Die, three-headed gopher, die!

Last New Year’s Day, TCM showed “Sunset Boulevard” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” back-to-back, which is about all you can ask of an afternoon devoted to taking down the Christmas tree. This year, no such luck. So we dipped in and out of the “Twilight Zone” marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel, which started New Year’s Eve and showed no signs of slowing by midafternoon the following day.

I introduced Kate to TZ after our trip to Chicago and the American Girl Place. I was trying to explain why I didn’t want to buy a doll that looked like her, and told her about the “Living Doll” episode, then found it at the library. She was appropriately amused/creeped out by it, and we watched a couple others on the DVD, including the one about the ventriloquist whose dummy starts talking to him. It was one of the very few times in my life as a parent that I could act like a TV parent (appropriately enough) and say, “So now you see why mom finds certain dolls a little creepy,” and Kate replied that she understood perfectly.

When we turned on the marathon Sunday night, they were showing “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” with the young William Shatner. A classic, that one, followed by “It’s a Good Life,” with Billy Mumy as the monster kid who can make his imagination come to life. Of course that was a big hit with Kate, who’s been going around the house ever since shrieking, “Die, three-headed gopher, die!”

I let them wash over me and thought about all that was admirable about the series — the swish pan to Rod Serling and his elegant, well-written intros, the pop-cult references to Freudian psychiatry, and finally, the thing that makes them as good and fresh today as they were 40 or 45 years ago — the way they send their taproots right down into the collective unconscious. Seriously. Kate is a modern kid, ever-wary of being seduced by anything I like, which she considers boring and old. (She was assigned to do a school report on Stevie Wonder — this is life in Detroit — and acted like she had to write two pages on Millard Fillmore.) I can still reach her with an old movie and sometimes a pop song, but it requires extra effort; the minute she sees black-and-white photography she puts up her blast shields. But Talky Tina in “Living Doll” hooked her immediately, and after that she was a sitting duck.

Hit the Big Themes, and you’re golden.


I just spent the last 45 minutes writing quite a bit more for this post, doubling its length, including linkalicious bloggage and more brain-numbing details of my pathetic daily life. And then Safari quit unexpectedly and it all went away.

Die, three-headed Safari, die!

I think it was a sign. Time to hit the showers.

Posted at 10:11 am in Television |

12 responses to “Die, three-headed gopher, die!”

  1. James said on January 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Y’know, I believe that Rod Serling went to school in Antioch, and lived in Cincinnati. I thought that he lived in Columbus as well, but can’t find a reference.

    My favorite TZ episode? The one where the world seems to be plunging into the sun, but is revealed to be a fever dream of a woman living on an earth that’s actually moving away from the sun, and slowly freezing.

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  2. Dorothy said on January 3, 2007 at 10:45 am

    We had TZ on much of the weekend, too. It was great company while I sorted through more than 700 2.5″ x 4.5″ rectangles for my next quilt project. I said to Mike “Once you see the opening minutes of this show, it’s impossible to change the station or shut off the t.v.!”

    I have my own “Nightmare from 20,000 Feet” story. It was always a favorite of mine, and my husband’s. When it came out on video, we decided to rent it one weekend. A local station had been running old episodes of TZ but we had yet to see that one. So I popped in the video, but glanced at the clock and thought “Oh, it’s time for Twilight Zone on channel 11.” Just for the heck of it I stopped the video and checked to see which episode was airing that day. It was the same one we had just rented!!! So I removed that rental video, popped in a blank one to record it, and we were amazed at the weird coincidence of it all. You could almost hear the Twilight Zone music playing in the house at the weirdness of it all.

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  3. brian stouder said on January 3, 2007 at 11:04 am

    “Hit the Big Themes, and you’re golden”

    Ain’t that the truth! Last night the young folks joined me in watching C-SPAN’s replay of President Ford’s state funeral at the National Cathedral. We ended up watching it from the ingress of the motorcade to the egress, and the proceedings were (by turns) solemn, enthralling, funny, and fascinating.

    It was fun to kibitz as the cameras panned around the assembled mourners (Barbara Bush seemed to ALWAYS be whispering something to poppy, or to her daughter, or to Laura). Pam got a laugh when one of the pastors was identified (via caption) as “The Very Reverend Mike Smith” (or whatever his name was); her question was – is his boss a Very, Very Reverend?

    Grant got pulled in by the full-dress soldiers and sailors; Shelby loved the music (particularly the operaic Lord’s Prayer); Pam and I watched the people and took in the pageantry , and we were alternately moved and non-plussed br some of the eulogies. George H W Bush’s remarks were quite simply bizarre! He managed to invoke the Warren Commision (enroute to chastising the crazy conspiratorialists!), Chevy Chase, and even imitated Dana Carvey imitating him.

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  4. MarkH said on January 3, 2007 at 11:39 am

    James, he did indeed graduate from Antioch (1950), and worked in Cincinnati at WLW radio, where he got his start as a writer. All this after growing up in Binghamton, NY and WWII army service in the South Pacific. I don’t think he ever lived in Columbus, and can find no reference to this as well.

    I, too, watched some of the TZ marathon, and check in to Sci-Fi for the one hour nightly TZ block, on at 11:00 pm here most nights. All the best were there, including those mentioned here. I remember being ten years old and running from the room, totally freaked at the crucial scene in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, when Shatner pulls that curtain for the close-up of his life. To this day I think about that when looking out an airliner window at night (!!).

    My all-time favorite episode? “To Serve Man”.

    “…IT’S A COOKBOOK!!”

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  5. James said on January 3, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Hah! Lloyd Bochner!

    There’s this weird reference regarding Columbus connection:

    “Notable personalities who had their beginnings at WBNS-TV: Jonathan Winters, Rod Serling…”

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  6. James said on January 3, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Whoops! it cut of my reference URL.

    I’ll try again.

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  7. MarkH said on January 3, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I’d like to know what proof WBNS has that Serling ever worked there. I wouldn’t think that it had as much impact as whatever he did at WLW.

    I have an anthology of original stories from which some of the TZ episodes were adapted. In Richard Matheson’s original “To Serve Man”, the Kanamits were not large bald headed Richard Keil-types, but “small, hairy, ugly creatures”. But the episode pretty much follows the original.

    Sidenote to the WBNS connection claims: I wouldn’t be surprised if Jonathan Winters got his start there. He grew up in Springfield and went to school with the mother of one of my best high school buddies. She claimed that he was always a super class clown, always entertaining everyone and had them constantly in stitches at summer pool parties and such.

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  8. MarkH said on January 3, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Question for you, Nancy –

    Is the NN.C clock still on daylight savings time? The time for my postings always shows three hours ahead of me (mountain time) when I expect it should be two.

    Just askin’…:)

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  9. John said on January 3, 2007 at 4:36 pm


    She left it on Indiana (Screw the Rest of the Country!) Time in memory of its passing.

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  10. Dorothy said on January 3, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Jonathan Winters is the bomb.

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  11. James said on January 3, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Wow! Speaking of Serling, I just got this link from someone else.

    Eerie, eh??

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  12. MarkH said on January 4, 2007 at 2:42 am

    James, thanks for sharing this site.

    Eerie? To be sure. But way cool.

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