[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “The Twilight Zone” Episode 1, “The Comedian,” and Episode 2, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.”]
CBS All Access’ reimagining of “The Twilight Zone” delivers true anthology storytelling in that each episode is a standalone plot than can be enjoyed all by itself. But for “Twilight Zone” diehards, the reboot also has fun paying homage to Rod Serling’s classic series through visual, character, or narrative references. They’re not only an entertaining way to honor the show’s roots, but each nod to the past also creates a connection to the present — as if they all exist in the same universe, or zone.
The new “Twilight Zone” also adds to the mythology with its own references within Jordan Peele’s rebooted universe, creating new connections that knit the episodes together in spirit.
“We’ll always try to integrate the world as much as possible, both with the original series and with our own series to try to build out and lean on that mythology to make it something big,” executive producer Win Rosenfeld told IndieWire. “But we always want to be careful also not to just be irritating.”
The new series wastes no time with the homage in the very first frame of the first episode “The Comedian.” The camera starts on the back wall of a comedy club that features a mural painted to look like an extension of the room with formally dressed patrons sitting in an auditorium. Some of the most grotesque faces in the audience may look familiar.
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“That was Michael Wylie, our production designer. Michael had the idea and we all really liked the idea,” said executive producer Simon Kinberg. “There’s a lot of secrets that are buried in the show that get threaded together over the span of the season. That’s one thread that begins something larger.”
Below, check out a breakdown of the classic and new universe references found within the first two episodes of “The Twilight Zone”:
“The Comedian” Classic References
- That comedy club mural: In the back of Eddies comedy club is a photo mural in which a few audience members’ faces appear distorted in such a way that they resemble the grotesque visages in two classic episodes. “Eye of the Beholder” is the bizarre episode where a woman who looks normal is considered “hideous” while all the hospital staff around her have pig-nosed, gruesome faces. In “The Masks,” a greedy and callous family are forced to wear monstrous masks that transform their real faces to reflect their nasty natures. The theatrical drama and comedy masks in “The Comedian” that flank the stage also have a distinct pig-nosed appearance.
- Donner: The drunk-misogynist comic Joe Donner (Toby Hargrave) is likely named for classic “Twilight Zone” director Richard Donner.
- Willie the Ventriloquist dummy: Backstage in the dressing room, a dummy is seen similar to the creepy Willie who talks to his ventriloquist Jerry (Cliff Robertson) from the classic episode, “The Dummy.”
- Cadwallader: The name Al Cadwallader can be seen in the contact list for Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani). A person named Mr. Cadwallader is the alter ego of the devil who tempts a mean hypochondriac with immortality in the episode “Escape Clause.”
- James Corry: Another one of Samir’s phone contacts. In the classic episode “The Lonely,” James A. Corry is a man sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid in 2046 when he’s given a female robot companion.
- Henry Corwin: Another Samir contact, Henry Corwin is also the name of a drunken department store Santa in the episode “Night of the Meek.”
- Al Denton: Another Samir contact, this is also the name of the drunken quick draw cowboy from the old episode “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”
- James Embry: Another Samir contact, this is also the name of a bomber captain who crash-landed in the desert during World War II in “King Nine Will Not Return.”
- ”Mouth” McGarry: This name is seen onscreen as one of Samir’s old high school buddies. It’s also the name of the manager of a lousy baseball team, the Hoboken Zephyrs, in the comedic episode “The Mighty Casey.”
- Paul Grinstead: Another one of Samir’s old high school contacts, this is a man who comes to the aid of the frightened woman in the classic episode “Mirror Image” in which she claims she’s seen her doppelgänger at a train station. This episode is also the inspiration for Peele’s “Us.”
- Joey Crown: Another blast from Samir’s past, this is the name of the trumpet player from the meditative episode “A Passage for Trumpet.”
- William “Fitz” Fitzgerald: This is a name that can be seen on the wall of the dressing room. It’s also the name of the poor WWII lieutenant who could see when a fellow soldier was about to die in fatalistic episode “The Purple Testament.”
- Kanamit: Dee Dee (Diarra Kilpatrick) can be seeing drinking Kanamit lager from a bottle. This also happens to be the name of the alien race that sees humans as a delicacy in that infamous episode, “To Serve Man.”
“The Comedian” Miscellaneous References
- ”The Shining”: Just like how Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance is seen in the vintage 1921 ballroom photograph at the end of the movie, Samir Wassan is seen in the mural at the end of the episode. It’s unclear if it’s because he has become one with “The Twilight Zone” or if this is an indication that he was a reincarnation of another person. Either way, it’s pretty trippy.
- Louis D. Brandeis: Rena’s law mentor David paraphrases the famous American associate justice on the Supreme Court who once said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Basically, he’s talking about transparency in Samir’s act setting him free.
”Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” Classic References
- ”Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”: While it’s clear this new episode was inspired by the classic one with William Shatner as a passenger who sees a gremlin on the airplane’s wing, there are also some very specific callbacks. The wife of Justin Sanderson (Adam Scott) refers to his psychiatrist Dr. Cravat. Nick Cravat is the original stunt performer inside that gremlin suit. Later in the updated episode, a toy-sized version of the gremlin can be seen washing up on shore after the plane crashes.
- Beaumont: Charles Beaumont wrote for the classic “Twilight Zone.” Here, Chris Diamantopoulos plays Joe Beaumont.
- Whipple: This is the brand name of the old MP3 player Justin Sanderson finds in the seat-back pocket with the fateful podcast on it. In the classic series, Wallace V. Whipple owns a manufacturing corporation that eventually gets taken over by automated machines in “The Brain Center at Whipple’s.”
- Donner: Nicholas Lea plays Captain Donner in this episode while Richard Donner directed the classic Shatner episode.
- Flight 22: The “Enigmatique” podcast mentions the “crash of TransEast Airlines Flight 22 out of Miami Beach,” which is reference to the plane that exploded upon takeoff that professional dancer Liz Powell just missed taking in the episode “Twenty Two.”
- Flight 107: The “Enigmatique” podcast mentions the “anomaly of Global Airlines Flight 107 out of Buffalo,” which is a reference to the classic episode “The Arrival” in which that flight lands safely without crew or passengers aboard.
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”Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” Reboot References
- ”The Wunderkind”: Below the magazine Justin Sanderson wants is another magazine featuring the face of Oliver Foley (Jacob Tremblay) from an upcoming episode.
- ”The Comedian”: Above the magazine Justin Sanderson wants is another magazine featuring the face of Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani).
- Mission to Mars: This is very likely a reference to a later episode that stars DeWanda Wise and Jessica Williams. Footage showing them in space suits sporting a “Bradbury Heavy” patch hints at a possible mission to Mars since Ray Bradbury famously wrote “The Martian Chronicles.
”Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” Miscellaneous References
- Podcasts: The “Enigmatique” podcast featuring host Rodman Edwards sounds an awful like the real-life “Hardcore History” podcast whose host Dan Carlin actually lent his voice for this episode.
- ”The X-Files”: ”X-Files” scribe Glen Morgan collaborated on this episode, and several connections are seen. Nicholas Lea who played Alex Krycek from that series is here playing Captain Donner, and the early scenes where Justin Sanderson goes through security has two images that recall the “X-Files” opening credits. First, when he goes through the scanner and his body’s image is seen on screen, and then when the TSA agent holds his blue-gloved hand up to the camera.
New episodes of “The Twilight Zone” will be released Thursdays beginning April 11 on CBS All Access.