Exploring The Twilight Zone #120: The Bard

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 #120): “The Bard” (airdate 5/23/63)

The Plot: A talentless writer begs his way into an TV writing opportunity, but it requires knowledge of black magic. He finds a book on the dark arts, or at least it finds him, and soon he’s conjured up the most famous writer in history.

The Goods: Julius K. Moomer is a very determined television writer. Unfortunately he’s not a very good one. His persistence pays off though when he convinces some folks to give him a shot at writing the pilot to a pre-approved TV show. The subject is black magic, so armed with a complete lack of knowledge on the subject he heads to a local bookstore for inspiration. A magical tome literally jumps towards him, and soon he’s playing around with powers beyond his comprehension.

And by that I mean he conjures up William Shakespeare to write a TV script.

“Don’t let nobody knock your stuff Will. You’ve got potential. You are loaded with potential.”

Shakespeare appears in Moomer’s (Jack Weston) apartment already aware of the reason he’s there, and while he attempts to modernize his script it of course comes out sounding like Shakespeare. Still, inexplicably, the network executives and producers eat it up and hire Moomer for the gig. Trouble arises when Shakespeare catches wind of changes the network brass and advertisers have made to his piece. He punches the lead actor, played by a young Burt Reynolds, and storms out of Moomer’s life.

The episode ends with Moomer being much sought after for a new feature on US history, an invite that results in him walking in with his new writing staff… Benjamin Franklin, Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Pocahontas, Daniel Boone, and Theodore Roosevelt.

This is the epitome of a lightweight Twilight Zone episode, and well that in and of itself is not a bad thing it’s worsened by being one of the hour-long episodes. Rod Serling’s script is a comedy through and through, but unfortunately it’s one that rarely works. As if the jokes and dialogue weren’t flat enough most of the time their failure is driven home by the singular worst aspect of the episode.

The most annoying score in the history of The Twilight Zone.

The music is played so broadly and comically and the sound mix is off so terribly as to make the score the most obvious character in the episode. It acts as a punchline to dialogue whether there’s a joke in there or not, and its volume makes it impossible to ignore.

The episode has a few things going for it including Weston who’s a reliable comedic actor. There’s no texture to the piece or the character, so this isn’t a matter of a deep, sad clown-like individual, but he’s a fun supporting actor in most roles. Reynolds’ brief turn is also good fun especially as he mumbles his way through a fantastic Marlon Brando impression. And the scene with TV execs discussing Shakespeare’s script has some solid laughs as well especially for those even slightly familiar with the motivations of said executives. But it’s just too weak overall, and the extremely light punchline of an ending is not nearly enough to save it. But at least it’s an ending.

What do you think?

The Trivia: This is the final episode of season four, and the last of the series to run an hour long.

On the Next Episode: “A bookie makes the ultimate sacrifice to trade his life for the life of his dying son.”

Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR

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.

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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