Editor’s note: To celebrate our 100th episode, we’ve asked Gallery 1988 co-owner and pop culture art curator Jensen Karp to write up the entry. You might want to wear protection.
With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?
The Twilight Zone (Episode #100): “I Sing The Body Electric” (airdate 5/18/62)
The Plot: Three arguably neglected, but definitely motherless, children are taken by their father to a store that builds them a robotic grandmother in an attempt to rid them of their sadness. As a result we witness mild family drama, a confusing moral and an episode that is widely proclaimed as “the worst Twilight Zone ever.”
The Goods: Remember when you first heard that George Lucas was making 3 new Star Wars movies and you were like, “This is going to be awesome! CAN NOT MISS!” Or when you jumped up and down hearing that Steven Speilberg was going to take the reigns of A.I. from the recently deceased Stanley Kubrick to create a Sci-Fi Nat King Cole/Natalie Cole-ish collaboration that couldn’t miss? Or even when the casting of Bio-Dome was announced and everyone exclaimed that a Pauly Shore/Stephen Baldwin buddy comedy would be a sure-fire laugh fest? The last one may have been just me, but the point is: sometimes your “dream line-up” that looks incredible on paper, should just stay on paper. The real twist of I Sing The Body Electric, is, that only in the Twilight Zone, can two pioneering geniuses like Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury team up to create crap.
When a widowed, busy father (David White), who has an uncanny resemblance to Walt Disney, hits a dead end with his 3 lonely children, he buys them a female robot, hoping it can fill the mothering void in the household. Two of the children immediately fall for the Total Recall Mary Poppins, who they have now dubbed “Grandma” (Josephine Hutchinson), but one child, Anne (Veronica Cartwright), sees too much resemblance to her mother, who she believes ran out on her when she died (YIKES! tough crowd) and rejects any attempt at Computer Love. The hurt forces Anne to run away, and unfortunately right into the path of a speeding van. Right before impact, “Grandma” pushes Anne out of the way, and demonstrates the ultimate sign of love for a child – becoming roadkill. But like all robots, and Tyrese’s movie career, she can’t be killed. One by one, we watch her fingers move, forcing Anne to finally love “Grandma” because she can never abandon her like her mother did (WAIT, WHAT?). After some rare mid-season narration from Rod Serling, we see that the children have now grown up and are on their way to college, with “Grandma” still as a loving surrogate mother. But with the kids now becoming adults, it’s her time to return to the robot shop, most likely to be stripped down and used like old car parts. She looks back on her time with the family, proud of her work raising three impressive adults, admits she even learned something in the process, and she walks out the door.
And then she walks back into the house, with her face now melting, exposing steel bone structure, feral wires and wildly blinking buttons, carrying a laser gun, yelling “NOT SO FAST, BRATS!”
She doesn’t do any of that, but she should’ve, because the episode ends with her walking out the door, everything tied into a cute, little Lifetime movie bow, lacking any sort of twist or science fiction, leaving even the biggest TZ die-hard fan wanting more. The episode was written by Ray Bradbury (of “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and the guy who got mad at Michael Moore about a movie title fame), and I could only imagine the buzz created by hiring him for the 100th episode. What we didn’t know was that this was actually the third Bradbury script commissioned by Serling for The Twilight Zone, and the other two were either too complicated or confusing to ever start production. Add to matters that “I Sing The Body Electric” received enough bad feedback from production and the network behind the scenes after it was filmed, that it went through numerous reshoots and recasts, even having production fall into two calendar years. It was doomed from the first “Action!” but again, it’s a real Sci-Fi fantasy duo, so they never wanted to fully give up on it. Which is unfortunate.
When researching to write this, I learned a bit about Bradbury’s other two Twilight Zone attempts, “Here There Be Tygers” and “A Miracle of Rare Device,” and couldn’t help but wonder if those would’ve been such stinkers as well. Even though Serling penned episodes like Walking Distance and A Stop At Willoughby were obviously influenced by Bradbury’s earlier work, I can only liken Rod to N*Sync and Ray to the Backstreet Boys. One may have been first with the formula, but the successor perfected it (sorry, Howie D).
Listen, I know it’s a sweet little story. And although I question if it’s a smart idea to tell a child “Love this robot, because it won’t leave you like your dead mother did,” I can never really “hate” a tale about family. Things seem underdeveloped (like why the kids are deemed so unfit for society when they actually seem super normal for children with a dead mom or why people aren’t making a huge deal out of a robot store on Main Street), but it is a Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling mash-up, so this episode will always have a place in my heart. “I Sing The Body Electric” is the Miami Heat of the Twilight Zone series: So many great parts, but unable to deliver – yet still worth talking about.
But I am really excited for these upcoming Hobbit movies. With all those people involved: it can’t miss.
What do you think?
The Trivia: A young Veronica Cartwright played Anne, and ends up being one of the better elements of the episode. Later in life, she would land roles in both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien, so the good news is, she would eventually work in good Sci-Fi!
On the Next Episode: A clumsy angel is offered an opportunity to earn his wings by helping out a strange city woman named Agnes Grep.
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.
Jensen Karp is a massive fan of The Twilight Zone, the co-owner of Gallery 1988 which focuses on pop culture-infused art, raps under the name Hot Karl, used to write for the WWE, has graced Reject Radio with his presence and hosts his on podcast on Kevin Smith’s SModcast Network called Get Up On This.