The highly anticipated first episode of The Twilight Zone (2019) presented by Jordan Peele comes in the wake of the success of his recent film Us (2019) – a representation of society’s worst flaws like its predecessor, Get Out (2017) – that has enjoyed wild success in recent weeks.
Directed by Owen Harris (Black Mirror) and written by Alex Reubens (Rick and Morty), “The Comedian” is a surreal morality play with an unusual (and delightfully literal) twist that relies on the same thoughtful shot progression, skewed visual perspectives, and framing that made the original The Twilight Zone (1959) an instant cult classic that has never lost its appeal.
The first episode features a young comedian, Samir (played by Kumail Nanjiani) grinding night after night in the comedy club where he hopes to catch his big break. It’s been five years with the support of his girlfriend but his material, boring but relevant social commentary on a major issue of the day, continues to fall flat while the need to make the rent is an ever-pressing reality.
The characteristic disturbing Twilight Zone twist comes in the form of a morality question raised by Tracy Morgan as J.T. Wheeler, a veteran comedian well-known at the comedy club Eddies (watch the episode for a great grammar twister on the use of apostrophes). He advises Samir to give something personal each night but warns that the audience will consume it and make it their own. When Samir tests his idol’s advice it proves to be both successful and lethal; each night as he takes the stage Samir must choose between professional success and the existential crisis that results from erasing people and events from existence.
Overall, the episode successfully felt well-rounded with both the nostalgic feeling of the bizarre and unusual that The Twilight Zone is known for and the biting social commentary that Peele, Harris, and Reubens are all known for. Tracy Morgan is demonized delightfully with vape and brings the whole Devil Went Down to Georgia vibe that this episode lives for.
The argument for what the acceptable cost of success is, between “killed” and “unkilled,” and between murder and never having existed at all plays out on the background of a person who has tried desperately to follow their passion only to see it slipping through their fingers into the hands of another. Universal fears and truths speak to the heart and one wonders what they would sacrifice to have their dreams and punish their enemies.