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The Twilight Zone Episode 1: "The Comedian" Review

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I thought the April 1 premiere date for the new Twilight Zone was going to be a really mean April Fools joke, but nope – season 1 is streaming now on CBS All Access, and the first episode is up on YouTube for free.

I’ve been obviously very, very pumped for this since the second I heard Jordan Peele was rebooting the series –  hopefully, this time successfully: Forest Whitaker’s 2002 version on UPN was a dud that got cancelled after 1 season.  But I was very optimistic because Peele has proven to be a monster (Get Out and Us are both A+ movies IMO.)

I’ve been the Black Mirror guy at Barstool since the show first came out on BBC – the main reason why is because it was basically the new Twilight Zone, my favorite show of all time.  My parents owned The Twilight Zone companion and I grew up reading it over and over again, basically outlining every episode’s plot in written form (it now has a special spot on my desk.)

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TZ set the standard for “social commentary by using sci-fi” – basically breaking down society perfectly with a near-future or alternate reality world that was far-fetched, but not THAT far-fetched.  We could all see it actually happening and coming true.  It was basically just slightly exaggerated versions of the shit that we really thought about and feared.  It was a way of making the stuff that was boring to read about and making it entertaining.  You don’t want to hear another lecture on why your cell phone and social media is bad for you.   But watching Bryce Dallas Howard have her life ruined and end up in prison for being rated poorly by everyone around her was something that could resonate.

So hearing the Twilight Zone was coming back with NEW stories, not just re-hashes…let’s just say it’s been highly anticipated in the Kmarko household.

The first 2 episodes are up on CBS All Access right now, and I watched both.  Here’s the review for the first.

**SPOILERS BELOW**

Episode 1: “The Comedian” starring Kumail Nanjiani.

The fourth season is almost universally accepted as the worst, and it’s no coincidence that that season is the one network execs forced Sterling to make 60 minute episodes instead of the classic half hour.  With the extra 30 minutes, the stories got drawn out, more obvious, and everyone could guess the twists, instead of being caught by surprise.  So when I saw the run time for “The Comedian” (around 55 minutes), I got a bad feeling about it.

And that’s almost exactly how it plays out.  Great concept, bogged down and diluted by the length.

You didn’t need to see the scenario play out 6,7 times.  You got it after the first 2.  And you got a pretty clear idea of how it was going to end.  But after a full extra half hour droning on and on repeating the same thing, it was virtually guaranteed – so by the time you got there, the gut punch was more of just a “yeah, of course.”

Now I’m happy to counter-argue myself on this – the “erasures” all serve a purpose.  The dog and nephew set Samir’s realization.  The mentor shows him turning to “the dark side.”  The vindictive Facebook searching and the hecklers in the crowd show how power is corrupting  him absolutely, getting revenge against any real or perceived bully in his life just for the sake of revenge.  I guess they just felt too telegraphed, too obvious to be as “Twilight Zone-y” as I hoped.

And they got around the biggest issue with these type of stories…by simply not addressing it.  Yes,  erasing the mentor altered the course of Samir’s life and relationship.  But what about the deletion of everybody else?  “Killing off” the bullies he grew up with – wouldn’t that change the way he turned out?  You’d imagine a lifetime of experiences with bullies and racists shapes your character and personality.  Same with the drunk driver comic.  When he gets to his wild rant and just takes out EVERYBODY from his past – wouldn’t that result in him basically NOT HAVING a past?  His teachers are gone, his coaches are gone, half his classmates are gone.  I’m not complaining about this really.  Just something I noticed that I’m sure a lot of “time-travel paradox” purists will have an issue with.

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Also – I really don’t like Peele as the narrator.  He didn’t initially want to do it, but they convinced him that he was perfect for it.  I agree with his original hunch.

Random Thoughts:

-One of the sneaky eeriest parts of the episode is the laughter from the audience.  It’s super creepy and unsettling – mostly because what Kumail is saying is not actually funny.  Like, at all.  It shows how Samir’s “deal with the devil” isn’t to become funny, just to become successful.  The laughter is part of the deal – the audience HAS to laugh, because that’s what Samir is getting in return for all that he gives up.

-People are saying that was a possible cop-out for the writers to not have to actually write funny material. That may be true if it was just some random actor up there, but we’ve all seen Kumali’s standup and acting and know he’s MORE than capable of writing some A+ stuff.

-The best part for me was when Samir “erases” his girlfriend’s mentor – and not just because the guy was the smuggest douchebag in a long line of smug TV douchebags.  It’s the first time you see the “Back to the Future-esque” results of what he’s doing.  He didn’t just kill off one guy, he altered the whole history of his relationship and whole career path of his girlfriend. The trip they took to Paris – the one that saved their relationship – never happened.   She obviously never became a lawyer without her lawyer mentor, and is working some shit ass job at a shit ass burger joint.  It’s heartbreaking watching him realize what he’s done, not just to himself, but to the woman he loves.  I think they set it up perfectly with the scene before it (the pizzaface kisses, the snuggly bus ride) which was only a minute long, but made you feel like the two were very much in love, so that Samir actually had something to lose that you cared about.

-We get it – Tracy Morgan is Dave Chappelle.  You didn’t have to put the newsboy cap on him.  We can figure some things out on our own.

-Just because something is cliche doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting to see in different iterations.  We’ve heard the legend of Faust and the Mephistopheles themes a billion times – that doesn’t take away from seeing it again in a different setting, in my opinion.

-The insecure standup comedian that”needs validation dumped into him like a garbage can” – it’s like life at Barstool HQ sitting next to Francis.

-“Weaponize that shit.  Bring down tha muthafuckin house.”

The Grade:  B-