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The Twilight Zone (Episode #56): “Static” (airdate 3/10/61)
The Plot: A bitter old man complains about a newfangled contraption called the television. Fortunately, he finds a radio that plays things without images.
The Goods: Aside from this episode being shot in video, which makes it seem incredibly cheap, this episode is thoroughly annoying on its own. A 150-year-old version of Sean Connery named Dean Jagger plays a caustic elder gent named Ed Lindsay who can’t stand television and feels free to claim as much to all the people living in the boarding house with him. One of the inhabitants is Vinnie Broun (Carmen Matthews) who was supposed to marry Ed two decades ago, but the perpetual bachelor kept putting it off.
Haunted by that regret, he hears music from the 40s coming through on a boxy radio he pulls out of storage. Funny how no one else can seem to hear it.
Charles Beaumont is the writer responsible for a few strong episodes, and a few more that just aren’t any good. This is one of those episodes. It’s the Twilight Zone aspiring to soap opera meaninglessness and succeeding with a flying lack of colors. It’s plot can be broken down into a handful of easy pieces:
- Old angry man is angry
- Old angry man starts listening to radio no one else can hear
- Old angry woman explains why old angry man is angry/going insane
- Old angry man gets his radio taken away, making him angrier
- Old angry man gets radio back and loses his mind completely
Whereas the better episodes have a nuance that can be interpreted in multiple ways, this story might be the most straightforward of the entire series. There’s no twist, no science fiction, only a sad aging fool who loses his mind. There’s nothing behind the curtain here which makes it like going to a fancy restaurant and only eating stale bread.
What’s most striking about Static is that it seems to be a television episode decrying how terrible television is. Early on, Ed flips through the channels and points out how trashy everything is, and he’s right. The loud, glib pitchman is dangerous; the cigarettes that smell like fresh grass are lying; the people in the television room are all transfixed like zombies. In fact, Ed is only mildly cloying in the beginning – and anyone who has had to get a texter’s attention during a conversation can relate.
The radio is supreme, says the television show.
On the other hand, Ed is the lunatic of the story. He’s wrong and delusional. Still, while the message that radio is pure is an odd one for a television show to make, the message that television is great is an even worse, self-aggrandizing one. After all, the end shows Ed’s attachment to the past as detrimental. It’s a place where he loses himself. So maybe it gets away with one or both of these awkward claims.
Then again, maybe the show doesn’t have a message at all.
But then what kind of Twilight Zone entry would it be?
The Trivia: One of the uncredited DJs on the phantom radio station is Bob Crane. It’s his first television appearance before rising to the stardom of The Donna Reed Show and Hogan’s Heroes.
On the Next Episode: A man obsessed with his losing streak convinces his friend to use his telekinesis at the gambling tables of Vegas.
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.