[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for “The Twilight Zone” first season finale, “Blurryman.”]
As the host of CBS All Access’ “The Twilight Zone” reboot, Jordan Peele has admirably taken on the Rod Serling role of providing the intro and outro commentary of each episode. Peele’s appearance before the opening and end credits has kept alive a tradition first started by Serling in October 1959, but it’s one Peele blows up entirely in the reboot’s first season finale, “Blurryman.” The episode’s script, written by Alex Rubens, takes a meta approach to the entire franchise in order to debate popular entertainment and art and figure out how and if “The Twilight Zone” represents an intersection of these terms.
The episode begins resembling a normal installment of “The Twilight Zone.” Seth Rogen and “Get Out” breakout Betty Gabriel appear as a couple living in a fiery apocalyptic future. Peele’s narrator enters to give his intro commentary but cuts off midway annoyed with the dialogue that has been written for him. The episode then goes meta, revealing the setting is the actual set of “The Twilight Zone” and Peele, Rogen, and Gabriel are all themselves (or at least the episode’s version of themselves). Zazie Beetz plays a staff writer on the series named Sophie who is assigned with writing Peele’s opening episode remarks.
“Art vs. entertainment. Why do we need to make it an either or?” Peele asks Sophie, kicking off a debate between the terms that informs the series finale.
“I thought the whole point was the slippery slope from the path from superhero movies or stupid sci-fi crap to idiocracy,” Sophie replies. When Peele snaps back that “The Twilight Zone” falls into the science-fiction genre, Sophie launches into an explanation of what makes the franchise unique.
“Yeah but it’s ‘The Twilight Zone.’ ‘The Twilight Zone’ isn’t just monsters on a plane wing,” the character says. “If there’s nothing being said of importance than it’s just campfire stories…What Rod Serling did was he took this silly genre kids stuff and he elevated it. He made art with it for grown ups…I remember when I was a little girl I would watch the show and think, ‘What is the Twilight Zone? When do we get to the Twilight Zone?’ I was a kid and I didn’t get what was good about every episode, which is why Rod Serling had to come into every episode to remind us that the Twilight Zone isn’t this alternate dimension. What’s good about the show isn’t the genre bullshit, it’s the message.”
But can “genre bullshit” have an artistic message? Just because something is popular, does that mean it can’t also have an artistic value? The debate that kicks off “The Twilight Zone” series finale asks the fundamental questions that are dominating the current Hollywood landscape. Just ask Ethan Hawke, who went viral in August 2018 for criticizing how people in the industry talk about popular superhero movies as if they are comparable to works of cinematic art from masters like Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson. Hawke received a lot of backlash for his comments, with many arguing that a movie like “Avengers: Infinity War” can make record-breaking money while still showing off real artistry.
Where “The Twilight Zone” lands in the art vs. entertainment debate is something Peele’s first season finale wrestles with, but the creator and screenwriter Rubens don’t spoon-feed the viewer an answer. After a middling first season, “The Twilight Zone” reboot roared back to life by confronting its own legacy in a final episode that argued there must be an intersection for popularism and artistry to thrive.
All 10 episodes in “The Twilight Zone” reboot are now streaming on CBS All Access. The series has been renewed for a second season.