I could easily do an entire series of entries that solely focused on the screenplays written by Rod Serling. Mr. Serling has long been considered one of the greatest-ever writers for television, and it is easy to see why. Even if one discounts the numerous scripts that he wrote for The Twilight Zone, he would still have a record with an incredible output, writing numerous scripts (many of them either award-winning or well known even today) for series such as Playhouse 90, The Lux Video Theatre, Suspense, Kraft Theatre, Studio One, and many, many, many many more.
Heck, even if the only thing he ever wrote was Requiem for a Heavyweight, he would still be worth remembering today.
Anyway, today I want to take a quick look at one episode that he wrote for The Twilight Zone, an episode entitled “The Obsolete Man” which was first broadcast in June of 1961. In some ways this script showcases both the best and the worst of Mr. Serling’s writing at the same time. There are definitely places where it can be seen as heavy-handed and pedantic, but at the same time it has a message that could just as easily have been written today as in the early 60s. As a matter of fact, it seems quite prescient, and worth considering now. Here’s a YouTube clip that combines the opening and closing monologues of the episode.
You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for Mankind – in The Twilight Zone.
Like I said, words that could just as easily have been written today, and considering the current turmoil in so many countries (including our own) over not only human rights, but also the way that we need to respond to the technological advances that have been made in the last few years and how to use those advances in ways that help, rather than cause further problems (unlimited surveillance, the 24/7 news cycle, the loss of privacy due to social media, etc,) and how governments can respond to and use those advances both for good and ill, well…
I’ll stop there, because this is meant to be a post about television, not politics. The point is, simply, that in writing those words, Mr. Serling once again proved himself an insightful commentator not only on the human psyche, but also the human condition.
Unfortunately, there’s also, it seems, no place, even with all of the programming that the networks and cable channels eat up today for the kind of anthology series that would prove conducive for writers of Mr. Serling’s caliber to showcase their works.
Anyway, here’s the full episode for you to watch for yourselves:
Oh, one last note. If you watch the episode, you’ll notice that it features Burgess Meridith, who also stars in my all-time favorite TZ episode “Time Enough At Last”. But that’s a post for another time.
- The Case of the Missing Twilight Zone Season (thenightgallery.wordpress.com)
- TV: TV Club 10: 10 episodes that take viewers into the depths of The Twilight Zone (avclub.com)
- Rod Serling: On how he wishes more writers would put themselves to the test (gointothestory.com)