Consider, if you will, blogger Kate Everson on New Years Eve. The task of writing her recap-and-resolution post has been calling her all day. But so has the Syfy channel’s annual Twilight Zone marathon.
Growing up in the Netflix-free era of VCR recorders and paper channel guides, the Twilight Zone marathons on Syfy (or Sci-Fi as it was called back then) were a staple of the New Year holiday. Now that the entire series is available online without commercials, there’s little reason for anyone to tune in for even one 20-minute episode divided by 10 minutes of ads. But there’s something wonderfully communal about turning on Channel 177 (it used to be 27 about 15 years ago) and knowing that a large number of people are seeing the same episode at the same time.
In an era of individualized entertainment at our fingertips, it’s a small way that many of us who value classic television — or just being made to think by what we watch — come together at the same time. We’re all experiencing the same societal truths that Rod Serling saw as important to convey through horror 50-plus years ago, and more often than not we find them just as pertinent today.
As I write this, “The Chaser” is on. It’s the episode when a man gives a love potion to a woman who despises him. It works, and Leela becomes annoyingly attentive to him. The “be careful what you wish for” theme is a recurring one (see “The Man in the Bottle” in which a genie grants a man’s wish for total power over a country by turning him into Hitler), but it’s one that sums up how many Trump voters chanting “Drain the swamp!” and “Lock her up!” are starting to feel.
According to the Xfinity Guide (another innovation we didn’t have when I first discovered the marathon), at 4 p.m. SyFy is playing one of the most rattling episodes, “The Obsolete Man,” in which a librarian is condemned to death because his profession is no longer required — a scary one for anyone who calls themselves part of the media during the Trump administration. At 5:30 is “The Encounter,” where a World War II veteran and Japanese-American are trapped in an attic together. Connect that metaphor to any division in our current climate, from a cop and Black Lives Matter protester to the U.S. president-elect and the father of a deceased Muslim soldier.
These are the newest additions to my growing “More Relevant Than Ever” list, which includes things like Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin,'” released weeks before Richard Nixon resigned; 1947’s Gentlemen’s Agreement starring Gregory Peck as a journalist posing as a Jew to uncover everyday antisemitism in California society; and, to bring it full circle to Twilight Zone, “Death’s Head Revisited” about a Nazi reminiscing as he tours Dachau with the ghosts of his victims. All these decades-old pieces of art act as a reminder that when history repeats itself, it doesn’t leave the nasty bits behind.
I was originally going to write a 2017 kick-off post about these three things, but then I realized it would start the year in a very pessimistic way, which is easy to do when 2016 was such an awful year in the world. But for this blogger, at least, 2016 was an amazing year for me on a personal level, even though it seems everyone else had a rough time of it.
“Somewhere along the way, I just forgot the good things,” Jack Klugman just said on my TV during the next episode, “A Passage for Trumpet,” as if prompting me to take at least a moment to recognize the incredible things I did in the last 366 days: Starting the year in London, experiencing a microgravity flight, moving into a downtown Chicago highrise, seeing the original cast of Hamilton on Broadway and continuing growing my friendships and career.
But I’m insanely lucky because some of my extended family and friends had 2016s to match the disastrous year that the rest of the world experienced, from Brexit and the U.S. election to the Turkish coup, European terror attacks, ongoing horrors in Syria and a number of other things that have probably slipped my mind.
As I figure out a way to transition to my thoughts on the year ahead, Twilight Zone episode “Mr. Bevis” is on now. It’s about a kindhearted oddball who loses his job, car and home, only to have his guardian angel show him that he can become more successful if he replaces his eccentric optimism with cold conformity. A similar episode, “Cavender is Coming” puts Carol Burnett in the same situation. Both Bevis and Burnett’s Agnes Grep face a lifestyle filled with the same desolation that 2016 brought a lot of my loved ones, but they always face the future with childlike joy that helps them manage the worst of times.
“Mr. James B.W. Bevis, who believes in a magic all his own: The magic of a child’s smile, the magic of liking and being liked, the strange and wondrous mysticism that is the simple act of living,” Serling’s voice-over says, closing the episode as Bevis drives away in his beater of a car, just fine being jobless and homeless if it means he can continue being unreservedly himself.
I think Twilight Zone just ended this blog post for me. What a way to approach a new year: By attacking 2017 with the same passion that Bevis does and refusing to sacrifice it even if it’s easier to fall into the pit of pessimistic apathy. I’m not saying that we dance so fast we don’t notice the music, but that we face our goals — be they to improve ourselves, the world or both — with ambition, creativity and commitment. This year, don’t just “be you.”Be you unapologetically.
And don’t miss your chance to, like Bevis and this New Year’s Eve blogger, find hope in your own corner of the Twilight Zone.