spending the holiday in the Twilight Zone

It’s such a rare thing in our television world of too many cable channels filling up their schedules with endless reruns of old shows to come across episodes of a favorite old show you’ve never seen before. And yet this happens to me every year during the Sci Fi Channel’s Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon.

How can it be that I’ve been a sci-fi geek my whole life and have been — since I was a kid, since before we even had cable — an incurable Twilight Zone addict, and still I’m discovering new episodes? Like just this morning. I stumbled out of bed and turned on the Sci Fi Channel and the episode just starting was a complete revelation to me: about a orphaned young girl who seems to be mute but is actually telepathic and knows no other way to communicate. Or the one that came after it, about a toy designer who’s never really grown up until after a visit to the Zone.
These are wonderful little dramas — psychologically complex, beautifully shot, smartly understated. Which is why, I’m guessing, they never (or rarely) make the rounds of the usual rerun schedule. Well, that and the fact that both have a runtime of 60 minutes — who knew that the 18 episodes of 1963’s Season 4 ran twice as long? So why not let them run early in the morning of a holiday when no one except us dorks are watching anyway?

Of course, TV timeslots 40 years ago featured fewer commercials and more entertainment — a 30-minute episode today actually runs only about 22 minutes; it was longer in TZ’s day — and reruns of old shows are typically edited to make room for our snappier modern runtimes. I seem to recall, though, that a couple years ago Sci Fi was letting the TZs during the marathons run without editing while still getting in the requisite number of ads per hour, even if that meant episodes were starting at odd times, and not on the hour or half hour. (I remember the first time I saw the uncut version of an episode of the original Star Trek, which suddenly had scenes I’d never seen before in a show I thought I had memorized. This was before I understood about making room for more commercials: I thought I had entered the Twilight Zone.) That’s not the case this year: I bet these two episodes, called “Mute” and “The Incredible World of Horace Ford,” have been cut down from their original states, and I bet there’s good stuff now missing.

Oh well. It’s still cool to discover more Twilight Zone. And coming up later today are the classics that I never get tired of seeing — “Eye of the Beholder,” “To Serve Man,” and perhaps the best episode of the whole series, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”… which Keith Olbermann famously invoked on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 as a metaphor for the paranoid state of America today. That was perfect reminder of how timeless and timely The Twilight Zone remains.

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