THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Season 2, Episode 8
“A Small Town”
Available on CBS All-Access
After invasions of our planet by octopi and aliens and examinations of trust, the price of fame, and what it means to be a friend, the second season lightens up a bit with “A Small Town”, a moral tale about power and how it can corrupt even the best of people, an episode which sounds heavy but comes across as a fairly easy-going, gentle parable.
Jason Grant (Damon Wayans Jr. of TV’s Happy Endings and New Girl) is a handyman living in Littleton, a small town that’s slowly falling apart ever since the tragic death of Jason’s wife who used to be the mayor. Her associate, Mayor Conway (David Krumholtz of TV’s Numb3rs and The Plot Against America), has taken over the role and has driven Littleton into the ground. Potholes are everywhere. Trees grow out of control. Buildings are falling apart or need new paint jobs and businesses are under foreclosure because they can’t afford to stay open.
All while Conway drives around in a beautiful red Corvette with his hot blonde wife and grins like an idiot to the townsfolk.
Worse yet, still stinging from his wife’s death and watching his town crumble around him, Jason has lost hope that Littleton will ever return to it’s former glory. Still, some of the townsfolk put on a happy face. One of them, Emilio (Andrew Alvarez in his television debut), a frequent visitor to Jason, makes the best of things by creating exaggerated caricatures, drawings, and murals of Mayor Conway’s many embarrassments, while the town’s pastor, Michelle (Paula Newsome of TV’s Barry and Chicago Med) encourages Jason to move on with his life after he offers to clean out the church’s attic where he lives. It’s at that point that Jason discovers a scale model replica of the entire town hidden under a blanket.
At first, Jason’s in awe of the detail and is even more impressed when he finds that the town is built on top of some sort of mechanism with wheels and gears which powers the lights of the town. But it isn’t until he goes to clean the model’s church steeple window that he’s really taken by surprise: when he sprays the glass, it rains outside. To test the theory that what he does to the model affects the town, Jason repaints the model’s town diner — which also repaints the real thing. “Let there be light,” Jason remarks before he fixes the town’s lighting system. But, even as he helps his fellow citizens, they all think that Mayor Conway is the one behind all the improvements. This drives Jason nuts…so, he “pranks” Conway by dropping a rock on his prized Corvette (which is the size of a meteor in the real world) and chases him through town using his pet tarantula. But is it really a “prank” or is it the act of a spiteful, vengeful, corrupt “god”, drunk on his own power?
Yeah, “A Small Town” is the fluff-side of The Twilight Zone. The show has seen plenty of it through the years. That isn’t to say that it’s bad. The episode is actually very good. It doesn’t hammer you over the head with its lesson, favoring a more gentle approach not unlike a parable or a light-hearted sermon. The only issue with the episode is that, like Emilio’s drawings, the characters can be considered caricatures. You can tell who the good guys are just by looking at them. The good guys are casual, relaxed, rational. The bad guys have cartoon billboards, smarm, or long yokel-esque beards. That aside, the performances in this episode are good. The great thing about characters being reduced to caricatures is that everyone’s either giving perfectly understated performances or over-the-top showcases. The episode also has some great visuals, especially when Jason’s altering the town.
The heart of the episode, however, lies with the emotional foundation of Jason being a widower to a wife who cared about her town. It fuels everything going forward. It’s a cheap tactic but it works even if the episode struggles to tie up all the loose ends it happens to create. The Twilight Zone is about where it was at last year with about half of its episodes finishing well across the finish line. Luckily, “A Small Town” is buoyed by a re-worked gimmick, decent writing, and a lighthearted atmosphere.
LOST IN THE ZONE
- THE TWIST (SWIPE IF YOU WANT TO SEE IT): Jason admits to the town that he’s responsible for all the positive changes that have happened within the town. Later, Mayor Conley (with a police escort) arrive at the attic in the church to see what Jason’s doing. They discover the model of the town and attempt to take it from Jason, who gets into a struggle over it. In the struggle, the model is jarred and shaken, causing a massive earthquake which causes damage to Littleton. After the quake, Jason takes off his gold wedding band and places it on the model, in the street. He goes out to the street to meet with the Pastor Michelle and the two talk things over. She asks how Littleton will get back on its feet financially. Jason says that he thinks that’s taken care of…and nudges toward a huge gold ring in the road the size of a truck.
- The model table ends up at a slant after the struggle with Conley. It’s weird that they didn’t do something with that. I know people wouldn’t be able to stand up if the earth was slanted but as Jason explains, “I don’t think it works anymore,” so perhaps the “God” effect was broken once the table was broken.
- That tarantula sequence is absolutely as horrifying as it is effective. Once again, it reminds me of the ’85 incarnation of The Twilight Zone. Very cool.
- Jason sits in the diner, reading a book called “Surviving the Void”. Not really an easter egg, per se, but doing some research, “Surviving the Void” is a phrase often used among people who believe in metaphysics. The “void” is often a “blank slate” from which a dreamer is supposed to work, so that’s quite the appropriate metaphor for this episode.
- EASTER EGGS:
- The “Busy Bee Diner” makes another appearance here. That’s been featured throughtout Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone.
- Inside the “Busy Bee” is the devil fortune teller machine featured in the classic Zone episode, “Nick of Time”. You’ll recall that it was also at the “Busy Bee” in the 2019 episode, “Replay.”
- One of the items that Jason clears from the church attic is a suitcase which is the exact same suitcase featured in the classic Zone episode, “Mirror Image.”
- Jason’s pet tarantula has a sign inside his tank that reads “Mr. Wylie.” This is a reference to the show’s production designer, Michael Wylie.