This THE TWILIGHT ZONE review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 8
In my spoiler-free review of Season 2 of the new Twilight Zone, I touched upon how the new iteration of the show struggles with delivering lessons. The original Twilight Zone stories were frequently morality plays, with deep themes that commented on current or evergreen societal issues, often in unexpected ways that packed a punch. The 2020 version of the series still attempts to warn viewers against the evils of being shallow or being careful what you wish for, but it never quite says anything deeper about our current state of affairs. Don’t we have enough surface-level parables?
“A Small Town” suffers from this same issue. A cautionary tale about absolute power eventually corrupting absolutely, the dangers of holding personal grudges, and the power of community, it never says anything specific or deep enough to feel like more than a pleasant, if forgettable small town fantasy story. At the root of “A Small Town” is a do-nothing mayor ignoring his crumbling town, then taking credit for its turnaround after the former mayor’s widower discovers a magical scale model replica that allows him to fix the town’s many issues. Clearly, most people would like to escape from real-world politics, but this episode feels it could have gone deeper into the political elements of the story and its real-world parallels. The episode could have taken a sharper look at the sycophantic followers heaping praise on an under-deserving political figure.
That said, “A Small Town” does get a lot right. Longer runtimes have hampered some episodes in this new season, yet this episode is a brisk 35 minutes, establishing backstory, setting, characters, and premise deftly, then wasting no time getting on with the action. That said, maybe a longer runtime would have allowed the episode to go a little further with its themes.
Anyway, David Krumholtz is great as the sleazy mayor, with just the right amount of cartoonish-ness, as is Damon Wayans Jr. as the episode’s lead, Jason. Wayans has been a reliable TV presence for years at this point, but here he plays sensitive, warm, and slightly bitter with an understated quality he’s rarely shown off. It’s not a showy performance, but it’s charming nonetheless. It’s just a shame the episode couldn’t find more meaningful things to do for Natalie Martinez and Paula Newsome.
The production design team looks to have had fun making life-size versions of Jason’s introduced foreign objects, like the rock he uses to smash the Mayor’s car, a new Vegas-esque sign promoting the city, and a giant spider. If only the episode’s big twist could have been as much fun. It was all but inevitable that something bad was going to happen to the model town, destroying the actual town in the process. Thankfully Jason’s wedding ring fell onto the model before it was destroyed, meaning the world’s largest golden ring was placed in the center of town, readily available to help pay for all of the repairs that the town needs. It’s a rare happy ending, but feels slight and a bit rushed. That being said, short, sweet, and to the point may be preferable if the new Twilight Zone isn’t interested in weightier topics.
“A Small Town” is a bit of a modest episode, but there’s nothing inherently wrong about that. It’s just a shame that it appears to be representative of CBS All Access’ Twilight Zone as a whole: perfectly pleasant, if a little hollow and frankly inessential. There’s nothing terribly wrong about this new season, but it doesn’t quite demand your attention like something attached to the Twilight Zone lineage should.