twilight zone

The "Twilight Zone" Reboot Has One Major Problem: Its Runtime by Keith LaFountaine

I will preface this by saying that, while The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite television shows of all time, it was not a perfect show by any means. While it had game-changing episodes, biting social commentary, and a wild imagination driven by its incredibly talented writers and directors, it also had its fair share of duds - episodes that didn’t work for one reason or another, writing that would get overly preachy, or episodes that feel astonishingly antiquated upon rewatches.

The Twilight Zone reboot, developed by Jordan Peele and Marco Ramirez and hosted by Peele, will run into this issue as well. it’s the nature of creating an anthology series. However, it has one major issue that it is currently struggling with, even just two episodes in, and it’s one that hurt the original series during its initial run: an overly long runtime.

“Death Ship”, Season 4, Episode 6

“Death Ship”, Season 4, Episode 6

The Twilight Zone, for four out of its five seasons, was a 20 minute show (excluding commercials). It was lean, and that helped spur some of its storytelling. Writers didn’t have the opportunity to spin their wheels; they had 20 script pages to set up a beginning, a middle, a twist, and a resolution. And, as I mentioned before, this worked with varying success. Some episodes, like “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” greatly benefited from this truncated runtime, while others, like “The Big Tall Wish” suffered because of it.

On the verge of cancellation after season 3, The Twilight Zone was pushed into the time slot of a show that had been cancelled — a time slot that was an hour long. Therefore, the show was amended to deliver hour-long episodes. The result, save for a few exceptions (like “Death Ship”, pictured above), was a lot of slow, plodding episodes that felt padded to fill an arbitrary runtime.

Times have changed, and audiences in 2019 are much more accustomed to 1-hour long episodes than they were in 1963. However, the Twilight Zone formula — which Peele keeps largely intact from the original series — has not progressed with the times. “The Comedian”, available to watch above, feels especially long, clocking in at a whopping 55 minutes. And while there is some especially good stuff in there (including a great performance from Kumail Nanjiani), I started checking my phone at the 20 minute mark. The concept is good, but after it’s introduced we get 25 minutes of repetition, dragging down both the quality and my enjoyment of the episode.

The second episode that has been released — “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” — struggles in the same way. With a runtime of 37 minutes, it’s not as long as the preceding episode, but it still feels like it could have been shortened in some way. Again, it starts off with promise (starting in a similar place as the original episode, but then taking an exciting, modern turn) but then spins its wheels over the same basic conflicts to the point of mundanity.

What is the result of these longer runtimes, besides languid pacing? The twist endings don’t feel as enjoyable and mind-boggling as they should. “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” is the perfect example of this. By the time the twist is revealed the viewer has either already guessed it or is underwhelmed by it. The same can be said of “The Comedian”, though that episode doesn’t really operate with a “twist”, more with poeticism.

As I said, there are going to be some growing pains for this reboot. It’s natural — it was a part of the original show’s lifespan, and it will be a part of this one’s, too. However, I think if this reboot sticks with its 40-60 minute runtime it is going to suffer for it. There is a reason the original series switched back to a 20-minute time slot as soon as it could: as good as the writing, direction, and acting was these concepts were conceived with more vigor and passion when under the constraints of a shorter runtime.

I could be proven wrong — maybe these two episodes were just duds, and we will see many masterpieces in the future. I hope that Peele’s reimagining sticks around; nowadays, more than ever, we need a show like The Twilight Zone. However, if there is one major barrier that the show is going to face, in my opinion, it is its runtime.