thoughtful, funny, intense and overall perfect installment of The Twilight Zone for the nightmarish times we live in.
Black Mirror this is not. The technology-focused Netflix anthology series, to which the new The Twilight Zone will inevitably be compared, traffics in despair. It rarely has happy endings or provides much humor or hope at all. The Twilight Zone shows it's possible to maintain a sense of humor while escorting viewers through terrifying ordeals.
… But Its Episodes Might Be Better If They All Stuck To A Half-Hour Runtime
Streaming shows have lots of flexibility with episode length, but shorter tends to be better with the typical Twilight Zone formula: Accidental visitor to The Twilight Zone experiences something spooooooky a few times, acts on the event, learns something from their behavior, and then is damned forever. That's the type of rhythm we expect from the series, and the more episodes stray from that, the greater chance they have to sputter out.
Twenty-five-minute episodes might possess about half as much story. These vignettes allowed for suspense to take root and for connections between the sci-fi world on-screen and ours — often fairly obvious ones — to seem as if they sprouted organically from the viewer's mind. At double the length but with many times as much narrative, these new episodes seem hell-bent on providing more entertainment, forgetting that part of what makes the original Serling series work is that its stories can be communicated in a logline.
So Far, It Hasn't Produced Any All-Timers — But Compared To Other 'Zone' Reboots, This One Can Weather The Lows
The original show was often famous for its endings, which came with big, shocking reveals that knocked viewers for a loop and left them reflecting back on what they'd just watched. This incarnation of the series never quite gets there. Which can often be frustrating, because everything that came before it works so well.
I watched four episodes of the new Twilight Zone, and they ranged from tense mind-blower to mild eyebrow-archer. The same can be said about Twilight Zone's most comparable modern-day counterpart Black Mirror, which has about a 50 percent hit rate. Anthologies are hard to pull off, but we tend to judge them on their peaks rather than their valleys; the same thing is happening here.
What separates him from, say, those involved in the '80s revival and the post-9/11 flop are two qualities that Serling had in spades: style and wits. Peele not only has a keen eye on the world around him, but knows the right doors to open. There's a magic to his brand of storytelling that's original, but more importantly, ubiquitous. That's always been the fundamental nature of this series, and what's also been missing in the wake of Serling.
Together with co-executive producers Simon Kinberg and Marco Ramirez, Peele has brought to life the third iteration of The Twilight Zone, and much like the two versions that came before it, the results are a decidedly mixed bag. But when this new Twilight Zone is good, it is deliriously good, and more importantly, it manages to speak simultaneously to the horror, the absurdity, and the hope of our times all at once. Should you give it a shot? Do-do-do it.