12 The Twilight Zone
In TV’s first golden age, of the Fifties and Sixties, the anthology drama was king, and Rod Serling’s collection of fantastical stories — set in “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition,” as Serling himself intones at the start of every episode — ruled them all. Before science fiction became dominated by adventure stories set in galaxies far, far away, the genre was often best used for biting social commentary on the world around us, just barely hidden beneath the trappings of alien invaders and deals with the devil. Some Twilight Zone installments functioned as commentaries on personal anxieties like fear of flying (William Shatner spotting a gremlin on the wing of his plane). Some leaned on the sorts of twists that TV would still be chasing more than a half-century later, like the famous “It’s a cookbook!” conclusion to the alien visit in “To Serve Man.” But a lot of the time, the series was looking at the world around us, and not enjoying what it saw, like using the suburban hysteria of
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” as an indictment of Cold War paranoia. The franchise has been revived multiple times, including a recent streaming attempt by Jordan Peele, but the original iteration towers above all the others.