Friday, March 21, 2008

Nose-talgia Visits The Twilight Zone!

And not Twilight Zone in general, one T-Zone episode in particular is what I'd like to focus on in this Nose-talgia piece. I'm speaking of A Stop At Willoughby, in my opinion one of the best episodes of an exceptionally brilliant television series.

Who can ever forget the pure joy of staying home sick from school and being able to watch a Twilight Zone repeat in the middle of the day. You hear the frantic, almost psychotic music, followed by Rod Serling's flat, ironic, Binghamton New York monotone. "There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone." Wow. One doesn't experience writing that pretty on TV anymore, unless it's HBO.

Brief digression before my Willoughby swoon to mention that fellow Blogger Lisa was part of a genius programming team that invented the Thanksgiving Day Twilight Zone Marathon on LA's indie TV station KTLA. It was to counter program the endless football games, and was an instant ratings winner.

And now for my favorite T-Zone episode, "A Stop At Willoughby", which I've seen something like two or three hundred times. It never gets old, in fact it was quite prescient for the early sixties in predicting the frantic, type A environment of the advertising and media industry that still exists today. Gart Williams is a 38 year old advertising executive who is becoming unhinged at a very rapid pace. His wife is a brass blond shrew, his boss is a spit slinging screamer and his co-workers are gargoyles. The pressure is on at work to land a new account and Gart is failing faster than he can say please pass the Alka Seltzer. In one memorable scene, that I have personally lived through dozens of times in real life (as a media ad exec), the boss bellows, "Push Push Push, Williams!!! Push Push Push". You can practically smell his hot fetid breath through the TV screen.

Every day Gart takes the train home from this nightmare work environment, but there is no rest for the weary there, because his wife is a steel edged social climbing bitch. He'd get more warmth and sympathy from the Frigidaire.

But one night Gart falls asleep on the train and when he wakes up there is a special surprise outside his window. It's Willoughby...a little town stuck in the year 1880...somewhere in The Twilight Zone. In Willoughby it is always summer, and a band plays in the park. Strangers tip their hats and kids play in the grass. Think of the hottest, thirstiest moment you have ever had. Willoughby is the glass of lemonade.

Of course, Gart is transfixed by Willoughby. Of course, when he asks the conductor about the stop, he is met with a blank stare.

One day the work, the wife, the whole mess that makes up Gart's stressed out 20th century life proves too much for him and when the train stops he strolls right off into the sunny streets of Willoughby. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've watched that scene and wanted to go along with him.

The final scene of the episode raises classic T-Zone goose bumps. The train has stopped and the conductor is standing outside in the snow with a couple of policemen. We see Gart's body being loaded into an ambulance, and when the doors to the emergency vehicle close, there is one word painted onto the exterior: "Willoughby".

Nice. I have it on DVD. Think I'll go watch it again, for the 301st time.


Lisa said...

Excellent and personal tribute to an unforgettable TZone episode! The whole episode is actually available online on AOL Video here:

-- for all those who don't have the DVDs at hand.

LSaW is a great episode and I think part of the mystique for you might be the train-going-to-work-thing, which I certainly never grew up with on the West Coast. Wish I had -- I'd have wanted to get off at Willoughby, too!

Jane said...

Thanks, Lisa! Glad you liked the post. I think this episode resonates for me because I grew up in a sleepy country town. So Willoughby is actually "Warwick" for me and the whole thing is a metaphor screaming "you can't go home again". Also, I can certainly personally relate to the frenetic pace of the ad industry!

Anonymous said...

My favorite too.
It's "A Stop At Willoughby" which I always confuse with "Next Stop Willoughby" or "Last Stop, Willoughby".
Whatever. Nitpicking.
But I am always looking for a screensaver of the "Willoughby & Son Mortuary" hearse/ambulance when they close the doors.
Have some friends I'd like to send that to.