Rod Serling’s fabulous series, still haunting in daytime reruns on Sci-Fi Channel, goes through the remake mill and comes up with so-so results that fail to capture the psychologically disturbing nature of so many of the original episodes. UPN is running a double bill of episodes that play like mini-MOWs, and the first two start out with suitably creepy tones before descending into melodrama (“Evergreen”) and the obvious (“One Night at Mercy”).
The more successful of the two is “One Night at Mercy,” ostensibly a two-hander involving a doctor (Tyler Christopher) and a mysterious patient who has attempted suicide and goes by the name of Death (Jason Alexander). Turns out Death isn’t lying, he is indeed the grim reaper, and he’s looking to quit his depressing day job. His depression, he says, dates back to the 1300s.
With the usual “Zone” accoutrements — there’s a lightning storm outside during their tete-a-tete that causes a power outage — the two hash over the implications of Death hanging it up, or even taking a day off. Alexander does a reasonable job expressing his haggardness; Tyler is oh-so-Zone-ish in his intensity as the young doctor. Eventually, after crash victims are wheeled in, and they show no vital signs but are still alive, the doctor contends “life without you isn’t a miracle; it’s a curse.” And Death goes back to work.
“Evergreen” finds the Winslow family moving to Evergreen Estates in the hope of shaping up rebel daughter Jenna. Drugged by a glass of lemonade, Jenna wakes up with tattoos, piercing and dyed hair removed, her clothes now khaki and white and her CD collection banished.
Her immediate thought is to break out, and she finds a compliant spirit in neighbor Logan, who’s interested in breaking drugs, sex and drinking rules with Jenna. His fear — and the fear of all these kids — is being sent to some institution called Arcadia, and after a community vote, he is banished. The melodrama enters as Jenna feels an even greater need to escape. Arcadia, it turns out, is worse than anyone can imagine.
Direction by Allan Kroeker (“Evergreen”) and Peter O’Fallon (“One Night at Mercy”) is as crisp as can be expected, though both are missing that element of creepiness that made the originals tick.
Mark Snow mixes up the music nicely, spiraling electronica through “Evergreen” and doing variations of the “Twilight Zone” theme for “Mercy.”
Forest Whitaker plays the Serling role announcing the stories with the originator’s cadence intact.