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The Twilight Zone review: A dark look at laughs

“You have one thing. One natural resource. You are a country with one export, and you are that export. I’ll tell you a secret: Put yourself out there, and you will get laughs. You will be successful. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

A new season of “The Twilight Zone” hosted by Jordan Peele premiered  April 1. The launch episode, “The Comedian, is available for free on the CBS All Access YouTube channel.

Graphic by Haley Jordan/Connect.

Graphic by Haley Jordan/Connect.

The Comedian follows the story of Samir Wassan’s (played by Kumail Nanjiani), struggling attempt to become a successful comedian. The episode opens up with Nanjiani’s character at a comedy club delivering a joke about the controversial topic of gun control and the Second Amendment in the United States to an unamused audience.

After the show, he sees the famous comedian JC Wheeler (played by Tracy Morgan) and asks for advice on how to improve his comedy. After insisting to Wheeler that he’s serious and dedicated to becoming a successful comedian, Wheeler tells Wassan that the only way for him to reach the audience is to give them something from his life. He warns Wassan that

“…Once you put it out there, the audience will take it in. They will connect. And once they connect to it, it’s theirs. And once it’s theirs… That s— is gone forever.”

Wassan tries to tell the Second Amendment joke from the beginning of the episode multiple times throughout the episode only to be met with a quiet audience. Wassan wants to use his comedy to talk about current issues that impact the world, but the audience only responds positively to cruel jokes and takedowns of people in his life. Every time he centers a joke around someone, they disappear. They don’t “die” per se, they just stop existing with no one to remember them by but Wassan.

At first, he does this accidentally, not realizing the effect his jokes have on people. As the episode progresses, he realizes the power of his comedy and starts to take advantage of it, becoming an ever-popular comedian at the expense of people’s lives.

The ending of “The Comedian is predictable, but well executed. It keeps you watching both to see what happens as much as how it happens and keeps your attention the entire time. The jokes in Wassan’s comedy routines feel like jokes you would hear from the average comedian, but the show makes it hard to laugh at them. You never forget what’s going to happen to the people Wassan jokes about. You can’t laugh without sharing in Wassan’s guilt.

The technical aspects of the episode are somewhat minimalistic but definitely not bare. The character’s personalities are simple enough for the story but developed enough to be distinct from one another and let the actors demonstrate their skills.

Visually, most of the scenes make you feel like you’re in a nighttime comedy club, which is fitting because, for most of the scenes, you are. There’s a nice contrast between dark and light that makes you focus on what the show wants you to while still being nice to look at. The sound effects and score have a similar effect, being minimal enough to let them complement the scenes instead of detracting from them and ruining the show’s immersion.

I highly recommend watching the episode on YouTube, and then deciding from there if you want to subscribe to CBS All Access to see the rest of the season.


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