Fans of The Twilight Zone haven’t exactly been starved for their beloved show. Numerous DVD and Blu-ray editions have been released over the years – including a definitive boxed set released in 2012 – and anything new may come across as double-dipping in the extreme. But for those unwilling to invest $200 for a complete set, options become a lot trickier. Several “Best of” DVDs have been released in the past to help alleviate it, and now comes a new “Essential Episodes” collection that emulates their formula. We’ve gone way beyond what’s necessary with this series, but if the episodes here fit your needs, it’s an extremely affordable way to get your Zone fix.
The question, of course, is which episodes are contained in the set and whether they match what you’re looking for. Some of them are an absolute necessity, and every set along these lines seem to include them. You can probably name them off by memory: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “It’s a Good Life,” “The Eye of the Beholder,” and “Time Enough at Last” for starters. Beyond that, you slip into the realm of personal opinion, and the question becomes which episodes are most important to the individual buyer.
The Essential Episodes collection does quite well in that regard. In addition to the five listed above, it includes 12 more from across the spectrum. Again, you can spot some of the usual “Best of” suspects: “To Serve Man,” where alien visitors prove less benevolent than they sound; “Nick of Time,” pitting William Shatner against a seemingly prescient novelty device; “The Masks,” where an old man delivers a nasty comeuppance to his horrible family; and “The Howling Man,” where an isolated monastery holds someone they claim is the Devil. Put them together under the modest $20 price on Amazon, and it becomes an easy purchase for fans still looking to add them to their collection.
Go deeper than that, however, and you might have to apply more personal proclivities. None of the remaining episodes are stinkers (and The Twilight Zone had its share, just like any other). They just fall into those second-tier categories that lead to furious online debates. “The Midnight Sun” is a personal favorite, for instance, and I can see the appeal of the likes of “The Invaders” and “The Obsolete Man.” But others, like “Walking Distance” and “The Hitch-Hiker,” fall a lot flatter. (I’d have much preferred the likes of “Steel,” featuring one of Lee Marvin’s best performances, or the nearly wordless “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.")
The good news is that, even if a few of them aren’t what you had in mind, the rest still make for a strong collection. A Blu-ray version would be preferable, of course, but again, the DVD helps keep the price down… which is kind of the point with a set like this. The episodes are presented in an absolutely no-frills format, so don’t expect any extras. However, each one includes a few period promos for other shows on the network, and Rod Serling himself stepping out to tell us what’s coming next week. It adds to the nostalgia factor without adding to the price, a wise move considering how many other options are out there.
Should you buy it? Certainly not if you already own all of the episodes you need, and not if you’re looking for a Blu-ray copy. But for a quick fix that won’t break your bank – something that delivers the very best science fiction and horror ever put on television – then this new collection covers the bases quite nicely. User mileage may vary, but there’s no questioning the quality onscreen.