It is a tradition started in childhood, that to this day I respectfully continue, and hold to the highest standards. Every Thanksgiving, after I am literally stuffed with turkey, and can barely move my body off the couch, I turn on classic Twilight Zone episodes and watch as many as I can before being lulled into a deep, tryptophan induced coma. Here is the list of my top 10 episodes. Yes, it can certainly be debated endlessly, but these are the ones that made a lasting impression on me in my childhood and live on in iconic fashion when words like “pig nose” or “living mannequin” come up.
A Brief Summary of My Picks (not in any hierarchical structure):
It's A Good Life (1961). Boy has super natural powers. Boy uses powers against grown-ups he doesn't like (dream childhood fantasy). Boy meets drunk who doesn’t like boy. Boy turns drunk into a human jack-in-the-box. Moral: Definitely lie to a child with supernatural powers.
LivingDoll (1963). "My name is Talky Tina, I don't think I like you." Need I say more? Ok, one more thing, a showdown between a pre-Kojack Telly Savalas and a doll is well worth a revisit.
After Hours (1960). Did you love the 1987 movie Mannequin as much as I did? Well take that premise, take out the romantic sub-plot, happiness, and desire to be the mannequin and replace it with dread that someday while walking through a department store you might join a lifeless crew of plastic people in their endless nighttime antics.
The Monster's Are Due On Maple Street (1960). Following the red scare of the 1950s, Monster's depicts how paranoia is more contagious than common sense in small town America (has anything changed?). One of the most poignant openings by Serling is the following, "the tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own – for the children… and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is… that these things cannot be confined… to the Twilight Zone.”
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963). William Shatner battles with a gremlin who is hitching a ride on the wing of his airplane. Or is he? If you don't know this one we have nothing to talk about. The tone is hilariously menacing and well worth many re-watches.
Time EnoughAt Last (1959). “Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.” All Burgess Meredith wants to do is read his books, and conveniently for him, after a nuclear bomb destroys the world of man he is finally allowed this one simple wish until... Serling himself listed “Time Enough at Last” amongst his favorite episodes of the series.
Stopover in Quiet Town (1964). A married couple wake up in an unfamiliar house. They remember only that they both drank too much at a party the night before, and that on the way home, a large shadow had appeared over their car. I definitely envied the giant, adult-kidnapping child at the end of this episode. I mean what child wouldn't want living, doll-sized people to play with? Don’t judge, and as Serling requests at the end of this episode, “don’t drink and drive”.
Masks (1964). Jason Foster is a dying man surrounded by a greedy family. In his final throws he gives each member a grotesque mask to wear until Midnight, siting old Cajun traditions and promising that the masks are the opposite of the wearer...truly the best and most memorable make-up design on the show comes with removal of the masks at the end of this episode.
I Sing the Body Electric (1959). This is the 100th episode of the series and was written by Ray Bradbury. The father of a trio of motherless children takes his children to a factory, Facsimile Ltd., to pick out a new robotic grandmother. In my tops again because I remember as a child thinking how amazing it would be to make an adult from scratch.
Eye of the Beholder (1960). Pig noses anyone? Seriously, if you watched this as a child the memory of this reveal stayed with you for a lifetime. A story told almost exclusively through dialogue, unfolding with the patience of a radio drama, we hear the voice of the woman lying on the hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages after the 11th surgery to correct her apparent facial disfigurement.
Very close runner-ups include (AND should definitely be watched): Walking Distance (1959), To Serve Man (1962), The Hitchhiker (1960), Five Characters in Search of an Exit (1961), and The Dummy (1962).