Ugh, New Year's Eve. I can't remember the last time I actually made an effort to go out and celebrate the Gregorian declaration that the calendar starts over again... wait for it... nnnnnnNOW. Actually, I can -- I think it was 2008, when I went to an abysmal club in Delray Beach and made out with a DJ from Cincinnati who had an endearing lisp. Just as Pope Gregory XIII intended.
As someone who leans heavily into nerdy-homebody territory, I'd much rather stay home and watch a marathon of one of my favorite TV shows, and luckily, the Syfy network has been making that possible for many years with their New Year's "Twilight Zone" marathon.
My love of "The Twilight Zone" is a direct result of the yearly Syfy marathon. The network has been doing this for 20 years, starting back when they were called the Sci-Fi Channel, and I tuned in on a whim almost a decade ago. (They frequently have TZ marathons on July 4th, too, but sometimes they'll make an inexplicably terrible choice and run a "Greatest American Hero" marathon instead.) I've been hooked on the original 1959-to-1964 series ever since.
I've caught most of the marathon for the last few years, and this year will be no different. My friend Greg, the only person I know who knows as much "Twilight Zone" trivia as I do, and I are planning on watching as many episodes as two people in their mid-thirties can handle. (It's hard not to get the underachiever blues when we think about how Rod Serling was 35 when the series debuted.) But inevitably, like every other year, I will probably miss some of my favorite episodes because they'll air at, like, 4 a.m., when I'll be sleeping.
If you love sleeping as much as "The Twilight Zone" or you're one of those people who loves the series but also plans on going out somewhere that won't be showing the marathon (though why would you?), get ready to set your DVR: these are the best episodes that'll be playing while we're not paying attention.
SPOILER ALERT: All the startling twists will be revealed below. These shows are more than 50 years old, after all.
12 a.m.: "The Midnight Sun"
That Rod Serling, always ahead of the curve. This 1961 episode had shades of climate change, but the reason behind the extreme heat is especially dramatic: Earth fell off its orbit and is drifting toward the sun. Whoopsies!
Poor Norma is one of the last tenants in her building; everyone other than her and her neighbor, Mrs. Bronson, have left New York in an attempt to find cooler temperatures. And as if the heat weren't bad enough, the water supply has been reduced, Norma's paintings are melting, a guy wearing a blazer with no shirt breaks in with a gun, and Mrs. Bronson is really annoying. I'm pretty sure she dies of being annoying.
But it's all a fever dream! In actuality, Earth has been moving away from the sun, and Norma is sick from the terribly cold weather. And annoying Mrs. Bronson is still alive!
I normally hate "it was all a dream" plot resolutions (other than, of course, "Newhart"), but the equally awful fate awaiting Norma when she wakes up is pretty satisfying. Actually, it's not equally awful -- I think I'd rather freeze to death than get heat stroke.
12:30 a.m.: "The Obsolete Man"
Burgess Meredith appeared in four different episodes of "The Twilight Zone," and this is easily my favorite of his repertory.
In it, he plays Romney Wordsworth, a man who has been sentenced to death after being deemed obsolete by a futuristic totalitarian government, and he's been deemed obsolete because his occupation is a librarian and books are so yesterday. I mean, his name is Wordsworth -- of course he's a librarian!
Given the opportunity to choose the way he dies, he decides on a televised execution in which a bomb will go off in his home. He comes very close to taking with him the very chancellor who prosecuted him, but, forbidden Bible in hand, releases the chancellor "in the name of God."
It's a powerful commentary on government and freedom, and Meredith -- who you may recognize as The Penguin from the "Batman" TV series or Mickey from the "Rocky" films -- never disappoints in a bookish role. My only issue with this episode is that it equates atheism with the demise of literature.
1 a.m.: "The After Hours"
This is a top-three "Twilight Zone" episode for me. It plays out like a ghost story told at an all-girls sleepover camp, and for that, I love it.
Marsha is visiting a department store to buy her mother a gold thimble. But silly Marsha doesn't have a mother -- she's a mannequin from that very department store who completely forgot that she's a mannequin, so her fellow mannequins scare the crap out of her to remind her where she comes from: a weird storage floor full of other mannequins waiting their turn to go on pretend-to-be-human vacation.
With mannequins dressed in ridiculous costumes and creepy whispers of "Marsha" at the climax, "The After Hours" is borderline-camp, but it makes for one of the most memorable and stylish "Twilight Zone" episodes ever.
3 a.m.: "The Hunt"
Regardless of your religious affiliation, this all-dogs-go-to-heaven episode of "The Twilight Zone" touches any animal lover right in the mushy spots.
Backwoods dude Hyder is attached at the hip to his dog, Rip, who he takes raccoon hunting one day. It's implied that both die by drowning in a pond, as one does when raccoon hunting, and we're soon shown Hyder and Rip's spirits walking down the road and encountering a young "gatekeeper" who invites Hyder into the Elysian Fields but says Rip can't come. Naturally, Hyder's response is, "Any place that's too high-falutin' for Rip is too fancy for me," which is probably my next tattoo.
Hyder and Rip keep moving down the road, and they're met by an angel who explains that last guy was the devil, trying to fool Hyder into entering hell. But, according to the angel, Rip wasn't invited because "a man, well, he'll walk right into hell with both eyes open. But even the devil can't fool a dog!"
They go to heaven and live (er... after-live?) adorably ever after.
9:30 a.m.: "Ring-a-Ding Girl"
This is basically an episode of "Charmed."
Movie star Bunny Blake has been sent a ring by her hometown fan club, and she puts it on, because it's 1963 and things like that happened back then. But anyway, this is no ordinary ring -- Bunny see things in it; namely, her friends and family asking her to come visit.
So she does, of course, and decides to put on a spontaneous one-woman show in the high school auditorium. Super-normal movie star thing to do, right? But the town picnic is supposed to be at the same time, and what's that, crystal-ball-esque ring? Something about bad weather and a plane?
Well, it turns out, by announcing this one-woman show, Bunny got everyone out of the park in which a plane would be crashing -- a plane she's on! Bunny, like, astral-projected to save her hometown with the help of a weird ring! Listen, Serling didn't write this one. Just nod and smile.
Are you knee-deep in "The Twilight Zone" marathon? What's your all-time favorite episode? Will you be DVR-ing any of the above?