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‘The Twilight Zone’ review: ‘Not All Men’

THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Season 1, Episode 7
“Not All Men”
Available on CBS All-Access (new episodes uploaded every Thursday)
GRADE: C

Annie (Taissa Farmiga) is a somewhat meek and slightly insecure woman who doesn’t like rocking the boat. She’s too nice to say no to anyone for fear that they’ll see her in a different light, as undeserving as that is all in the name of living up to her reputation as a self-described “team player”. Unfortunately, this means that she’s taken advantage of in both her personal and professional life which means guys like Dylan (Luke Kirby) are easily able to work past her initial defenses when asking for a date under the pretense of “viewing a meteor shower”. Even before it’s revealed that the rocks shooting into our atmosphere mess with men and make them into horrible monsters, Dylan’s presented as a bit of a douchebag hipster bachelor who plays Lionel Richie music on a vinyl turntable while waxing on about “comic connections” in a wince-inducing attempt to lube Annie up. Even though he gets her consent before he even puts a hand on her back, it’s the Evil Rock From Space that seems to push Dylan into getting a bit to handsy with Annie and she bolts from his place only to witness Dylan smashing up in his place while roaring in anger after she leaves.

And Annie’s gotta work with this guy, according to her boss.

The new “Twilight Zone” has been nothing if not incendiary, pulling no punches each week to show you a world we’re living in. Some episodes work (“Replay”, “The Wunderkind”) while some fall flat on their face (“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”, “Six Degrees of Freedom”). If you hadn’t guessed by the title, “Not All Men” aims to raise some eyebrows and ends up somewhere in between.

After suffering her boss’s condescending orders (she just can’t rise in the company unless she works with Dylan), she has to suffer again with him through dinner because he also happens to be a friend of her sister, Martha (Reha Seehorn). Additionally, Annie’s insecurities are on full display here as she’s slightly outside her comfort zone. Her birthday gift to her sister (a 9-inch skillet) is awkwardly accepted by Martha and you’re not quite sure if she’s genuinely happy with the gift or if she wants to take it back to the store. Regardless, Annie quickly assures her that the receipt’s included with it, so there’s that. And if you think that’s awkward, it’s revealed, by Annie’s boss, that Annie will soon be working with Dylan, something Annie is visibly affected by given how Annie’s already seen his true colors.

The episode doesn’t take off until Annie joins her sister at a local bar where they shoot the shit by talking about men and ogling some of them from a distance, an ironic twist, which shows how the best of intentions can lead to disaster even amongst the trust and guidance of sisters. it isn’t long before the men in the bar become violent (drinking booze spiked with residue from the meteors for some reason) and begin fighting which spills outside and pushes Annie and Martha to get the hell out of there — but not before Annie reveals that she was groped and violently assaulted by Dylan the previous night. The women attract the attention of a motorcyclist who, in his alien space rock anger, follows them home where an infected Mike “deals with him” — by straight up murdering the motorcyclist.

But the rock only infects men, not women.

SNL writer Heather Anne Campbell wrote “Not All Men” and if she sounds familiar, it’s because she also wrote last week’s episode, “Six Degrees of Freedom”, with Glen Morgan. This is her first solo effort and it’s more than a little obvious that there’s something she wants to say here. The problem is that even though she’s been gifted with a sharp director in Christina Choe and great leads in Farmiga and Seehorn, Campbell doesn’t seem to know how to get her message across. On one hand, it gives off a great 50’s horror movie vibe with some genuinely tense moments (the bit where Mike has completely lost it and tries to get Martha to blow out her birthday candles is beautifully shot in low light and executed with flair by Ike Barinholtz) but on the other, it feels like a dark comedy/satire, which is all well and good except that Campbell can’t quite seamlessly meld the two together which makes the proceedings uneven, leaving us with a concept which feels forced right out of the gate and is increasingly less subtle as it goes along.

And just like last week, the twist (discussed at the end of the article, as usual) is aggravating. Last week, I said that I welcomed something that ran contrary to what viewers had seen or heard. This week, the show does just that — except that it doesn’t make any sense and seems to be there for the sake of simply having a final twist.

It’s frustrating because the episode wants to be important. It wants to be a clever allegory of the “#MeToo” era and how it feels to be a woman and it does a great job with the latter, delivering a portrait of victimized women, albeit in short bursts. But even with a vaunted platform like “The Twilight Zone”, Campbell squanders a huge opportunity with “Not All Men”. Instead of presenting us with an undeniable statement everyone can agree on and remember for years to come, everything is reduced to a silly shaggy dog story.

LOST IN THE ZONE

  • So, the big twist (SPOILERS…YOU KNOW THE DRILL…CLICK AND DRAG THE INVISIBLE TEXT): The Evil Alien Space Rocks apparently DON’T turn men into misogynist murders. It’s a placebo. They just don’t do it. And their gay friend knows how to “control himself”, like all men should even though he had one of the rocks in his pocket the whole time. God, that’s aggravating to type out and just further hammers home what I said above. Look, it’s obvious the rocks were at fault. The women aren’t idiots. You clearly see the rock having an effect on their faces with bulging veins and evil-looking eyes. Then you tell everyone “just kidding”? Is Campbell trying to tell us that the rocks are a metaphor for something we use to excuse reprehensible male behavior? And if they don’t have any effect, why is everyone able to see the physical appearance of the infected men change? And if the men in question always had that inside them, it’s hard to believe Martha wouldn’t notice that her husband is a psychotic murderer, especially since he’s so “woke”.
  • And speaking of: why in the world is the town’s bartender serving shots with the rock inside the glass? I’m confused as to why that would even be a thing.
  • EASTER EGGS:
    • “10:15” makes an appearance on a sticky note reminder to call a doctor later in the day.
    • That doctor’s name is “Dr. Romero”, which I’d like to think is a homage to the late George A. Romero, director of “Night of the Living Dead” and the original incarnation of “The Crazies”, both of which obviously inspired the concept of the episode.
    • One of the “angry men” Annie sees is trying to push a straw into a Busy Bee Cafe cup, a callback to the classic episode “Nick of Time”.
    • The news station at the end is “Whipple News”, the ongoing callback to “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”.
    • The biker who follows Annie and Martha home has the alien logo from the classic episode “Black Leather Jackets” on his helmet. That episode also has a plot similar to this one.
    • The gas pump Annie and Martha hide behind during the looting has a sticker that says “MAPLE STREET” on it, which is a callback to the classic episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

About Matt Perri

Matt Perri
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, We Hate Your Gimmick.

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4 comments

  1. Just read that the series is going to be streaming in B&W pretty soon. Like that’s going to make all the difference….

    One word review for all episodes streamed thus far: BANAL.

    • Matt Perri

      Hey Tony…

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it wouldn’t matter much. I wouldn’t call the series “banal”. It’s been interesting.

      I find the situation weirdly ironic:

      Rod Serling wanted to do what the 2019 series was doing: beat people over the head with socio-political messages. He got his wish with a few but, for the most part, the networks wouldn’t allow it.

      Here, we’re seeing Serling’s wish come true. It works at times (“Replay” was brilliant) and then there are episodes which are so silly and obvious, you get the one we’re talking about.

      I hope that the second season sees an improvement on the writing.

      For me, it comes just short of being great. There are episodes of the 1985 re-boot that were far better than what I’ve seen thus far.

      • Ruben Quintanilla

        The social commentary is effective, and Jordan Peele is a brilliant director (whether or not that’s his role in this series). I have two problems, however, with this remake of a legendary TV series.

        First, the level of violence bothers me. I suppose one could argue that it isn’t gratuitous, but it limits the audience you’re trying to reach.

        Second, the original Twilight Zone episodes were like O’Henry stories–unpredictable, with uncanny twist endings! That aspect is completely absent in this remake.

        Regarding the episode “Not All Men,” there’s something peculiar about the message that the nephew was able to suppress his toxic masculinity. At the outset, the nephew fantasizes about violently avenging his aunt, though in the final confrontation she proves capable of defending herself (with considerable violence). But the nephew is a gay teenager who experiences exactly the sort of unwanted sexual advance his aunt did. So is the message that “not all men” are violent predators–but all “real men” are?

        • Matt Perri

          Hey Ruben…

          Thanks for reading and for your comment.

          You hit the nail on the head.

          1) It’s not only the violence but the swearing as well. I don’t mind it, personally, unless it becomes gratuitous (and there have been episodes where it feels like there’s a quota to be filled) but it irks me because I wanted this to be a show that kids could learn from and I don’t think parents would want to subject their kids to this. That said, the shot of the painting of Washington soaked in blood after John Cho’s character is shot in “The Wunderkind” is powerful and provocative and it truly gave me chills as it seemed to symbolize the corruption of the office of President. Great stuff. But I wholeheartedly agree with you.

          2) Yes, this I also agree on and I’ve said as much. I think that comes with the territory. The producers and writers are so busy trying to make a statement, there isn’t much room for an actual “twist”.

          The message in “Not All Men” was muddled. I get that the space rocks were metaphors for why men are excused of such bad behavior. It just doesn’t make sense when the women can see the effects of the rock on the men in their lives. The twist (that the rock had no effect) was silly at that point.

          I’m not quite sure what the message was. The episode satirically portrays all men as violent or people like Anna’s boss: the shameless “mansplainer”. The phrase, “not all men” went viral because women would share their stories of sexual assault or the ways men had wronged them.

          Insecure men would reply “Not all men do that,” which isn’t the point. Saying that was a way of re-framing the argument in order to dismiss what happened to the woman in question.

          The nephew says that he had the choice the entire time whether or not to be an asshole but didn’t succumb to primal male urges — and he had a piece of the space rock the entire time. I am assuming that the message, then, was “you have a choice to be better”.

          So, then is the title of the episode meant to be in jest? Is the title meant to give credence to the misogynist objection that “not all men” are horrible? Or is it still poking fun at men for saying such a thing? Was the nephew able to be better because he had an experience like his aunt and, thus, empathize with her plight?

          And it just couldn’t be glued together because the episode couldn’t decide if it was a dark comedy or horror piece and that was just frustrating.

          I really wish that the episode was clearer because it seems like this was a missed opportunity. And I REALLY hate saying that because the writer and director are both female and I feel like I’m just too dumb to see it all because I’m not a woman, so there’s that, too.

          Still, an interesting episode.

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