Twilight Zone aesthetics: shabby chic? (#SFWApro)

I just finished rewatching the second season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and it holds up just as well as the first (all rights to image remain with current holder).

There are some real turkeys, such as the Three Wishes story “Man in the Bottle” and the recycled urban legend “Twenty Two.” But the good ones far outnumber them.

“Shadow Play,” in which Dennis Weaver tries to convince the court sentencing him to death that the whole thing is Weaver’s dream.

Agnes Moorehead is a farmwife who has to battle “The Invaders” in what’s effectively a one-woman show.

“Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room” is close to a one-man show, as a petty hood has an unexpected conversation with the man in the mirror.

“The Odyssey of Flight 33,” in which the cockpit crew of a passenger jet realize they’ve slipped through time.

And “The Trouble With Templeton” in which Serling shows that despite his fondness for nostalgic stories about people trying to recapture the past, he knows nostalgia can be a trap too.

As I mentioned reviewing the first season, Serling has a fascination with losers, the lonely, the down-and-out. Giving them a second chance, or sometimes taking away their last chance (as in the first season’s “The Big Tall Wish.”). Watching S2, I wonder if the set design doesn’t reflect this.

It’s common for characters on TV who have next to no money to still have huge, attractive apartments. Not in The Twilight Zone. Here cheap rooms look like cheap rooms, flophouses look floppy, a decayed boarding house looks rundown. Struggling small-town diners look small and struggling. It’s most noticeable in “Penny for Your Thoughts,” in which Ace, a compulsive gambler, discovers his best friend Jimbo (Buddy Ebsen) has TK, which he doesn’t use for anything but little everyday tasks. Ace badgers Jimbo into using his powers to cheat at the craps table and they have a brief shot at the big time before Ace ends up broke but wiser.

The thing is, even when they go to a casino to play, it doesn’t look at all glamorous. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall motel/casino somewhere in Nevada, a big step up for Ace but still small time. And it looks it. Ace never even gets close to glamor.

The cheap look wasn’t budget or a lack of vision. The series has no trouble portraying a nice, middle-class lifestyle as in the prosecutor’s house in “Shadow Play.” So was it a conscious decision to drive home that these stories are about the down-and-outers of the world?

Or is it that with everything in color, these just look even shabbier than they originally were? Or maybe this was the norm for 1950s TV, before things got glossy, and it’s just that Twilight Zone is the only 1950s stuff I watch regularly?

I don’t have an answer but I do find it an interesting question.

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