The popular FAQ book series details numerous subjects of pop culture. Considering the undeniable influence of
The Twilight Zone on many different generations of television viewers, it seems natural that the show should be included in this series. As The Twilight Zone FAQ accurately discloses, the show’s success is partly due to how it has transcended its medium to become part of our lexicon, and even a sort of philosophic approach to dealing with life’s unexpectedness. Through a study of the show’s history and that of its creator, Rod Serling, the book provides a factual approach to the show’s undeniable influence on our culture.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the book is riddled with typographical errors, far more than are usually found in professional publications, a fact that may be more damning of the publisher and editors than of Thompson, who covers plenty of material in an arrangement that is somewhat unusual. The book is divided into sections discussing individual seasons, with historical events mostly in chronological order but with individual episodes addressed in chapters organized according to topic (time travel, robots, space, etc.). The effect of this may be confusing to readers since certain episodes are mentioned in chapters but discussed elsewhere. This occasionally perplexing arrangement is clarified, though, by referential appendixes listing seasons, episodes, and cast in a more straightforward manner.
The book’s organization has one continual thread that assists understanding: biographical information about Rod Serling. Most of this information focuses primarily on his varied roles--creator, developer, writer, narrator, and producer--affecting the show’s influence on American culture. The intricacies of Serling’s work provide fascinating glimpses of his interaction with other writers, including his minor feud with Ray Bradbury. There are also whole chapters dedicated to Serling’s two right-hand men, literary giants Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, who along with Serling were responsible for many of the show’s most enduring episodes. By detailing Serling’s work, Thompson reveals the genius of Serling while also humanizing him. Readers learn of how strongly Serling believed in imagination’s potential to effect social change, but also how he was made weary by the demands of his creation, most notably the sacrifice of storytelling upon the altar of sponsorship in a materialistic world driven by finance. Portraying Serling’s struggles is the book’s triumph: especially the details of his battles against censors, since it is reaffirming to learn of the show’s ability to produce palpable change during its broadcast. The book may continue to assist Serling’s cause since readers learn much about the many ways that medium--and those who control it--influence our entertainment and reception of ideas that, in turn, influence our culture. When combined with various historical details relevant to both show specifics and television production, the book becomes a resource of general information.
That is somewhat problematic, though, because the book is so laden with a direct presentation of facts that it sometimes becomes dull, especially when detailing business financials. The behind-the-scenes feature-style of the
FAQ series makes them susceptible to this, and surely special features never equal the feature presentation, yet this particular book seems to lack analysis more than other
FAQ books. One cannot help but wonder if the sometimes all-too straightforward episode summaries are victims of many factual details and copious research drowning the author’s voice. The book reads as if Thompson sometimes tired of the show similar to how Serling did.
Regardless, fans will no doubt enjoy reminders of their favorite episodes, and they may be excited to learn of episodes they have forgotten or not seen, especially since syndicated television marathons tend toward replaying the same episodes repeatedly. If a print exploration of the show helps fans discover new ways of thinking about their favorite episodes, then the summary-heavy writing can be forgiven and may be more successful than it initially seems. Despite not being a best of the
FAQ series, The Twilight Zone FAQ may prompt increased viewership and new fans, so by encouraging thought and discussion it will likely help the cultural phenomenon of
The Twilight Zone to persist. After all, the show’s legacy is important because the 21st century is a world of technological advancement prompted in part by fantastical imaginings like that of Serling’s creation.
However, our world still struggles with many of the same social afflictions that Serling designed the show to combat. This fact makes the show all the more important, and The Twilight Zone FAQ is one more way, however slight, to help us receive those messages.