Tota l Re­call

SFX - - Contents - Nick Setch­field, Fea­tures Ed­i­tor

The Twi­light Zone’s Rod Ser­ling is still look­ing dap­per.

He had the look of a salesman or a real es­tate agent or the kind of Madi­son Av­enue dream mer­chant who would one day be im­mor­talised in Mad Men: natty black suit and tie, slick, mil­i­tary- neat hair, an eter­nally smoul­der­ing cig­a­rette. But Rod Ser­ling sold fan­tasies far wilder than the chrome and Tup­per­ware dreams of post- war Amer­ica. His real es­tate was the fifth dimension, “a land of both shad­ows and sub­stance, things and ideas.” Next stop: The Twi­light Zone…

As cre­ator and cu­ra­tor of this twist- packed an­thol­ogy se­ries Ser­ling would haunt the edges of his sto­ries like a be­nign spec­tre. His two- tone wardrobe was per­fect for black and white screens while that ever present curl of smoke from a lit Ch­ester­field drifted like ec­to­plasm across the air­waves. This was his realm: the Twi­light Zone, with its in­fi­nite sto­ry­telling pos­si­bil­i­ties, was re­ally the nascent medium of TV it­self, its “shad­ows and sub­stance” the grain and fuzz of those early grey images. Top­ping and tail­ing each weekly episode he broke the flick­er­ing fourth wall and ad­dressed his au­di­ence di­rectly. He had plenty to say.

Ser­ling came to the Zone with a strong rep­u­ta­tion as a fire­brand drama­tist, a pas­sion­ate, provoca­tive voice com­mit­ted to tack­ling such top­ics as war, racism and so­cial in­jus­tice. Known for brawl­ing with net­works over ques­tions of cen­sor­ship he claimed, at first, that this lit­tle sci­ence fic­tion show was a re­treat. “I don’t want to fight any­more,” he stated, seem­ingly sick of clash­ing with an in­dus­try that prized the whims of its ad­ver­tis­ers over cru­saders with typewrit­ers.

But Ser­ling also said, “I have never writ­ten be­neath my­self ” and The Twi­light Zone, for all its mys­te­rioso trap­pings, be­came a stealth ex­pres­sion of the out­sized heart be­neath that black suit. Episodes ex­plored racial prej­u­dice, the in­stinc­tive fear of the out­sider, the weaponised mad­ness of mankind, the heart­break­ing lure of nos­tal­gia ( driven by Ser­ling’s own “des­per­ate hunger to go back where it all be­gan”). Still res­o­nant, still rel­e­vant, these sto­ries en­dure, too full of soul and hu­man­ity to ever be mono­chrome mu­seum pieces.

“That’s the mar­vel­lous phe­nom­e­non of tele­vi­sion,” Ser­ling ob­served, over half a cen­tury ago. “It lends im­mor­tal­ity to al­most ev­ery­thing.”

Nick longs to see a grem­lin on a plane’s wing at 20,000ft.

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