Billy Mumy's six-year-old sociopath in "It's a Good Life" scared the townspeople of Peaksville, Ohio - and TV viewers from the age of Eisenhower to the present. And a half-century after the "To Serve Man" episode, fans still remember what "It's a cookbook!" really means. Not bad for a black-and-white drama whose heyday ended before Beatlemania.
Besides the classic moments couch potatoes know by heart, there are many other less-iconic, but still compelling, shows in the show's 156-episode history. Submitted for your approval, as Rod Serling would say, here's a list of ten obscure "Twilight Zone" shows worth checking out:
* "The Obsolete Man": Burgess Meredith starred in four "Twilight Zone" episodes, with his most famous role being that of bespectacled, bad-luck bookworm bank teller Henry Bemis in "Time Enough at Last" episode. But "The Obsolete Man," which also features books as part of the plot line, is also worth remembering. In the episode, the state declares Meredith's librarian character obsolete and sentences him to death. But Meredith is able to turn the tables on the chancellor, and make that authority figure obsolete.* "Number 12 Looks Just Like You": This episode is not as well-known as "Eye of the Beholder," an famous "Twilight Zone" episode about society's obsession with beauty. But "Number 12" has even sharper observations. This dark episode features a teenager who doesn't want to undergo "The Transformation," a surgery where her body - and mind - will be radically changed. Think "The Stepford Wives" was ahead of its time? "Number 12" touched on the same themes a decade earlier.
* "Mr. Garrity and the Graves": In this episode, set in the Old West, a con man shows up in the ironically-named Happiness, Arizona with a promise - to raise the dead. The townspeople have their own reasons why this isn't a good idea, so they pay him off. As it turns out, Mr. Garrity's talents are much better than he realizes, as the people of Happiness will soon discover.
* "The Big Tall Wish": Nobody believes in a broken-down African-American boxer - except for one young boy, who wishes that the prizefighter wins his fight. But when the boxer is reluctant to believe that such wishes can really come true, his fortunes change for the worse. And the once-hopeful child grows cynical. Get your Kleenex ready - this topical episode, ahead of its time in featuring a nearly all-black cast, might be the most poignant "Twilight Zone" episode ever.
* "Twenty Two": A stripper hospitalized for exhaustion is haunted by the same nightmare every evening. In the dream, a nurse welcomes her to the morgue, saying, "Room for one more, honey." Turns out that this horrible vision is trying to send her an important message, something she needs to hear before boarding a plane.* "A Most Unusual Camera": A gadget with mysterious powers is also the subject of this episode, in which a larcenous couple grabs a camera that shows the future. Money - and mayhem - ensues, especially after a crafty French bellhop gets involved. Although the "Twilight Zone" sometimes tried to be funny - and failed - with several episodes, most notably with the Carol Burnett episode "Cavender Is Coming," the humor in this episode works.
* "The New Exhibit": If you work at a wax museum, don't take your work home with you, especially when the figures are of the world's worst killers. This seems to be the message of this creepy episode. Martin Balsam's waxworker is a little too enchanted by his museum's "Murderers' Row." This is one of the show's 18 one-hour episodes, so it's not often seen in syndication.
* "Miniature": It's always fun to see future stars on "The Twilight Zone" - Carol Burnett, William Shatner, Robert Redford, and Charles Bronson were among the talent on the show. In this one-hour episode, future Oscar-winner Robert Duvall portrays a misfit loner who becomes obsessed with a doll in a museum exhibit. He thinks the woman in that dollhouse is alive, and he's sort of right.
* "Stopover in a Quiet Town": Speaking of dollhouses, don't drive drunk, or you too might end up in a dollhouse from another planet. While all of the smoking Rod Serling does while narrating "Twilight Zone" episodes looks dated - and unhealthy - "Stopover" was ahead of its time in showing how one young New York couple's bender turns their world upside down, even if the real-life consequences of such an act aren't quite as dramatic.* "The Old Man in the Cave": It's 1974 in a post-apocalyptic earth. The frightened survivors get critical life advice from the title character. But when they find out the old man is really a computer, they stop listening to what he says. Unfortunately, this triumph of reason over faith doesn't end very well for them; that old man/computer knew what he was talking about when it came to contaminated food.