[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Season 1 finale of The Twilight Zone. Read at your own risk!]
With its first season finale, The Twilight Zone entered a whole new dimension.
Jordan Peele's reboot of the iconic sci-fi anthology series broke the fourth wall in its playfully meta Season 1 finale. "Blurryman" follows Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a writer on Peele's Twilight Zone reboot whose experience on set takes a turn for the eerie when she becomes the target of a shadowy figure who's been lurking in the background of the show all season. A diehard fan of Rod Serling's original series, Sophie now finds herself in her very own episode of The Twilight Zone -- literally — as she's pushed to reconsider her opinions on the purpose of art and entertainment. When her life turns to black and white and she steps into a set reminiscent of the 1959 classic "Time Enough at Last," Sophie discovers that Blurryman is none other than a CGI Serling himself, inviting her to embrace her childlike sense of wonder and join him in the Twilight Zone.
Executive producer Simon Kinberg, who directed "Blurryman," spoke with TV Guide over email about expanding the bounds of The Twilight Zone, paying tribute to Rod Serling, and that surprise appearance from Jason Priestley.
The finale's Rod Serling "cameo" was exciting — where did that idea come from? Practically, were there any challenges to making it happen?
Simon Kinberg: It was something that Jordan Peele and I talked about in our first meeting. We talked about this idea that the Twilight Zone was a real place, and that Rod was maybe trapped in that place, and would come back in our show watching over it, as he does as the "Blurryman" in every episode of the first season. It was a way to pay homage to the originals and feel Rod's presence and inspiration, while doing something obviously very, very different.
Mark Silverman is credited as voicing Serling. Is that all his voice, or are there any audio clips of the actual Serling in there?
Kinberg: You wouldn't want me to give away the magic, would you? The monologue is not Rod's voice, but we have Rod's voice at other points in the show as the static you hear faintly when Zazie's character gets too close to the shadowy man.
Did the conversations in this episode about the purpose of The Twilight Zone mirror any conversations in the writers' room over the course of the season?
Kinberg: Definitely. And they are the kinds of conversations that we have not only as artists but see reflected in criticism and awards, etc. One of the things that Jordan's work has done really uniquely is combine "high art" and genre storytelling (traditionally considered a "lower" art form), and we wanted to challenge the "either/or" of that with the show, as the original show was obviously as ambitious and political as anything out there.
What did you ultimately want this episode to say about The Twilight Zone and about storytelling in general?
Kinberg: We had a lot of things we wanted to say with the show. But one of them was definitely that the hierarchy between "high" and "low" art is false, and great stories in genre can have just as much artistic merit as dramas or storytelling without a supernatural element.
The closing monologue sounded like a mission statement for this reboot. Does it indicate a new, potentially more playful direction for next season?
Kinberg: I think it's the mission statement of the entire series from the start — to look at the world in a different way. The Twilight Zone as a show (and I guess as a universe) is a lens that forces people to see things as they are, and as they could be, rather than the ways that prejudice (prejudice about art, or about social politics or anything) teach us.
Obviously the most explicit nods in this finale were to "Time Enough at Last." What is it about that episode that you thought worked well with this story?
Kinberg: We all just love that story. And we all felt that Zazie's character Sophie was living in her head a little bit like the Burgess Meredith character in that original episode, so we made a few explicit allusions.
Were there any other original episodes you used as inspiration?
Kinberg: Not really. "Time Enough" was the main one, but the idea for doing a meta episode was something that came out of that original meeting with Jordan, when we were trying to come up with original places we could go with the show that the original couldn't have.
How did that Jason Priestley cameo come about?
Kinberg: In wanting things to be "real" and meta, I wanted the "show within the show within the show" (haha!) to have real actors who happened to be filming in Vancouver when we were up there. So I got a list of potential actors up there. And the second I saw Jason, I said "him!" I grew up on 90210, it's been such a seminal part of my childhood, I thought the connection between experiencing something on TV and the mark it makes on your imagination and subconscious was implicit in casting Jason. He was such a gentleman and great guy to work with. It was really a thrill for me, maybe the most surreal part of directing the whole show.
The Twilight Zone Season 1 is available to stream on CBS All Access.
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