REVIEW: THE TWILIGHT ZONE SEASON 2 delivers the goods in entertaining science fiction fare in an engrossing sophomore effort.


Decidedly less Black Mirror-lite than Season 1, Series 2 of CBS’ The Twilight Zone reboot delivers plenty of compelling fare with less in the term of morality plays.

One of the chief of criticisms of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone, with Get Out director Jordan Peele serving as the role of host Rod Serling made famous in the show’s original run, was that it seemed to ape Peele’s own success in Get Out with too much in the realm of morality plays versus the creation of compelling stories that deserved the banner of The Twilight Zone. With Netflix’ Black Mirror running with the baton of Twilight Zone, there was definitely a place for the kind of timely stories that Twilight Zone made famous; the question being if Peele’s production was up to the task. Season 2 of The Twilight Zone definitely seems to be striving to carve its own niche as a compelling science fiction offering, with several big-name directors helming episodes that genuinely work and eschew the strict morality play with a twist formula that Black Mirror has taken for its own. While it still pops up, the new series is very reminiscent of Showtime’s 1990s reboot of The Outer Limits with Peele presenting unlikely scenarios and seeing how a normal person would respond. The Twilight Zone has done the same in its heyday, mainly in episodes like the classic Mirror Image. Here, the new Twilight Zone finds a lot of success in applying that formula.

The season opener “Meet Me in the Middle,” starring Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson and Community’s Gillian Jacobs is one of the stronger episodes of the run. Helmed by Mathias Herndl, it stars Simpson as an uptight single “nice guy” who all of a sudden gains the ability to hear the thoughts of a woman named Annie (Jacobs) whenever the two think of each other. While they both understandably freak out at the onset of the ability, eventually, the two form a deep bond, one in which the other sees an escape while the other sees as possibly the beginning of something more. The episode bears a lot of similarity to the Spike Jonze Her, with Simpson doing the heavy-duty of conveying a relationship through only his expressions. To his credit, the episode works because of Simpson’s performance and he uses the same range of nice guy to vacillating anger that he displays in Westworld here to great success. This episode had me guessing from beginning to end and the twist you keep expecting is not what you’d expect at all. One of my favorites overall.

Episode 2 is entitled Downtime and stars Morena Baccarin as a woman named Michelle Weaver who may or may not be who she believes herself to be when the world around her seems to shut down for maintenance. This episode is extremely reminiscent of the Schwartzenegger film Total Recall, down to identical plot beats at times. While it ends up going somewhere unique, its an example of an episode that might’ve been better as a ten minute short as there isn’t a lot of depth here.

Episode 3 is entitled The Who of You and stars Empire Records’ Ethan Embry as a failed would-be actor named Harry Pine who is at the end of his rope both professionally and in his relationship. His partner is much more successful in acting than he is and he is broke and he decides to rob a bank to try and make ends meet. While in the middle of the robbery, he discovers an amazing ability that might let him get away with the theft and save his relationship at the same time. While the episode is engaging and Embry is great in it, there’s not much to it past the gimmick of Pine’s ability and the twist at the end seems to come out of nowhere and doesn’t ring true with the rest of the episode.

Ana Lily Amirpour helms the fourth installment of the series, entitled Ovation and stars Reno 911’s Tom Lennon and Birds of Prey’s Jurnee Smolett in an episode that seems a little bit of a light version of The Neon Demon. Smolett plays a street busker who has an encounter with a world-famous pop diva named Fiji who hands her an ancient coin as a tip for busking before killing herself by walking into a bus. Smolett rockets to fame after busking at a shrine for Fiki where Lennon offers her a spot on Ovation, an American Idol-esque game show where she rockets to fame. But as she is drowned out by crazed fans who drown out her music with their applause she starts to wonder if maybe the coin is making her the star over her own ability. A great performance by Smolett makes this one work as well as great cinematography throughout.

Tayrisha Poe helms Among The Untrodden, the fifth episode of the series and one of my favorites of the season overall. The episode centers on a boarding school where new girl Irene tries to befriend cool girl Madison by asking her to participate in her science project trying to prove the existence of psychic powers. Irene is convinced that Madison has extrasensory abilities and as the two form a bond over this shared passion for the paranormal despite the difference in social castes, they both hope to have found a real friendship in this journey as well. A mix between Heathers and The Craft, the somewhat tragic twist in this one presents early in a second viewing, but it really works and makes you feel all the more for both characters.

8 is the sixth episode of the series and stars Joel McHale as an American deep-sea explorer part of a multi-cultural crew exploring a rare octopus-like creature at the bottom of the world. The episode dances around issues of xenophobia and racial tension as the Chinese crew and McHale both have designs on the genetic makeup of the Octopus before it gets loose and turns the episode into something akin to The Thing or Aliens in wondering who is the real enemy. The episode also hosts a fun Easter Egg for Serling fans. A bit heavyhanded with a twist that didn’t totally work for me.

Episode 7 is entitled A Human Face and is another one of my favorites. It stars Chris Meloni and Jenna Elfman as a married couple finishing the move out of their family home. Their teenage daughter Maggie committed suicide recently and the two are moving to get a fresh start. As they pack, a solar flare goes off which triggers some movement in their basement. The pair go downstairs to investigate and discover a large amorphous alien creature that violently transforms into a clone of their dead daughter. The creature absorbs their daughter’s memories and tells them it has been sent to pave the way for a full invasion. The episode is really about how people will believe what they want to believe no matter the consequences. A solid episode with a somewhat haunting ending.

The eighth episode A Small Town feels the most like An Outer Limits episode. It stars David Krumholtz as the mayor of a small town called Littleton who assumes the mayorship when the previous mayor dies in a car crash. Her widower, Mr. Grant (played by Damon Wayans Jr.) hates what the new mayor is turning the town into and discovers a scale model of the town that reflects changes in the actual city when you work on it. Shortly thereafter, Wayans fixes the town, but Krumholtz’s mayor gets all the credit which leads to a showdown between the two. A solid episode if a bit trite.

Episode 9 is entitled Try Try and is basically Groundhog Day if Bill Murray was a sociopath. Topher Grace plays Mark, a man who has been reliving the same day for hundreds of years. He falls in love with a girl and spends years crafting a perfect date for the two to fall in love with each other. When the date goes off the rails after Grace’s Mark confesses the way he has crafted a perfect date with knowledge gained over the years of days of conversations, it squicks her out and the date suddenly goes the route of The Shining. A fun deconstruction of how Groundhog Day is really disturbing if you think about it with its lack of agency for Andie McDowell’s character. A great ending makes this one work as well as Grace’s talent for playing creepy.

The final episode, You Might Also Like, is the season’s best outing. Directed by Osgood Perkins, it stars Gretchen Mol as a housewife suffering through personal loss who orders a product called The Egg for her family as it promises to “make everything alright again, and this time, forever!” Mol starts to build an existential dread around receiving this product as she has no idea what it actually is or does, only that she wants it in a culture where she and her family are judged only by what they own and not who they are. The episode vacillates somewhere between Eraserhead and the recent film Greener Grass in terms of horror and absurdism as somehow the end of the world, product placement, and advertisement-obsessed carnivorous aliens all come together to build a creepy and haunting episode based on the idea that it is better to risk your life and possibly throw it away just to fit in with everyone else. Weirdly timely, this episode is the one that sticks with you the most.

Overall, Season 2 of The Twilight Zone is extremely binge-worthy and locks you in with only a couple of weaker entries but at least 4 standouts that will stay with you with great performances and intriguing premises. Check it out and enter a realm of fear and imagination with aplomb.