'The Twilight Zone': Everything We Know About Jordan Peele's Reboot
By Joe Bergren
Robert Falconer/CBS All Access
This October will mark 60 years since The Twilight Zone first premiered and introduced the world to a groundbreaking storytelling format. Rod Serling’s iconic sci-fi anthology series helped usher in a golden age of television and became an essential building block of contemporary pop culture.
The Twilight Zone ran on CBS for five seasons from 1959 to 1964, with 156 total episodes. Serling narrated the intro and closing sequence for each episode, but it wasn’t until the second season that he began filming the show’s trademark wraparound on-camera appearances.
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In its anthology format, where each episode was a standalone story, the series was allowed to become a showcase for thought-provoking ideas, timely questions and social commentary, as well as talented actors and writers. While the show was known for having a shortlist of similar endings and themes, TV marathons and streaming have given audiences the freedom to curate their Twilight Zone experience. Not in the mood to contemplate your mortality or the futility of trying to alter past events? Just keep browsing. Not a fan of toys that are planning your demise? Then skip “Living Doll.”
The original series ended in 1964, but we’ve been feeling its impact on entertainment and pop culture ever since. It made genre television mainstream and illuminated diverse audience demographics who appreciated the show’s combination of fantasy with highbrow themes. The Twilight Zone inspired multiple variations of its format, such as The Outer Limits, Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Episodic one-hour dramas like The X-Files and Star Trek also benefited from Serling’s template for high-concept mysteries (often with a twist ending), in their “monster of the week” episodes.
While considering his participation in the reboot, Peele acknowledged at PaleyFest earlier this month that the series, which has transformed into a universal adjective for situations that seem beyond the edges of reality, has become a go-to phrase for modern times.
"The timing felt right, because recently we continue to hear... we're living in the f*cking Twilight Zone." @JordanPeele speaks to why now is the perfect time to bring back #TheTwilightZone at #Paleyfest.
This also isn’t the first time The Twilight Zone has made a resurgence. A revival premiered in 1985 and ran for three seasons on CBS, followed by another reboot in 2002 on the now-defunct network, UPN, which lasted just a single season. In 1983, Twilight Zone: The Movie featured four individual reimaginings of episodes from the original series. And, of course, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has been reversing gravity on Disney World guests since 1994.
What Can You Expect From the New Series?
In late 2017, it was announced that Jordan Peele -- following his box-office and critically acclaimed success Get Out (he’d win the Oscar for Original Screenplay months later) -- would be in charge of a reboot of The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access. The 10-episode season premieres Monday, April 1 on CBS All Access; the first two installments debut that night, titled “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” and “The Comedian.” The remaining entries will appear on the streaming platform on Thursday nights starting April 11.
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Peele will also be taking up Serling’s role as an on-camera narrator. Reinstituting this iconic aspect from the original series came after some initial hesitancy from the Us director that his presence could be a distraction and might remind people too much of Key and Peele, his Comedy Central sketch series with Keegan-Michael Key that also implemented wraparounds for each comedy segment.
“They've seen me be puppy dog Ice-T and all this. How does that translate to one of the most iconic, prestigious roles of hosting The Twilight Zone?” Peele told ET at the show’s premiere Tuesday. “At the end of the day, if you can host The Twilight Zone, why do you not host The Twilight Zone. Do it! You've got to do it.”
After watching the show’s first official trailer, people began to notice an emphasis on particular numbers throughout the footage. Ginnifer Goodwin, who appears in an episode called “Point of Origin,” admitted at the premiere that numbers do play a role, but that was all she could say. When Peele was specifically asked about it, he replied, “No comment. It hasn't even started yet. I can neither confirm nor deny any sort of thread, but I think you'll be pleased when you see the entire season.”
Who Is Starring in the Reboot?
The new cast is a who's who of Hollywood's hottest talent. Expect to see a flurry of top-billed names like Ike Barinholtz, Zazie Beetz, John Cho, Chris Diamantopoulos, Taissa Farmiga, James Frain, Betty Gabriel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Greg Kinnear, Luke Kirby, Amy Landecker, Sanaa Lathan, Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, Chris O’Dowd, Seth Rogen, Adam Scott, Rhea Seehorn, Allison Tolman, Erica Tremblay, Jacob Tremblay, Jonathan Whitesell, Jessica Williams, DeWanda Wise and Steven Yeun in the new series.
The original series featured an array of well-known actors and celebrities -- many of whom appeared on it before they became famous: Robert Redford, Carol Burnett, George Takei, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jonathan Winters, Burgess Meredith, Cloris Leachman and William Shatner, just to name a few.
Are There Any Connections to the Original Series?
“The Easter eggs, we have a ton of them in the series,” Peele told ET, who was sporting a wristwatch similar to the one Serling wore in the original series. (Peele wore it in his scenes for the reboot.) “If you are a fan of the original Twilight Zone, we've got little gifts for you.”
Cast members revealed to ET that several props from the original series will make special appearances, but it’s unclear if they will be integrated into storylines. Greg Kinnear shared that Talking Tina from “Living Doll” can be seen in his episode, titled “The Traveler,” while Kumail Nanjiani revealed that the titular dummy from “The Dummy” has significance in his episode, “The Comedian.” (Fun fact: Producers reached out to magician David Copperfield, who owns the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas, where the prop currently resides.)
According to producer Win Rosenfeld, the new series retains essential aspects of the original series -- both thematically and stylistically. "We're not simply remaking any episodes, but people who are fans of the original are going to find a ton of homage throughout the episodes,” Rosenfeld said at PaleyFest. Past continuations of The Twilight Zone have directly remade classic episodes or produced sequels to them.
The title and teaser trailer for Adam Scott’s episode, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” hints that it will likely be the installment that’s most directly influenced from a plot in the original series. In the 1963 episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” William Shatner portrayed a man being terrorized by the sight of a monster on the wing of his plane mid-flight. In Twilight Zone: The Movie, John Lithgow took up the role in the film version of the story.
There may be other nods to original series plotlines. John Cho’s annoyance with a child who becomes president, played by Jacob Tremblay, is reminiscent of “The Good Life,” which centered on a little boy who had omnipotent powers and the adults who lived in fear of his lethal abilities. Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Comedian” is reminiscent of the many Twilight Zone stories about the dangers of literal wish-fulfillment.
Watch trailers for Kumail Nanjiani and Adam Scott's episodes below.
Care to journey into another dimension of sight, sound and mind? The Twilight Zone launches Monday, April 1 with the first two episodes, exclusively on CBS All Access. Subsequent episodes will debut every Thursday beginning April 11. The original Twilight Zone series can also be streamed in its entirety on CBS All Access.