The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling
Episode directed by Joe Chappelle
We’re back with another episode of Whitaker Explains it All, though at least in this case he doesn’t do it all that well. I’ll be honest with you right up front. This isn’t a particularly good episode and is probably the kind of safe, carbon copy, mindless filler that you were probably expecting when you first heard they remade The Twilight Zone during the Bush administration. BUT, at least we can try to get a few cheap laughs out of it! Let’s get started!!
The episode begins with Annie (Susanna Thompson) and her family moving into their dream home which will hopefully be a fresh start for all of them. Then again, her two kids are teenager who fight constantly so it’s unlikely that a change of scenery is gonna do much about that, and their dog Czonka pees on the floor almost immediately so I guess that New House Smell is already out the window. Sigh… you know, it’s frustrating when everyone around you is complaining or not being careful with their living spaces… it’s almost as if it’d be nice if they were to… change? Uh oh! Well SOMETHING certainly heard that little wish, and not an hour after they move into their new house her dog has been replaced with an entirely different breed that’s much less prone to pee unless it’s in the backyard. You just HAD to have very reasonable complaints, didn’t you? Just HAD to say that you didn’t like pee stains everywhere! LOOK AT WHAT TERROR YOU HAVE WROUGHT!!
Now as Forest Whittaker helpfully explains this is a BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR tale, and yet it seems to me like The Twilight Zone is stretching a bit here! Sometimes wishing that your family was better is not the equivalent of obliterating them out of existence in exchange for a new one, so unless there’s a Monkey’s Paw under the floorboard this whole premise feels a tad bit excessive right off that bat; but oh well! I guess we’ll just have to roll with it because… well there’s nothing much to do here, now is there? I mean seriously, THE TWILIGHT ZONE isn’t pulling its punches here as it not only starts to replace the members of this family with “better” versions of them; it rewrites the fabric of time and space so that everyone else remembers this invader being the only version and the big family portrait that Annie hangs right above the fireplace now reflects the new status quo. And the thing is, because of how little Annie has to do in this story, there’s absolutely nothing to talk about!
The family starts to change over the course of the episode but this isn’t motivated by anything, least of all Annie’s actions as she never once asked for THIS and at no point is happy about it! Think about The Pool Guy which has a similarly unrelenting antagonistic presence, yet Ritchie took actions and advanced the story throughout the episode! He was DISCOVERING things in order to uncover this mystery, and sure the ending implies that he was guided the entire way but in the moment to moment action he felt like an active agent in his own story. Here, Annie doesn’t do anything really to initiate it (she didn’t even wish on a star or rub a magic coin) and she never acknowledges through her actions or even her own feelings that she wants it to continue. Turn around and someone’s different. She wakes up, and someone’s different. Heck, she BLINKS at one point and there’s someone different! It’s just not interesting to watch for most of the episode until things have finally STOPPED changing and she has to just kinda… deal with it! The best scene in the episode is right after she DOES make the decision to try and make this work (hey look! A character doing something!) where she’s eating dinner with these prim and proper posers and she just cannot hold it together. She’s about six wine glasses in and when she goes for lucky number seven, it pours out with the audio force of a freaking waterfall and everyone else is just staring awkwardly as mommy slowly destroys her liver.
She sobers up rather quickly however as later that night she overhears the fake family contemplate sending her away somewhere to get help which PRESUMABLY means a therapist but to Annie it sounds like she’s about to become a Stepford Wife which leads her to running through the house… presumably looking for the door which shouldn’t be this hard to find, and she gets to the living room with the giant family portrait to find… SHE’S BEEN REPLACED! TWILIGHT SHOCK!! Yes, whatever entity is toying with her has given her a moment of existential terror at realizing she’s about to blinked out of existence and just as dear old fake dad walks into the room, Annie is no longer there and is replaced with fake mommy! Oh, but that’s not all! NOW we get to the big twist of the episode which I don’t think ANY of you are ready for! As fake dad and fake mom embrace with the fake kids and the fake dog looking onward with familial pride, we start to zoom out until we see… a young girl playing a video game on her computer!
I’m sorry, WHAT!?
Yeah! That’s how the episode ends! The girl is playing her computer game, her father tells her to come downstairs, and the girl helpfully informs us that she just finished upgrading her family in this game which I can only presume is a Sims knockoff.
Okay, before I start rambling here, let’s see what Forest Whitaker has to say!
“Just a game? Or is it? How do we know we aren’t all just characters in some computer game called life? At any moment, each of us can be replaced by someone a little smarter, a little younger, a little more… perfect.”
Wow. Deep, bro. And what if God made a burrito so spicy that he himself couldn’t eat it? I know I didn’t have much to say about the episode itself, but this ending is certainly gonna need fill the gap since it’s a DOOZY. Okay, remember when Serenity came out two months ago that split critics right down the middle and I was on the side of really liking it? Well this episode does a great job of showing why because for all of Serenity’s faults it was TRYING to do something and didn’t feel clichéd or overly tired in its execution. When I first watched this episode all those years ago I remember not liking it or the twist at the end, but rewatching it here just put that vague dispassion into outright dislike because it’s exactly the kind of thing a PARODY of The Twilight Zone would do only we’re supposed to take it seriously. People argued that the twist of Serenity being a video game didn’t make much sense or contribute much to the overall themes and story; a point of view that I argued against at length, but HERE it’s actually one hundred percent true! Serenity’s use of video game mechanics was somewhat vague, but this episode doesn’t even try to incorporate that into this story line itself. There are no clues to look for if you rewatch the episode; nor does its half-baked commentary on the gamification of real life pack even the tiniest of punches or a modicum of insight. The crux of the issue is Annie who simply does not matter to this story or its or the moral it’s trying to get across. Heck, reread the closing monologue from Forest Whitaker! Does he even mention her once in it? Nope! Instead it’s this overly vague idea of being replaced, but somehow tying it to video games?
Like… I guess there’s SOMETHING there in how many of us will compare ourselves to our peers and see people more successful and happier than us, or even the fear that someday the flawed you will be replaced by someone better at your job or maybe you’re significant other will leave you for someone else, but what does that have to do with upgrading characters in a video game!? There are SO many better ways to get that kind of insecurity and self-doubt across in a novel sci-fi manner than what they came up with here which is just a confused and carelessly put together mess. The story is not engaging until WAY too late into the run time, it’s not visually interesting or the least bit creative with its aesthetic and premise, and frankly what little of this could be considered a morality play is just kinda judgmental and witless. Except for Shades of Guilt and maybe a few episodes down the road that I’m not sure if they hold up, this might be the worst episode of the new series. It may not be outright offensive like that other episode I just mentioned, but boy is it boring enough to make up for that!
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