Have you read this book?
In the interest of full disclosure: I haven’t watched The Twilight Zone since I was a wee tyke whiling away the hours in after-school sloth, catching episodes by accident rather than by intent on the family’s old Sears black-and-white boob-tube we curious kids had pulled all the knobs off of in investigative fits of, What does this do? You see, although I never really liked the series, I nonetheless kept watching it. Something in those black-and-white flicker shows did something to my brain via retinal transmissions that I didn’t have words for at the time.
Quite simply, the stories were compelling.
Even though I didn’t like them, something kept me watching.
Perhaps my dislike had something to do with my age at the time, being a kid watching adult fare, but now, years later, I think my regard for the show came from someplace else, and that was a sense of inescapable claustrophobia inherent in them. Of the utter predestination of the plots. Of watching doomed characters scrabble about the insides of an unscalable barrel till they were shot by the hyperbolic bullets of determinism.
You see, that’s why I now think I didn’t like the shows then. That’s also why I think they remain grotesquely fascinating: Despite their histrionics and determinedly bizarre aspects, trying not to watch them is like trying not to look over into the next lane at the big wreck on I-35, or trying not to look at the flaming house at the end of the block, the one with all the people running around it, screaming. There’s something human going at the basest level, a Rod Serling finger digging into wounds, reminding us that, yes, sometimes things are beyond our control and that, yes, sometimes we are the victims of our own choices, and that, perhaps yes most of all, things we know or think that we know, aren’t really so.
That’s what makes quality fiction, the revelation of common human truths, especially ones that are not commonly understood.
That’s why The Twilight Zone endures. For all the overwrought emotional amplitude spikes of its characters, oft lugubrious tone (or at least it seems to childhood memory), the now cliched-seeming twists and revelations of plot and theme, Rod Serling’s vision has substance. His vision bears weight.
It even bears study and preservation, begging less now the question What does this do? but more, How was this done?
Anyone interested in such questions, fans, scholars, or the merely curious, should find As Timeless As Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling, Volume 1, an item of more than passing fancy.
Touting itself as “The definitive treatment of Rod Serling’s teleplays for the landmark television series,” the Gauntlet Press book, edited by Tony Albarella, offers nine original scripts, an alternate version of one of them, plus the official and unofficial pilots.
The book also offers a few production photos and curious odds and ends that help establish a glimpse of the historical and business environment in which the show existed. Most interesting among the supplemental material are commentaries about each of the stories. Whether you agree or disagree with Albarella’s explicative insights and conclusions about the scripts, his interviews with cast and crew have as much to say about the experience of working on a genuinely new and different program as about the business side of the work, the latter of which goes a long way to proving what famed screenwriter William Goldman once said, “the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.”
Yet it’s the scripts themselves that carry the book, it’s raison d’etre, after all, and as such there are things both commendable and puzzling about them. First: they are uniformly well-written, exhibiting excellent dialogue, engaging character interplay, and spot-on pacing that pushes challenging, or at the very least, thought-provoking themes. And in one case, here, where the script isn’t up to Serling’s usual standards, the reasons why are clarified in the commentary as well as by presentation of the original and final drafts, a strategy that future editions also promise to employ when there are similar significant differences. These are all encouraging reasons to buy the book, as well as future ones in the series.
But second, and most puzzling: the reproduction of the script pages ranges from what looks like merely average photocopies to occasionally bad ones, exhibiting a collection of fuzzy letters, artifacts, blotchy type on some pages and letters thin and incomplete on others. Mind you, you can read each and every word without difficulty, but the presentation of what are, granted, forty-six-year-old scripts, is something of a letdown, considering that buyers will have to part with sixty-six bucks to obtain a copy. It’s especially disappointing considering that each new book in the series will, presumably, cost just as much. What’s more, Serling’s own handwritten notes, an attractive feature for those interested in How was this done? are almost uniformly hard to read and, in a few instances, impossible. That’s partly a matter of Serling’s penmanship, which demands in many cases more than a little attention to decipher, but it’s also partly because the reproduction of the pages, which effectively captures the typescript, doesn’t equally render the handwriting.
Third, and still puzzling: in a 488-page book, only 78 of those pages are numbered. Sure, script pages are numbered, each of them starting at 1 and going to around 30 for the half-hour episodes (up to 74 for the excellent unofficial pilot, “The Time Element”), but the book has a table of contents, after all, and the lack of master page numbers makes flipping directly to your favorite episode or commentary a matter of guesswork.
Nonetheless, these ten script samples provide readers a clear picture of Serling’s vision, and an equally clear sense that he achieved his goal of bringing unusual stories with important themes to a smart audience, especially with such classics as “Eye of the Beholder,” which has as much to say about beauty as it has to say about social conformity (the point of which seems to have been lost on the director, Douglas Heyes).
In short, what we have here is the beginning of a good collection, the end result being a series that will appeal in somewhat the same manner as the show. There’s something both disappointing and engrossing in its collection of historical, social, and fictional data. The words and ideas are swell, but the scripts don’t look it. But that’s the nature of the 46-year-old beast. Those who want copies (a word I use advisedly) of the scripts will buy the books anyway, but casual readers may be put off by the less-than-pristine nature of them.Share