After a first season that won creator Rod Serling an Emmy for dramatic writing, and earned producer Buck Houghton a Producers Guild Award (along with a Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation), the sophomore season of The Twilight Zone, spanning the fall of 1960 through the spring of 1961, offered another year of outstanding tales of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and the uncategorizably surreal – this time in a shiny new package. Gone was Bernard Hermann's original opening theme, replaced with the now more familiar guitar-and-bongos music of Marius Constant. The opening title sequence was also changed, with the Salvador Dali-like design of the first season replaced by the classic stars-and-signpost collage/montage that's become synonymous with the show. And Serling now appeared on camera at the beginning of each episode (in the first season, only his opening narration was heard), clad in his trademark suits like a Don Draper from the fifth dimension. But no matter how the Zone appeared, its prime draw was its stories.
Serling's two top writers – Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont – continued to contribute first-rate scripts, and this time they were joined by another acolyte of the Ray Bradbury School of Writing – George Clayton Johnson, whose "A Penny for Your Thoughts" (about a wage slave, played by Dick York, who gains the power to read minds) is one of the series' most charming slices of whimsy.
A few of my other favorites from this season…
"Eye of the Beholder" – A bit heavy-handed in its irony-laden message perhaps, but effective nonetheless. Donna Douglas (The Beverly Hillbillies) plays a "disfigured" woman undergoing facial surgery. If it doesn't succeed she'll be sent to a village where her kind is sentenced to live. Of course, beauty is strangely defined in The Twilight Zone.
"Night of the Meek" – The definitive Zone Christmas episode. Art Carney (The Honeymooners) stars as a down-on-his-luck department-store Santa who discovers a bag in which any gift wished for can be found. One of six episodes shot on videotape this season.
"The Invaders" – Agnes Morehead (Bewitched) is an old, lonely farm woman on whose roof lands a tiny flying saucer filled with miniature robot-like creatures in this tale from horror legend Matheson. The resulting battle, in its own small way, rivals anything put on film by James Cameron.
"The Howling Man" – There are plenty of Twilight Zone episodes to feature the Devil, but this one, penned by the brilliant Beaumont, is probably the most memorable. A weary traveler is taken in by some monks who hold a man imprisoned. A man they claim is Satan himself.
As with Image's first season set, season 2 of the Zone looks magnificent in high-def, with the notable exception of the six episodes shot on videotape (an attempt at cost-cutting – much to Serling's chagrin – by CBS chief James Aubrey). But even these episodes look far better than one would expect fifty-year-old video to look. I can certainly live with them; if anything they just make one appreciate the crisp transfer of the other episodes (taken from the original camera negatives and magnetic soundtracks) all the more.
The new Blu-ray package offers another heaping helping of extras that weren't present on the series previous DVD releases. Among them are twenty-five new audio commentaries featuring various Twilight Zone and pop culture writers and historians, including Man Men creator Matthew Weiner (a fellow who knows a thing or two about mid-twentieth-century sensibilities) and original series writer George Clayton Johnson. There are also new interviews with actors Joseph Ruskin and H. M. Wynant, vintage audio interviews with director of photography George T. Clemens and William Tuttle, the Suspense episode "Nightmare at Ground Zero", written by Rod Serling, and fifteen radio dramas featuring Daniel J. Travanti, Jim Caviezel, Jason Alexander, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Jane Seymour, Michael York, Chris McDonald, Henry Rollins, and Stan Freberg, among others.
That's in addition to all the extras from the previous DVD release, which include audio commentaries by actors Donna Douglas, Don Rickles, William Idelson, Bill Mumy, Cliff Robertson, Dennis Weaver and Shelley Berman; "vintage audio recollections" with Buzz Kulik, Douglas Heyes, Maxine Stuart, George Clayton Johnson and Robert Serling; twenty-two isolated music scores by Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Steiner and others; sponsor Billboards; Rod Serling's promos for "Next Week's" show; and plenty more.
Season 2 of The Twilight Zone is another no-brainer purchase for fans of the show. I'm still amazed by how well these episodes hold up after half a century, and still entertained by their perfectly balanced mix of laughs, scares, and insight into the human condition. That signpost up ahead is as bright and as sharp as ever.