The first episode of the much anticipated reboot of The Twilight Zone, executive produced and narrated by Jordan Peele, is freely available to watch online. Future episodes are solely available on CBS All Access.
Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was undoubtedly influential. Unfortunately, that influence could spell doom for the 2019 iteration. The concept of science fiction O. Henry storytelling—intriguing premises taken to their ironic ends—is not as novel as it once was.
Most notably, The Twilight Zone 2019 has a hurdle to jump over in the massively popular anthological science fiction streaming series that took its lead from Serling’s creation: Black Mirror. How do you try to compete with the show that is already achieving what you wish to achieve? Hire people from the show, of course.
“The Comedian,” a tale of a failing stand-up comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) who is given the ability to succeed at his craft (with unintended consequences), is directed by Owen Harris. Harris served as director on the Black Mirror episodes “San Junipero” and “Be Right Back.”
In “The Comedian,” Harris chooses to use the grotesque bending of wide angle lenses to create discomfort, which can be distracting from the already discomforting premise at work in the narrative. Unlike his Black Mirror episodes, which are more restrained and elegant than the average Black Mirror episode, “The Comedian” is more aesthetically clunky.
What always carries the load, though, in The Twilight Zone is the narrative. In the case of “The Comedian,” it is clever but lacking.
The conceit of the episode makes cheeky use out of the notion of “killing” in comedy. And the implications of the newfound power on Samir Wassan (Nanjiani) is certainly felt in the performance. But the premise clearly leads to a final, binary choice. While this is certainly not unheard of in the realm of The Twilight Zone, the easily foreseen linear paths of Samir leave the drama fairly inert.
In the end, “The Comedian” may not function effectively as the splashy marketing that CBS is hoping for, especially considering they are using it as an attempt to convert people to their All Access platform. But the episode has strong performances from Nanjiani and Diarra Kilpatrick, and it certainly exemplifies the show’s effort to fit into the The Twilight Zone brand.
“The Comedian:” C+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)