CBS All Access viewers are entering another dimension — again. Season 2 of Jordan Peele's reboot of The Twilight Zone premiered on the streaming service this week, once more exposing a new generation to a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Although, one episode in particular, "You Might Also Like," is a special homage to the classic '50s and '60s series' retro roots and aesthetics.
This post contains spoilers for The Twilight Zone Season 2 episode "You Might Also Like."
The episode, written and directed by Oz Perkins (Gretel & Hansel) tells the tale of a woman (Gretchen Mol) who, like pretty much everyone in her spotless suburban community, wants to get her hands on a much-advertised "Egg" that promises to "make everything OK again, and this time, it'll make everything OK forever." The problem is, she's harboring an inner sadness that might not be fixable. And, it turns out, the Eggs are actually a plot by some familiar alien invaders — Kanamits, the towering, big-foreheaded aliens who first appeared to eat humans in the classic 1962 episode "To Serve Man."
The Kanamits' reappearance is just one of many references — both explicit and more spiritual — that the episode has to the classic sci-fi elements that were so important to The Twilight Zone. The episode also, viewers might note, contains a lot of little Stanley Kubrik Easter eggs, which were Perkins' doing. "You caught me red-handed," Perkins admits to SYFY WIRE, explaining that Kubrick is the most influential director to him, down to the camera lenses he uses.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Perkins about the episode's retro sci-fi roots, "bacon-wrapping" grief with comedy, and the enduring legacy of Psycho, which starred Perkins' father Anthony Perkins when it came out 60 years ago.
You wrote this episode in addition to directing it, so what was the origin of the idea?
I was approached by Monkeypaw to write up one of these episodes for them. They showed me a lot of pitches that had been developed by their writers. A lot of pitches, like three hundred one sentence notions for episodes, and they all seemed fine to me, but nothing really reached me in a way that felt special or felt more than another episode of Black Mirror or something. What I felt was important was to really honor and revere The Twilight Zone, which is so deeply impactful and so important on such a huge level. At the time when it struck, it really blew apart kind of the consciousness of the country, which was such a positive thing.
I really wanted to create an episode that really tipped his hat and sort of bowed to everything that is The Twilight Zone. I really wanted to go sort of as meta in a way as I could and, but not have it trickle into Black Mirror territory. To me, those episodes can feel a little clever and a little smug. I wanted this episode to be a little bit more human. I wanted to devise an episode that felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. So my first initial pitch was even more meta than it ended up being. The initial pitch was black and white, square format, clunky sets, bad camera moves, old commercials, you know, it was bad. And we sort of found our way to a slightly more jaded version, but the intention was always just to really revere The Twilight Zone.
It's interesting you say that, because when I started watching the episode, at first it does kind of feel like it's going to be kind of Black Mirror-esque — "Oh, what is the Egg? What is this technology?" — but then it veers into something that's much more classically sci-fi. Why is that sort of kitschy aspect of sci-fi so important?
It's one of those things where the original thing is always just going to be the best thing. The first blush impression by human culture as to what a UFO might look like is pretty much a featureless matte, silver disc. And for my taste and heart, it never got better than that. Like I never needed to see those f***ing ships in Independence Day. That s*** doesn't make sense to me. [Old sci-fi] is charming. It's got an innocence, it has a heart, and it has a playfulness that we don't get anymore. It's been kind of excised from our culture, in a way.
Near the end, we learn that the aliens are the same aliens from the classic original series episode "To Serve Man." Why did you bring them back?
It got to a point where I was writing and it just became mandatory that I reference and use something that was classic. Like I said earlier, the original innocent majesty of The Twilight Zone needed to be on display. It wasn't about how clever we were or how much we understood about modern life or any of that s***. It was much more important that we felt like we were being innocently reverent to the original show, and those characters are the equivalent of that matte silver disc. Sort of our first stab at a television representation of alien life.
When you're dealing with a show like this and are so consciously trying to honor the retro original roots of it, how do you also take a message and make it feel relevant and current to modern times?
When I'm writing anything I always have to find the true human aspect of it, and then everything else can be built out from that. And this was just as simple as grief. A lot of what I do is around that and a lot of the movies that I've made are around the experience of grief. It was really not about anything like space or aliens or flying saucers at the end of the world. It's really about one woman's broken heart and how that plays out on a global scale.
The idea of Americans being utterly obsessed with consumer culture isn't exactly a new one, but using it to explore grief gives the episode an extra layer of heart.
It's a little bit of an investigation. It's like, yeah, sure, we're a culture that's obsessed with getting things. And we all know that by getting things, we're filling something that we don't have — and that something will never be filled with f***ing iPhones as hard as we try. And I try! I was first in line for the first iPhone, too and it filled my heart for about two weeks. It really did. And then it doesn't.
And yet despite being about grief, this is still kind of a funny episode. What do you see as the role of comedy in sci-fi and The Twilight Zone? The original series obviously had a lot of funny moments too.
I think it's a combination of the innocence that I was talking about. Especially in the original episodes, when people in the '60s were really kind of saying "Well, jeez, I wonder, if there's alien life, what they might look like? And can we go to the moon? Jeez." It's almost a childish sort of hopefulness about what this stuff could be like. Humor in the original episodes is that sort of almost bashful investigation, those kinds of early fumblings, right? It's like your first kind of romantic experience — you don't know what the f*** you're doing. When designers in the '60s were designing their space stuff, we hadn't been to space yet, so it was all kind of goofy in a really lovely way.
And, if you make your show about grief and it feels like grief? Those are the shows that get turned off. You gotta Trojan Horse what's important to you. It's like a bacon-wrapped hot dog. You've got to bacon-wrap your grief with some comedy. Otherwise, nobody wants it.
I realized that we're speaking on the 60th anniversary of Psycho. Do you have any reflections about it now that it's celebrating this big milestone?
It's a point of tremendous pride for me. I'm not going to shrug and pretend like it doesn't matter — to be connected through lineage to what will always be one of the most essential works of cinematic art. Like The Twilight Zone, it blew people's minds and rearranged people's expectations of what stories could be and of what main characters could be like. It really challenged audiences to be in an uncomfortable position of being in Norman's point of view. All of those kinds of big moving parts in terms of how we look at storytelling and movie-making are vital.
And then, of course, what my old man was able to do in that movie and how he really embodied that part, is something that I think happens truly rarely in this art form. Every time I see it on, I'm really moved, to be honest. I'm really moved and really proud of it.