The Daily Stream: Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Is Science Fiction With A Beating Heart

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "The Twilight Zone" (1959-1964)

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Rod Serling's seminal science fiction anthology series follows astronauts, soldiers, businessmen, criminals, housewives, and countless other everyday people as they encounter scenarios which boggle the mind and test the limits of imagination. Several episodes are set in the series' present-day, while others travel to the future, to space, and frequently, to America's recent past. A true anthology, the series never revisits the same characters twice (though some familiar faces re-appear in different roles), instead telling self-contained stories, often with a heartfelt or socially conscious message, across the course of a single half-hour.

Why It's Essential Viewing

"The Twilight Zone" isn't only some of the most unique and influential science fiction of all time, it's also science fiction with a soul. Watch straight through, and you'll see that Serling has an unmovable moral compass that always directs his narrative path to the most humane end result. It makes sense that the series is often played in marathons around the holiday season, as many episodes would make a great double feature with the Frank Capra Christmas classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." The show possesses both a sense of wonder and a through-line of deep awareness of humankind's fallibility and mortality.

"The Twilight Zone" stands the test of time because, even if present-day audiences have seen elements of its bold storytelling reused in modern works (the series has inspired everything from "Chucky" to Jordan Peele's "Us"), the show's ever-beating heart never goes out of fashion. One of its best episodes, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," takes on the dangers of xenophobia and mob mentality as told through a story about alien invaders. Another, "Eye of the Beholder," flips unreasonable beauty standards on their head. Serling's works also reference PTSD early and often, even though the disorder wasn't named or understood yet at the time they were written. "The Twilight Zone" dresses reality up in a fantastical costume to make it more palatable, but no matter how much alien makeup the characters slap on, Serling's messages always come through loud and clear.

When "The Twilight Zone" dives fully into genre storytelling for genre storytelling's sake, it's the best in the game at that, too. One of the series' cleverest episodes, titled "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?", plays out like an Agatha Christie novel — only instead of scrambling to identify the killer in the group, investigators are looking for a disguised alien in a diner full of strangers. In the genuinely unsettling episode "Mirror Image," a woman at a bus station is convinced her doppelganger is coming for her. Come to "The Twilight Zone" for the searing social commentary, stay for the unexpected, bone-deep dread that still translates to audiences after all this time.

Thanks to its anthology format, "The Twilight Zone" will always welcome newcomers. If you're picking it up for the first time, try the show's best holiday-set episode, the puzzle box "Five Characters in Search of An Exit." Or, if you want to see your holiday shopping in a totally different light, watch another unsettling entry with great payoff, the department store-set "The After Hours." Finally, since the year is rushing to a close quicker than we're ready for, slow down for a bit with "Time Enough At Last," about a man who never has enough time to read.

All five seasons of "The Twilight Zone" are available on Hulu.