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What have you been watching? Including Star Trek: Discovery and The Twilight Zone

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

Dax Shepard and Lake Bell in ABC (US)'s Bless This Mess
Dax Shepard and Lake Bell in ABC (US)’s Bless This Mess

This week’s reviews

With everyone celebrating that Jesus dying (and coming back again) for the past few days, it’s been another quiet one for TMINE. But elsewhere, I did review ABC (US)’s Bless This Mess and Orange Wednesday took in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, so I’ve not been totally slacking.

The Bad Seed

What’s coming this week

A few new shows are coming up, and fingers crossed, I should finally be able to watch all of TVNZ 1’s The Bad Seed. Plus Orange Wednesday tomorrow will be taking in an Australian double-bill, Mystery Road and Goldstone, as well as a classic from the 80s, The Name of the Rose.

There’ll be other stuff, too.

Freeform's Marvel's Cloak and Dagger
Freeform (US)’s Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger

The regulars

While there may not have been a huge number of new shows, I’ve not been slacking when it comes to the regulars. I’ve now caught up with episodes 2-4 of The Twilight Zone, so I’ll be looking at that, as well as all the other regulars: Au Service De La France, Doom Patrol, Game of Thrones, The Good Fight, Happy!, Il Miracolo (The Miracle), Il Nome della Rosa (The Name of the Rose), The Magicians, Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, The Orville, Star Trek: Discovery, Warrior, What We Do In the Shadows and Whiskey Cavalier.

Brace yourselves, though, because not only are The Magicians, Il Miracolo and Star Trek: Discovery leaving that list because they’ve just had their season finales, I’m also purging no fewer than five of the others, on the general grounds they’re not much cop any more.

See you in a mo for a veritable TMINE Night of the Long Knives!

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The Twilight Zone

Preview: The Twilight Zone 1×1 (US: CBS All Access)

In the US: Thursdays, CBS All Access
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Why is Jordan Peele determined to prove me wrong? A while ago, I suggested that the old-school anthology show, with a different story and cast every week, no longer worked as a format, given the nature of modern television scheduling. Instead, the season-long anthology show has the best of both worlds, with both a regular cast and the ability to tell closed stories, all rolled into one:

With an audience who likes serial drama but who wants eventual conclusions to their stories that haven’t been drawn out too long, what could be better than a season-long story with a beginning, middle and an end, the next season then telling a completely new story in the same vein? With a bit of cleverness, you can even appease fans of the shows’ stars by having the cast come back to play different characters if they want – or just let them go off to the next job if they’d rather, just like in the old days, since that way you can get big names with limited availability to come in for just a season.

There have been attempts to return to the original, episodic formula, such as The Guest Book and Room 104, but these exceptions have somewhat proved my hypothesis that the format no longer works. How? Because no one watches them.

So I ask again: why is Jordan Peele is so determined to prove me wrong? I mean first he creates a feelgood, episodic anthology show for YouTube, Weird City, and now he’s resurrected possibly the most famous anthology show of them all, The Twilight Zone.

Why does the lauded writer-director of Get Out and Us think he knows better than me, hey?

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The Twilight Zone at The Almeida

Review: The Twilight Zone (Almeida Theatre)

The Twilight Zone is one of the most famous shows in US TV history. Although not quite the original US ‘anthology show’ – indeed, it started off as an episode of precursor CBS anthology show The Desilu Playhouse – it is the best known.

A science-fiction, fantasy, psychological-supernatural horror anthology show created by Rod Serling, it ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. Each standalone episode depicted characters dealing with paranormal, futuristic, Kafka-esque, or otherwise disturbing or unusual events that are said to have taken place in ‘The Twilight Zone’.

Famously, of course, each story typically featured a moral or surprise ending. I say famously, but there are few people who could probably tell you even one of those endings without prompting, since it’s one of those shows that’s famous without many people actually having seen any episodes of it – or of its numerous remakes, of which a new one is being developed even as I type.

At a push, people might remember its later theme tune and title sequence:

They’ll have forgotten the original one completely, mind.

They might also remember creator Rod Serling’s frequent on-screen introductions and conclusions to episodes.

But individual episodes? Not so much.

For the most part, The Twilight Zone has entered the realm of the meme – a shorthand for the weird and unexplainable, and stories with weird aliens and stings in their tails. Although, to be honest, that’s more The Outer Limits people are thinking of. Indeed, you can reduce the ‘stings’ of all 156 episodes down to just 10 minutes if you try really hard.

Adapting The Twilight Zone for the stage

Which makes adapting it for the stage, as The Almeida Theatre in North London has done, potentially both easy and hard. Easy, because if no one can remember the episodes, no one’s going to be fussed if you either simply stage one as written or divert from it and change it in some way; hard, because you’ve little to latch onto.

Indeed, the question is what you’re actually going to adapt. Director Tom Brennan explains some of the technical issues:

So the TV show was like a kind of theatre, and in turn the theatre show is based on TV. It’s a strange transference of forms. There are certainly many questions that arise when thinking about the legacy of the show and its new manifestation on stage.

  • How do you do a pre-commercial break cliff-hanger onstage?
  • How do you create a high-concept perspective twist with no camera?
  • What is the best form for building tension?
  • What is the best form for creating a sense of the paranoid, the mysterious, the genuinely strange?

But at a more basic level, even if you think of each episode as a play, it’s still a play that’s only 50 minutes long and that relies on filmic rather than theatrical techniques for the most part. And which can be pastiched as a mere twist.

John Landis and others showed us one way of doing it back in 1983 with The Twilight Zone: The Movie. That simply took three classic episodes of the show, added in a new one, and then created ‘bookend’ scenes around them.

What does writer Anne Washburn do at The Almeida? Well, let’s just say not only is a bit different to that, it’s also a bit more North London.

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