Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Twilight Zone Christmas

Celebrate the holidays with these essential episodes of The Twilight Zone for the winter season, in order of original air date.

1.) "What You Need," season one, episode 12 (12/25/59)

           -This episode, which aired on Christmas, concerns a fantastic form of gift-giving. A meek old man helps strangers by giving them things they "need" but falls prey to an angry man who wants to use the old man's talent for personal gain. Adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, the episode eschews the original story's science fiction trappings in favor of the wintry atmosphere of a gritty urban noir. It is an effective treatment of the theme that no one should know too much about their own destiny.  

Here's Our Look at "What You Need."


2.) "A Passage for Trumpet," season one, episode 32 (05/20/60)

          -This episode marks the first of four appearances by veteran actor Jack Klugman on the series and is often viewed as Rod Serling’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic Christmas fantasy film from 1946. “A Passage for Trumpet” is essentially a retelling of Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift,” which formed the basis of It’s a Wonderful Life. In that story, a man contemplating suicide is shown what life without him would be like and decides to backtrack on his attempt to take his own life (life being the greatest gift of the title). Joey Crown, from “A Passage for Trumpet,” is shown the ugly side of the afterlife after a suicide attempt and decides to remain in the land of the living. Despite its derivative nature, the episode is an uplifting fable and features strong performances from Zone regulars Klugman and John Anderson (as Gabriel, the horn-playing herald who shows Joey Crown the error of his ways).

Read our commentary on “A Passage for Trumpet.” 

3.) “The After Hours,” season one, episode 34 (6/10/160)

          -Nothing says Christmas like the rush of holiday shopping, and Rod Serling puts a truly unique spin on the tradition in this exceptionally creepy episode starring Anne Francis. Francis portrays a young woman seeking a gift for her mother who instead discovers a shocking secret about department store mannequins. The journey to a secret level of the store is a particularly disturbing highlight. Francis gives an underrated performance and the unsettling atmosphere of the episode is second to none on the series. It comes highly recommended.

Read our thoughts on “The After Hours.” 

4.) “The Night of the Meek,” season two, episode 47 (12/23/60)

          -The most overtly Christmas episode of the series certainly has its flaws but remains one of the more uplifting episodes due to a strong performance by Art Carney as another of Rod Serling’s “lovable losers.” Carney plays an alcoholic department store Santa Claus who gets a chance at redemption when he discovers Santa’s magical bag of toys and uses it to spread Christmas cheer throughout the city. “The Night of the Meek” is essential Christmas viewing and remains a fan favorite.

Read all about “The Night of the Meek.” 

5.) “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” season two, episode 64 (5/26/61)

          -Two state policemen and a group of bus passengers face off against a harsh winter storm and a hidden adversary at a roadside cafe in this hugely entertaining episode. Another atmospheric gem from Rod Serling heralds the arrival of director Montgomery Pittman to showcase perhaps the finest group of Serling characters created for the series, especially in the form of John Hoyt as a grouchy businessman and Jack Elam as a boisterous eccentric. The twisty narrative and wacky makeup effects are certain to delight those in search of macabre winter fun.

Find out more on “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” 

5.) “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” season three, episode 79 (12/15/61)

          -Another Christmas tradition is the ringing of donation bells and Rod Serling delivers an imaginative twist on the tradition. Working from a story idea by journalist Marvin Petal, Serling draws on his exceptional skill at characterization to craft one of the more unusual and haunting offerings from the series. The playful title clues the viewer in on the existential nature of the play and fine performances enhance the strange fantasy. The final twist is perhaps overly-familiar now but remains one of the more memorable created for the series. Highly recommended.

Explore the secrets of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” 

6.) “Nothing in the Dark,” season three, episode 81 (1/5/62)

          -Bundle up for this frosty bit of dark fantasy. This episode is arguably the finest work from three of the most talented creators on the series, writer George Clayton Johnson, director Lamont Johnson, and actress Gladys Cooper. Cooper gives a heartrending performance as a woman who has shut herself away from the world in fear of meeting “Mr. Death.” The fable-like story has a strong winter atmosphere and features some of the finest camera work of the series. It comes highly recommended.

Here's our review of “Nothing in the Dark.” 

7.) “The Changing of the Guard,” season three, episode 102 (6/1/62)

          -Veteran actor Donald Pleasance gives an emotionally powerful performance in this Christmas episode. It is simultaneously a melancholy and uplifting episode in which an aging professor forced into retirement is confronted by Christmas spirits in order to remind him of his value as an instructor to generations of students. This one has a uniquely haunting quality and directly confronts the subjects of depression and suicide during the Christmas season, a time of reflection and contemplation. It remains a strongly affecting episode from Rod Serling. 

Read our full review of "The Changing of the Guard." 

8.)  “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126 (11/1/63)

         -What says Christmas more than children and their toys? When little Christie brings home a Talky Tina doll, her mean stepfather will pay the price. Telly Savalas is excellent in this creepy classic as a temperamental stepfather who meets his match in an indestructible killer doll. This episode served as the inspiration for numerous subsequent tales of killer dolls and remains an all-time classic from the series. 

Here's our thoughts on “Living Doll.” 



  1. I love Christmas episodes and had never thought about how many TZs fit the bill. Of course, we watch "Night of the Meek" every year, along with "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" and "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Merry Christmas!

    1. The surprising thing about putting this list together is how many Christmas/winter episodes were originally aired in the late spring and summer. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

  2. Me-TV just aired "Changing of the Guard" Friday night. I'd never thought of it as a Christmas show, since it aired as the Season 3 finale at the beginning of June 1962, but it was very much a Christmas show. The scene with the professor's late students brought tears to my eyes.

  3. This one certainly pulls at the heartstrings. I've always enjoyed the cozy, academic atmosphere of this one, and the way in which Serling shows the passage of time through the eyes of the professor.