Margin: 

Exploring Modern Magical Realism

E S S A Y
MRTV: The Twilight Zone and her offspring
b y   t a m a r a   k a y e   s e l l m a n   ~   M A R G I N

THERE ARE few television shows that maintain their popularity for so long that the original, black-and-white episodes are still coveted by people who weren't even alive to see them during their first run. The Twilight Zone os one such series, which enjoys its 45th anniversary in October 2004.

The original program, which aired between 1959 and 1964 and was written and hosted by narrator Rod Serling, was an eclectic mix of imaginative themes, including horror, science fiction and fantastic tales that share much in common with what critics call "magical realism" now.

The Twilight Zone was revived on CBS (in its color format) in the late eighties, and the UPN picked it up afterward, in 2002, featuring popular narrator and host Forest Whitaker. At that time, The Twilight Zone also spawned into a nationally syndicated radio drama. Such repeat performances across networks and media suggest America's long-term love affair with imaginative, startling and cutting-edge television narrative.

There are more specifically magical realist episodes than can be named here, but here are a few fans will recall:

THE SIXTEEN-MILLIMETER SHRINE --aired Oct 23, 1959
A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY --aired May 6, 1960
THE AFTER HOURS --aired June 10, 1960
LONG DISTANCE CALL --aired March 31, 1961
DEAD MAN'S SHOES --aired Jan 19, 1962
A PIANO IN THE HOUSE --aired Feb 16, 1962
PRINTER'S DEVIL --aired Feb 28, 1963
THE SELF IMPROVEMENT OF SALVADORE ROSS --aired Jan 17, 1964
THE BEWITCHIN' POOL --aired June 19, 1964

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination . . ." remarked originator Rod Serling in one of his canned introductions to the program. "Beyond it is another dimension—a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into The Twilight Zone." These and other remarks Serling made have lived on in infamy among the most tireless fans of the series and are a proud testament to popular television culture in America.

American viewers have long appreciated magical realist TV without even knowing it existed as a category (perhaps network producers should start paying attention?). Listed below is a sampling of contemporary programs, available in DVD or currently showing, to illustrate the ongoing interest in imaginative television which weaves the magical with the mundane. -- TKS, editor, Margin

CARNIVĀLE
2003-
A fugitive with healing powers hooks up with a traveling carnival in the Dust Bowl during the Depression. At the same time, a Methodist preacher claiming his own extraordinary talents as "God's will" begins a personal and bizarre conquest against sin.
TKS: Amazing production. Returned to HBO October 9.

EARLY EDITION
1996-2000
For reasons unknown to him, main character Gary Hobson gets tomorrow's newspaper today, delivered to his front doorstep via an orange cat.
TKS: Seems kind of outrageous, but there's something very Borgesian about this show. An inventive program suitable for families. Reruns regularly on PAX.

EERIE, INDIANA
1991-1992
Average boy Marshall Teller moves with his family to the small town of Eerie only to discover that it "is the center of weirdness for the universe." Are twins who sleep in Tupperware weird enough for you? Marshall and his best friend chronicle town oddities in each episode.
TKS: This was a good show canceled prematurely. All episodes available on DVD in fall 2004.

JOAN OF ARCADIA
2003-
Teenage girl has conversations with God, who manifests in various surprising ways.
TKS: Popular show; won the People's Choice Award for best new drama, 2003. Returned to CBS September 24.

KINGDOM HOSPITAL
2004 miniseries
Spooky Stephen King adaption of the Lars Von Trier series about a haunted hospital built over an ancient graveyard.
TKS: Borderline horror series intersects the living with the dead to reflect a magical realist sensibility. ABC's run has been completed, but the miniseries is available on DVD.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE
1990-1995
Med-school graduate Joel Fleishman moves to Cicely, Alaska to complete his scholarship, only to discover an eccentric community of peculiar people and strange events.
TKS: My all-time favorite television show; I can't be objective. Some favorite magical realist episodes: "Aurora Borealis"; "The Big Kiss"; "Get Real"; "Old Tree"; "Three Doctors"; "Mr. Sandman"; "Hello, I Love You"; and "Fish Story." Reruns found on A&E and Hallmark.

SIX FEET UNDER
2001-
A funny, endearing, outrageous and emotional look at a grieving American family who runs a mortuary business.
TKS: The magical realist elements run secondary to the realism, but there's plenty of dialog between the living and the dead to put this one in the list. Season finale aired September 18; reruns play in 2005 on HBO.

TWIN PEAKS
1990-1991
This risky, borderline-surreal, murder mystery opened television producers' minds to innovative subjects and high-end production tactics for network TV.
TKS: Famous magical realist aspects: The Log Lady and her woodsy oracle; the whiting of Leland Palmer's hair; BOB; "backwards talking"; owls as spiritual vehicles; cursed objects (the blue ring, i.e.); the angel that saved Ronette Pulaski. Pilot, first season and companion film release available on DVD. Rumor: the global release of Season 2 might occur in 2005.

Urban legend programming
At no other time in American television have there been so many programs geared toward celebrating, debunking or promoting the urban legend narrative. Some popular shows spinning the veracity (or lack thereof) of urban legendry include: "Amazing Stories" (SCIFI); "Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?" (FOX); "Big Urban Myth Show" (MTV); "It's a Miracle" (PAX); "Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed" (TLC); and "Ripley's Believe It Or Not!" (TBS).

WONDERFALLS
2004-?
By casting a coin into a magical fountain, Jaye enters into an unspoken liaison with the headstrong spirit of an Indian maiden trapped under Niagara Falls in order to do right in the world.
TKS: Extremely fresh and funny; brilliant postmodern TV. Was prematurely canceled. Leading lady Caroline Dhavernas pulls off what could have been cheesy, but definitely wasn't. Available on DVD in the US in December (unverified). Lucky Canadians! They get to see the full 13 episodes broadcast in fall 2004 on VisionTV. You can sign a petition to continue Wonderfalls on a new network in the US to keep the show alive.


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