On the surface, it may seem like a dream for Twilight Zone fans that every season of the legendary show is now available in new definitive editions. But even a die-hard fan like myself has to admit that these overpriced ($120 msrp!?!) monstrosities should only appeal to completists. It's not that the sets are not put together well (they include a lengthy list of extras and one of the seasons even includes the spectacular 'Twilight Zone Companion' book), but it's the fact that TZ, taken in as seasons, is overloaded with absolute clunker episodes.
Having seen almost every TZ episode, I've estimated that only about 30 percent of them are worthy of your time and there is a fairly large percentage of episodes that barely pass as watchable. When TZ was at its best it presented original stories featuring great acting, directing and maybe even a score by Bernard Herrman or Jerry Goldsmith. But far too many of the episodes feature recycled stories or -- as is the case with many bad TZ eps -- terrible acting and directing. One of my favorite episodes, A Piano in the House, has a fairly unengaging story but is made entertaining by the the actors and the choices made by the director in filming a luxurious, crowded party of the elite.
If you've never seen a truly horrid TZ episode, here's an example of just how bad it can get: the episode Four O'Clock is about a man with a parrot who believes he has the ability to shrink all his enemies to the height of two feet, and all of this will occur at four o'clock, as he tells us many times. But when the time arrives, it is he that shrinks, as his parrot tells him that his feathered friend was the one with the power all along. Ho ho! There are few episodes this bad, but many linger at around this level of quality, which is why you don't need to shell out over $100 for a season set, especially when you can buy the previously released DVDs comprised of four episodes, which now retail for about $6. And I am here with a helpful guide on how to build your TZ collection with only the best episodes, for less than a quarter the price of one of the season sets.
The Twilight Zone, Volume 11
Notable episodes: The Dummy, Living Doll, The After Hours
Pound for pound, this is probably the best $6 TZ disc out there. The After Hours is one of the few truly terrifying episodes out there, about a store's mannequin who has lost her way. The Dummy and Living Doll are scary in their own right, with both also having influenced everything from Child's Play to Treehouse of Horror III.
The Twilight Zone, Volume 8
Notable episodes: Third From the Sun, To Serve Man, The Shelter
To Serve Man is probably the best TZ episode, though not necessarily my favorite, and its 'punchline' was famously skewered by The Simpsons in the original Treehouse of Horror. To Serve Man is helped by easily the best-ever TZ score (Herrman, of course) and also the acting by Richard 'Jaws' Kiel and Lloyd Bochner (one of Lee Marvin's many kills in the wonderful 'Point Blank'). But it's the story that makes To Serve Man so riveting even today (be sure and watch for Russia's representative at the U.N., why is he the only rep who takes out a sandwich to eat while an intelligent alien is addressing the room?). Third From the Sun is a fun and well-directed bit with a nice ending and The Shelter is enjoyable enough, especially since it was wonderfully parodied by The Simpsons in Bart's Comet (noticing a trend here?).
The Twilight Zone, Volume 7
Notable episodes: Shadow Play, The Hitch-Hiker, Perchance to Dream
My favorite of the $6 discs, with Shadow Play being one of my most-loved episodes. It's a gripping, original tale wrought with philosophical questions, a great performance by the late Dennis Weaver and one of the best TZ endings. The Hitch-Hiker also has a great ending and Perchance to Dream stands as one of the more original and unforgettable TZ works (certainly the best of the 'dream' episodes).
More Treasures of the Twilight Zone
Notable episodes: The Masks, Eye of the Beholder, The Howling Man
There were two 'Treasures' discs released in the original lot of TZ DVDs, and this one is not to be missed, although it does still retail for about $15. It's worth it though, as it contains my all-time favorite episode, The Howling Man, one of the series' most famous moments in Eye of the Beholder (the pig people plastic surgery one) and an underrated little masterpiece in The Masks. The Howling Man is worth the price of admission alone, as it's a timeless horror tale about a traveler in Europe who unwittingly releases Satan himself from the clutches of a monestary. It's quite unlike any other TZ episode, perfectly written and directed with a brilliant, 'fuck yeah!' ending. 'Eye of the Beholder' is the much-copied story about a beautiful woman who is viewed as a freak by a society where ugly is the norm. The Masks is underrated as good TZ episodes go, with a truly twisted plot and unforgettable setpieces (where can I buy masks like that??).