By Carmen Saffioti
Published: April 10th, 2019
One of the most iconic television shows ever-made, The Twilight Zone, was given the reboot treatment. The new series is only available on CBS All Access, a streaming service, but the series’ first episode, The Comedian, is available for free on YouTube.
The episode follows struggling comedian Samir (Kumail Nanjiani), and his unrelenting ambition to “make it.” The episode explores the cost of success in the 21st century and has Jordan Peele’s artistic imprint all over it– darkly humorous and reflective of society. The Comedian doesn’t exactly live up to the legacy that the original left behind, but it is intriguing and full of potential in its own right. The real question, however, is the series worth the $15 a month for CBS All Access?
The original anthology was written, produced, and narrated by Rod Serling. The series was a mainstream success when it ran from 1959 to 1964. It was given two revivals previous to Peele’s, one from 1985-89 and one from 2002-03, neither of which, critics say, live up to the artistic value of Serling’s original. There was a lot of rumors about a third revival leading up to the actual announcement in December 2017, Jordan Peele was named to be one of the executive producers following the success of his first feature film Get Out.
Peele was likely put on as one of the producers for the show, not only for his popularity, but because his work has a tendency to incorporate social issues into his themes and messages. This is similar to Serling, whose original anthology brought awareness to issues like class, race, and war. This, may make the third revival the most successful of the three.
Since the first episode was the only episode to premiere so far, audience members cannot binge this series, but instead have to meditate on each episode one week at a time. The Comedian is an interesting debut– it leaves me wondering, however; do the writers have more up their sleeves or is this the best that they got?
The protagonist, Samir, is dorky and relatable, but becomes increasingly unlikable as the episode goes on. While in a bar, Samir runs into a famous comedian played by Tracey Morgan. Morgan gives Samir the power to succeed but only if he “gives” part of his personal life to the audience. Meaning that if Samir mentions someone who he knows personally during his time on stage the audience will break out in guttural laughter, but the person he mentions will cease to exist. The person will not just go missing, rather reality changes so that the person will have never been born. This supernatural concept is a metaphor for how comedians must “give” themselves to the audience, and how, unforgivingly, the audience will consume.
The acting was very solid and definitely gives this third revival a fighting chance of making it. Nanjiani, who is a comedian, and has played a comedian before in his rom-com hit, The Big Sick. Nanjiani truly knows how to explore the complexities and pitfalls of a struggling comedian, probably because he was one and can relate to Samir’s character better than most of the audience. The cinematography of the show is dark, literally. Most of the scenes take place in the dead of night, and the lighting– no matter the setting– is reminiscent of a lowly comedy club. The biggest problem of the episode was its predictability, the final resolution can be seen from a mile away. However, it doesn’t take away from the overall message of the show.