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 Allan Kroeker
The episode begins with the titular Gabe (Christopher Titus who I’ve talked about in the past) smashing his car into someone else’s by accident; someone by the way who doesn’t even seem too perturbed by it which is a little odd. His driver’s side door is half caved in and yet rather than get yell at Gabe or get his insurance information, he makes a half-hearted crack at his driving skills before calling him a loser. Seems a bit low key considering the damage inflicted which I would certainly call a silver lining, but then Gabe is one of those perpetually miserable dudes who attributes everything to his all-encompassing belief in his own bad luck. Well that and his lousy boss who’s keeping him down at work. Gabe is basically the embodiment of lower white working class angst which is a topic Sir Titus is quite familiar with as he jumps right into a stand up routine while explaining to his wife (Stefanie von Pfetten) why he didn’t get the promotion due to his lack of butt kissing skills. He goes outside to nurse his ego as well as the big lump on his head which he got in the car crash when he notices some guy in an orange jumpsuit (Kelly Perine) in the backyard killing his grass. When confronted, the guy just oddly says that Gabe shouldn’t even be able to see him and that he should pretend this is ALL some big hallucination before turning tail and running off while Gabe just stands there; gawking at the absolute gall of this guy to just kill his grass and say IGNORE ME. I wish I got to see the inner workings of the universe whenever I bumped my head.
Gabe is clearly a part written for the guy as his TV series had just concluded despite popular ratings (as he would tell it, he got in an argument with an executive who subsequently starved the show with a lousy time slot change) so he was primed for a guest spot on another TV show and was bitter enough to bring something extra to this character. The episode certainly FEELS like a big ol’ cathartic screed on his behalf since the episode is about a guy whose getting screwed for no good reason; only instead of TV executives with bad ideas, it’s some cosmic team of jumpsuit wearing jerks that seem intent on making his life worse. Then again, it could have absolutely nothing to do with that as this episode is VERY much inspired by The Adjustment Team which was a short story by Philip K Dick that was later adapted into that Matt Damon movie you all forgot about; so much so that they actually list this episode on The Adjustment Team’s Wikipedia page. Hey, at least they aren’t just copying a contemporary movie like so many other episodes have! ANYWAY! After that bit of weirdness (and the title sequence) we see that Gabe is conveying this story to his friend Luke (Jed Rees who looks like a cross between Ike Barinholtz and Norman Reedus) who wants to get his buddy in on some scam now that he’s super desperate. The plan is for Gabe to go about his daily job which involves delivering electronic equipment and setting it up, but let some of the equipment fall into Luke’s hands to sell elsewhere. The company has insurance to cover it so no big deal, right? Especially since the company screwed him out of the promotion and he’s got nothing but obnoxious customers all the time! It’s not stealing; it’s the proletariat taking back from the capitalists that undervalues their labor! Seems simple enough, but Gabe isn’t QUITE ready to go into a life of crime just yet. However, the next day while at a client’s house, the Jumpsuit Guy (listed in the credits as such) waltzes in, smashes a vase in the client’s house, and then yells at Gabe for STILL having the temerity to see him as well as keeping him off his schedule.
Gabe gets blamed for it of course which puts him in even worse trouble as his employer will be paying for it out of his paycheck, and remember that car he hit in the beginning of the episode? Yeah, the driver is suing him as well for “neck injuries” which is the last straw for his wife since it seems that literally THE ENTIRE WORLD working against him, and she has to get herself and the kids out of the blast radius for simple self-preservation’s sake. We’ll get more into the moral of the story once we get to the end and see how it all plays out, but right away it’s clear that something here is a bit muddled as he tells his wife about the guy he keeps seeing and how much trouble he’s caused him (first, the grass, now the vase, and he was DEFINITELY responsible for the car crash) and she tells him that he’s not taking responsibility for his own actions which I THINK is supposed to be the moral, but isn’t that undercut by the fact that… well, there IS magic going on? Not only that, but to boil things down to a LIFT YOURSELF UP BY YOUR BOOTSTRAPS message feels a bit short sighted as far as discussing the root of the problem, but I guess you can only squeeze so much into a twenty-two minute episode. To get back on track with the narrative, his wife and kids planning to leave him is what finally tips him over the edge and he agrees to Luke’s plan. Gabe goes to the same client that night to apologize and finish the delivery which is the perfect time for Luke to unload the stuff into his shady as heck van. However, the Jumpsuit Guy strikes again as Gabe sees him letting the air out of Luke’s tires which will surely lead to some sort of accident on the road and to them getting caught and thrown in jail. Gabe has just about had it with this dude and grabs him by the cuff, smashes him against the van, and starts demanding answers as to why he feels the need to make his life a living hell. From here we get into the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the episode where it turns out that everyone’s life is written by A WRITER and the guys in jumpsuits carry out their decrees on the unsuspecting masses. It JUST SO HAPPENS that Gabe is destined to be a screw up and go to jail by no real fault of his own as he apparently lives in the most literally fatalistic world imaginable; completely with ridiculous tower that THE WRITERS of his destiny work out of.
This is where the episode goes from Philip K Dick to something more akin to Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett as… I don’t know, THE COMPANY I guess (I’m assuming Future Trade is a subsidiary of these guys) feels like something out of one of their books. Just a bunch of bureaucrats and boring day to day minutia controlling powers that we couldn’t possibly conceive of, and while I do like the general idea of this, once again there’s a BIG problem here and I’ll go through all of it once we get to the wrap up. Gabe muddles his way through a confusing directory system and ridiculously busy hallways to eventually find the office that his writer Roxanne (Sarah Strange) works out of who you can probably assume is none too pleased to see him. Gabe on the other hand, with all the puffed up machismo of a guy lodging a complaint with customer service, explains his dissatisfaction with her story for him, but sadly it falls on jaded ears as she has far too much work to do to sit here and deal with this loser who thinks he can do better. Sadly we don’t get a scene of COSMIC SECURITY coming around to beat him with magic nightsticks, so instead Roxanne just gets her supervisor (William Samples) on the COSMIC SKYPE to have an impromptu meeting about Gabe’s story and how it will play out.
The supervisor who I can only assume the VP of Smugness informs Gabe that the world simply works better when there’s a higher power in charge, but Gabe isn’t about to give up yet and starts spouting an impassioned speech about how he lived his whole life believing that working hard and being smart would be rewarded and how he wants to be the master of his own destiny even if he manages to screw it up as badly as Roxanne did, but most importantly he promises to leave the premises and not bother them ever again if they cut his COSMIC STRINGS. With that, the Supervisor agrees to his terms and I guess… Gabe just leaves. I mean I can only assume the building is still there, but maybe it’ll become invisible and non-corporeal to Gabe once his head injury has fully healed. We cut back to his place here he and Luke are at his dinner table discussing a plan for competing electronics delivery service which is all well and good, but I’m curious how Luke managed to get back here in the first place since the last time we saw him he was at a stranger’s house with a suspicious van, flat tires, and a crowbar in his hand! I guess his writer likes him a whole lot better or something. Gabe’s new lease on life also bleeds over to his wife who stops just as she’s about to walk out the door to hear him out about how he’s not going to blame anyone else anymore and how he’s going to be a REAL success from now on! Well Forest Whitaker! What do you have to say about that!?
“Shakespeare observed that all the world’s a stage; its men and women merely players. But Gabe O’Brien proved that sometimes you can grab the pen from the poet and write your own story. A lesson learned, in The Twilight Zone.”
I mean I guess that sums it up nicely, but why are you delivering this speech in the guy’s bushes?
There is a lot of good stuff in here that’s worth praising and I do think it’s one of the stronger episodes of the series. Christopher Titus made his name off of material like this so he feels very natural in the part of a put upon Working Class Joe, and the inspirations for the story are much more varied than whatever recent movie they could get away with ripping off. I think the concept of an organization full of overworked writers corbelling together whatever stories they can for the unappreciative masses is a really interesting idea that I kinda want to see as its own thing; maybe its own TV series or even a few books. It’s a little bit on the goofier end of things to REALLY feel like an old school Twilight Zone episode, but it’s got that same sense of scope in terms of its conceit and the ideas that it plays with that sets it apart from the rather pedestrian WHAT A TWIST stories we’ve mostly gotten here. However, the big problem with this episode is that it’s moral is confusing and that its magical realism feels too literal. What the episode WANTS to do is give a story about how Gabe has to grow past his own frustrations and realize that him and his attitude are the biggest things holding him back. He needs to stop blaming the world for his failings and take control of what he leaves in the hands of higher powers; such as his bad luck and his lousy boss. The problem is, HE ISN’T WRONG! He finds out that in reality the world IS out there to screw you over and that fate has determined that he’s a loser and can’t do anything about it! Now this could have been an interesting discussion about how an individual’s life choices and opportunities pales in comparison to societal changes overall (fight for the working class, eat the rich, etc), but the premise never goes beyond, well… GABE’S STORY! He doesn’t seem all that curious to find out if his wife and children are similarly fated to be losers as well and is only concerned about himself; not in the sense that he’s being selfish but as evidence that the framing of the story is narrowly focused on him. So it’s the story of one man who blames THE GODS for his lot in life realizing that he’s wrong for doing so and takes control… by literally telling THE GODS to stop messing with him. This is why I think that the story about the writers would be a lot more interesting as there’s much more to work with there while Gabe could just be a small part of a larger story! Like… if they made a series about Roxanne and Gabe was someone she surreptitiously cut the strings from which was supposed to make life a little bit easier for her, but now she’s got to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t conquer the world or something along with her other writing duties! Hold on; let me write this down…
What was I talking about? Oh right! With a few adjustments here and there and by making the existence of FATE CORP much more ambiguous I think this lesson could have sold a lot better, but even with that it’s a really good episode with an intriguing premise that I kind of want to see play out more! Okay, it’s been seventeen years, but nostalgia’s a big thing right now and everyone loves spin-offs, right!?
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