Today, March 13th, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1964 premiere of "What's in the Box."
William Demarest and Joan Blondell portray Joe and Phyllis Britt, a forever bickering married couple. She thinks he's cheating with one of his cab customers; he can't stand her attitude or her cooking. His only solace is retiring to the sofa with a can of beer and watching wrestling on the TV, which is finally working thanks to an intrepid repairman (Sterling Holloway). He's repaired the TV all right, but now it broadcasts the ultimate reality TV: the Britts' daily life – past, present and future.
Written by Martin M. Goldsmith, the episode is another example of TZ's fascination with machines and how they can take over our lives. With his signature gravelly voice, Demarest (1892-1983) is perfectly cast as Joe Britt, a philandering cab driver who gets busted on television.
Blondell (1906-1979), who defined brassy, is equally perfect as Phyllis. The following year, she would appear as Lady Fingers, a poker dealer, opposite Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson in The Cincinnati Kid.
Sterling Holloway, forever known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, has his scene-stealing moments as the repairman with a twinkle in his eyes. Just seeing him down on the floor with those little cardboard boxes of new TV tubes reminds me of the days when guys would come to your house and replace your old tubes with new ones. Now we have smart TVs that may be watching us back!
So let's raise a glass of cold beer to the Britts, their combative lifestyle and a smart television way before its time on the show that was way ahead of its time: The Twilight Zone.