Better Television Show? Twilight Zone Vs. Outer Limits
The early 1960s were almost a magical time for science fiction anthology series. The Twilight Zone was a series of morality plays that played out in a science fiction universe. The Outer Limits was a science fiction series in which you could occasionally attach a moral at the end. The best of both series could have worked as a show in either series. The debate over which was better and why started almost as soon as both series were on the air. Now, we take that debate to Versus Battle. You are now the judge.
The Twilight Zone
The original Twilight Zone was a triumph on several levels. Like Star Trek , which would come later, The Twilight Zone largely avoided censorship by commenting on contemporary events by putting them in a fantastical universe. Rod Serling had often dealt with such issues on previous shows and teleplays that Serling had worked on. The writing talent did not stop at Serling either. Writers such as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and Earl Hamner (who went on to do The Waltons ) created corners of the universe unexplored by Serling’s own experience. The Twilight Zone also had an eye for talent featuring actors such as Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds before they became household names. The best Twilight Zone episodes are like the short stories of O’Henry or Aesops fables. Even in this age of purely digital media, Twilight Zone episodes can be passed down through an oral tradition and storytelling in a way other television can’t. In that way, the original series seems to have transcended mere television into becoming a uniquely American form of fable writing. In addressing issues rather than specific events, The Twilight Zone is allowed to have a timeless almost universal quality.
The bend of The Outer Limits was much to tell science fiction related stories. Therefore, the ‘Monster a week’ format that Serling shied away from Limits fully embraced. As such, The Outer Limits used some of the best science fiction writers of the day (such as Harlan Ellison.) The Outer Limits episodes played out better in a longer format. They tended to seem more like mini-movies. An Outer Limits episode could more easily get lost in telling a fantastical tale with no clear cut virtue. In addition, the Outer Limits had a very successful modern revival whereas attempts to bring back the magic of The Twilight Zone often suffered shorter and unsuccessful fates. The Outer Limits was also directly influential on later science fiction. For example, many props from the Outer Limits were re-used in Star Trek. We owe the fact that Spock has pointy ears directly to The Outer Limits. The Outer Limits also had an eerie sense of advancements not yet made or not yet known. The had an episode featuring a Chinese infiltration of the White House as well as soldiers being brainwashed on a faraway planet. Modern fare, such as the Terminator series, is a direct result of The Outer Limits.
If you look at the credits of The Twilight Zone, you will notice a curious but not unintentional phenomenon. Practically everyone who worked behind the scenes or wrote on the Twilight Zone was male. As such, the irritant or outright villainous characters are women. Often, hen pecking shrews are the crux of the problem. Also, women seems more likely to meet bad ends or to be confused as crazy. In addition, Serling’s heavy writing load tended to mean that some of his later episodes were progressively preachy and familiar. It is not that they were necessarily bad but more predictable than his earlier work. Also, the series worked better as a half hour series than when it changed for one season to an hour long format. It was only a season long experiment, but did represent an overall dip in quality. Additionally, there were a few episodes (such as one where a doll turns his handler into a criminal for no adequately explained reason) which seemed to have no real connection to the universe at all. In retrospect, the show also seems to promote several bad habits including chain smoking and nearly universal acceptance of casual or non-casual drinking.
The drawbacks of The Outer Limits was that there was the trap of the ‘monster of the week’ to fall back on. Some episodes took up most of the time introducing how an alien in the environment or the experiment went horribly wrong. That is exactly where it was left too as having gone horribly wrong. There seemed to be a lot of stuff that happened and then the Control Voice took over again. While a bit more perhaps true to what would happen in ‘real life,’ it seemed to suffer thematically as a result. Also, The Outer Limits seemed a bit hampered by budget. The Twilight Zone largely relied on the viewers imaginations to produce an effect. The Outer Limits had the need to actually show you the spacecraft, alien or technology gone awry. Not that much was expected, but it was clearly fake even by the standards of the 1960s. In addition, the human characters in The Outer Limits would often seem to be as much a prop as some of the shiny electrical equipment. There were part of the vision more fully realized by the reboot several decades later.
There are more than enough strengths and weaknesses to both of these iconic series. For some, it is a debate as simple as the one between science and religion. For others, it is a debate as complicated as the one between science and religion. The Twilight Zone is more of a mainstream phenomenon, while the Outer Limits generally has a more ardent loyal fan base. So, after reading the arguments, which side of the debate do you fall into? Or rather, which one would you most like to leave without offense. The Control Voice can take over your television. You have no idea where the Fifth Dimension can take you, Its up to you decide. The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits?