I had mentioned during Downtime, that it felt like the programmers of the game that we call life had a reason for preventing me from watching season 2 of The Twilight Zone until after Eric Molinsky released his Imaginary Worlds podcast on the same subject. Well, lo and behold, there just might be another reason I was delayed. I’d just finished watching Zooey Deschanel’s series, New Girl, which was utterly delightful (and a show I would never have started on my own, but am very glad my wife decided to watch it!) I finished it about 2 hours before sitting down to A Small Town. It’s significant because of the star of this episode, Damon Wayans Jr. He plays Coach in New Girl and maintains the signature comedy style of his family. Mind you, that’s not criticism, the whole cast of New Girl is wonderful and you’d be hard pressed not to like everyone you meet, but it made me pretty convinced Wayans only has one style of acting: comedy. When I saw him at the start of a Twilight Zone episode, I had to do a double take; there was no hint of comedy and barring a lighthearted “dude” while looking at some really great artwork, he delivers a serious, dramatic performance, never once lapsing into a comedic character. He actually conveys a man with a heavy heart who finds a way to do some good in his community.
And that’s the story in a nut shell: it focuses on Jason, whose wife was mayor until she died a year earlier. He starts working in the attic of a church when he discovers a model of the town where he lives. He quickly realizes that changes he makes to the model have a real world impact. He paints a diner an interesting shade of peach and has some fun from there on out but never once does he become power-mad which is perhaps the best part of this story. We are shown a man who actually just wants to help the community.
As a kid, I loved the church song “He’s got the whole world in his hands” but never have I heard it used to such perfect effect as this, when Jason starts improving the town from his top-down view. The story has an antagonist, which makes sense since Jason never becomes obsessed with ruling from on high. That antagonist is the new Mayor and he is a real jerk. Jason does become annoyed enough that he drops a pebble on the matchbox car version of the mayors real life car, resulting in a meteor destroying the actual vehicle, thus proving he is still very human, but in the grand scheme, never resorts to evil. Well, he does torment the mayor with a tarantula which appears in giant form in the town, but the mayor does deserve it. (I wouldn’t have made it as far as the first scream.) There’s a throw-away scene where Jason puts a chicken wing on a street of the model which appears in front of a dog in giant form, but this seems to be the only hint of comedy to the episode as it has no other role to play; it’s never even talked about. Maybe the dog ate the whole thing! The idea is, frankly, poorly placed and has no actual meaning in the episode which I felt was a bit silly but it’s too minor to dislike the episode over.
I would say the story has a solid message about being the change we want to see in the world. As usual, I won’t spoil what happens but the episode ends on a happy note. Well, a bad thing happens but the end result is a positive one. The Mayor never really gets his just comeuppance but that’s ok; seldom are there real villains in the world that need to be “beaten”. Having said that, in talking with my friends, Roger came up with what would have been a darker but, I think, far superior ending with Jason trying to prevent the Mayor from getting such power by punching the model of the church where both he and the Mayor were fighting. It would have appeared to the townspeople to be an act of God, and may have brought everyone together. It would have also offered a visual treat as a giant fist might have come bursting through the window, destroying the church. Sometimes, I am convinced my friends and I should be script editors!
The episode does rely on a level of magic that has no explanation, but that’s not deal breaker. Some of the Zone stories don’t make sense in a real-world way, but we accept the stories for what they are: fantasies. At least they give us some good takeaways, and as I said, this story has some good ones: things don’t always go to plan and we can make changes in the world when we choose to. Maybe another takeaway is not to take credit for other people’s work, or you’ll be tormented by a giant spider. Actually, that’s the one thing that’s still bothering me: where is the spider at the end of the story? ML… once again with a little help from my friends.
A most common message in sci-fi/fantasy and anthologies is “What would you do with the power to change the world?”, which A Small Town takes most remarkably back to basics. The reason for the magic may be to help enlighten us as many documented mysteries continue to do today. We can at least therefore appreciate that much to the point where even if the villain doesn’t exactly get a due comeuppance, the good people find enough justice in their revitalized wisdom. Although I can say that your alternate ending, RP, is certainly interesting.
Just yesterday I finally saw the sci-fi movie Primer with its own message about the consequences of desiring to change the world for the better. Motivations play the biggest role. If it’s not entirely for yourself, if you really want to help others out of the goodness in your heart, then the power is truly a gift. But of course there are villains like the Mayor to watch out for. So as a reminder of that, the traditional theme we see in A Small Town has not outlived its welcome. The real magic can be how the people of the town appropriately respond to the power. Because there can always be abundant power in taking responsibility for our lives. The miracle is what sets the stage. The rest is up to us. In that sense, A Small Town is the most realistic TZ episode of its kind since the classic TZ’s Dust.
Thanks, ML, for your review.
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