'The Twilight Zone' Season 2 Review: Jordan Peele's anthology is a drag despite major 'Black Mirror' vibes
Spoilers for 'The Twilight Zone' Season 2
A good horror neither needs supernatural entities nor blood, gore, and murder to send shivers down the spine. Take Rod Serling's timeless classic 'The Twilight Zone' for example; the late host and narrator's biggest with the '60s anthology horror was just as unsettling and weird it could get. Perhaps what worked best for Serling was the creative innovative elements he could pull in, which is something that has been done and dusted too far and too much by now for an auteur like Jordan Peele to make his mark in the same niche genre. Following suit of some new-age classics like 'Black Mirror' and the millions of Lifetime Network slasher thrillers, most of Peele's reboot's debut season failed to strike the way his Oscar-winning 'Get Out' had. Sadly, despite him finally scripting an episode for the first time since creating the reboot, the second time is clearly not the charm.
Borrowing amply from the groundbreaking 'Her', Peele's anthology kicks off its second season with 'Meet in the Middle' that matches Joaquin Phoenix's love with the AI concept. Jimmi Simpson stars as the lonely, anxiety-riddled middle-aged Phil, who can't get along with women he meets on dating apps, but strikes the creepiest telepathic connection with a woman Annie, who lives across the country. Thus plays out the entire initial plot of 'Her', with the imminent sadness to come when Annie shuts off for a few weeks, and Phil goes bonkers. Things get exceedingly messy when Annie and Phil decide to meet and he travels four hours just to see her. The very altruistic romance drama soon escalates to a Lifetime thriller when Annie's true intentions behind meeting Phil are revealed.
The second episode sees Morena Baccarin as an avatar in a plot that looks too similar to Amazon Prime Video's latest comedy 'Upload'. Except in 'Upload' dead people can live an AI-enabled afterlife if they can afford it, and in the Baccarin starring 'Downtime', people can live as avatars living a whole other life, in their sleep. Baccarin's Michelle gets a promotion only to find that she isn't real, but just a fictional entity living a life in another man's dream. With the said man's death comes the obvious threat of the service looking to shut Michelle's existence off and she can't let that happen. Thus begins the run and chase of a plot -- among many others to follow -- that feels suited more in a wannabe grim 'Black Mirror' remake, than Serling's legacy, which should be enough to sail this reboot that achieves little.
Even though 'Downtime' was written by Peele himself, with the element of social satire intact, it fails to strike us as crucial as his 'Get Out' had. Snooty people looking for free hotel room upgrades and the affluent affording to live a full life even in their entity could have been explored a little further, at least with some satirical elements jazzing up the show. But Peele doesn't take the chance, just like Episode 3 'The Who of You' fails to explore its biggest advantage: Billy Porter. Reduced to a tiny, albeit flashy role of a fortune teller, Porter's character is alive in a story revolving around Ethan Embry as a failed actor and husband.
Kind of like Andrew Scott's character from Black Mirror's 'Smithereens', Embry's Harry goes rogue and decides to rob a bank. In the middle of the heist somehow, only at middle age suddenly realizes he has a superpower of swapping bodies with anybody he makes eye contact with. It's unrealistic and doesn't take the chances it should have, considering the added time this season dedicates to episodes that could have frankly been wrapped in short-film time limits. It's interesting how a failed actor embodies other people so effortlessly, with such ease, and that subtle blink-and-you-miss-it significance of the plot is The Who of You's biggest savior.
Serling's succinct authenticity that would creep out millions within just 20 minutes or so is lost on Peele's reboot even at two years old. It is only with the hilariously orchestrated 'You Might Also Like' starring Gretchen Mol that the reboot comes alive in all its satirical glory. Mol's harried housewife is equally awed and disturbed by her filthy rich aloof neighbors and their fixation with a gadget called the 'Egg' which is somehow instrumental to their family's well being. For the first time, Peele's alarming reminder as the narrator transporting us to a whole other dimension stands true with the episode's hues and undertones painting an air of all things menacing foreboding, and possibly extraterrestrial. Not to forget all the classic nods this episode offers 'To Serve Man' from Serling's original.
What really impresses the regular horror lover is the way each actor pours their heart out to a role that wouldn't seem compelling, had they not been filled by the people who did. While Simpson is a pro at playing the not-so-nice-guy on the brink of a breakdown, even as a voice entity speaking in Phil's mind, Gillian Jacobs stands out as the sinister Annie, who is frantic, calm, and insidious at the same time. Greta Lee, who will forever be known as the "Sweet Birthday Baby" woman from 'Russian Doll' somehow manages to outdo Mol's emotions even though her own character doesn't display any. Take these crucial elements out and all you have is the eerie opening intro to look forward to in a remake that everybody had high hopes for. We'd like to think this isn't all that the man who gave us 'Get Out' is capable of. Perhaps Peele is just getting started after all.
'The Twilight Zone' Season 2 is now available for streaming only on CBS All Access.