Hot take: “The Twilight Zone” is the most “American” TV show ever to air. Episodes dealing explicitly with patriotism were few and far between, but episodes regarding what it meant to be a citizen in 1950s U.S. of A. are much more common. During the initial five-season run, “The Twilight Zone” dealt with everything from the trappings of nostalgia to societal pressures to xenophobic paranoia. There’s a reason episodes are still terrifyingly apt today. Though a lot has happened since 1963, people still have the same hopes and fears wrapped up inside them. Even episodes involving non-Americans, like “The Last Flight” and “Deaths-Head Revisited” are seen through the distinctly American filter of series creator and primary writer Rod Serling. Though everyone focuses on the grander three-day marathon of the New Year, there’s a reason Syfy has also been showing “The Twilight Zone” on July 4th for over two decades: it’s American as apple pie.
Here are some episodes to check out during your Monday vacation:
In Praise of Pip (5:30 a.m.)
Hate to start with a downer, but the power of Jack Klugman’s performance almost rivals his legendary appearance in “12 Angry Men.” No, really. Klugman plays Max, a father who regrets the time he missed with his soldier son, who is dying in Vietnam. This episode is not necessarily worth waking up at 5:30 a.m. for (not much is, admittedly), but it is worth tracking down and watching at a point in the day when you’re most emotionally stable.
A Game of Pool (11 a.m.)
A classic tale of hubris, this episode coincidentally also stars Jack Klugman, this time as a wannabe pool shark who wants to take on the greatest of all time. In the Twilight Zone, not only can that be a reality, but you can also be sure you’ll learn a lesson about ego in the worst way possible.
The Bewitchin’ Pool (1 p.m.)
Like the very best episodes of “The Twililght Zone,” “The Bewitchin’ Pool” takes a simple idea builds an entire world out of it. Though it was the last episode to air, Rod Sterling didn’t take the easy way out and made one of the first episodes of television to deal directly with divorce. Sport and Jeb are two kids whose parents are divorcing, so like any other kids, they disappear to their happy place. Unlike most kids, their happy place is a real place at the bottom of their pool governed by a happy old lady named Aunt T.
The Hitch-Hiker (5:30 p.m.)
The abstract idea of a hitchhiker can be scary. How about a hitchhiker who keeps reappearing down the road that you can’t escape? That’s the central plotline of “The Hitch-Hiker,” though as with most sojourns into the Twilight Zone, it takes a supernatural twist by the end. Despite the other notorious Twilight Zone trope of a somewhat obvious ending, “The Hitch-Hiker” is one of the more unnerving episodes of the show’s whole run.
The Masks (6 p.m.)
If there was one thing Rod Serling loved from time to time, it was tearing people down that he deemed to be wrong. In “The Masks,” an elderly rich man is passing away, and he’s invited all of his terrible scheming family members together to figure out his will. However, the family members must commit to wearing garish masks until midnight, and then (and certainly only then) can they cash in on their millionaire patriarch. I hope something bad doesn’t happen first!
The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street (8 p.m.)
A hallmark of middle school English classes, if you’ve seen one episode, it’s probably this one. An absolutely timeless look at how paranoia and keeping up with the Joneses can backfire in a big way, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” is always worth a rewatch, especially in this primetime slot.
The Midnight Sun (Midnight, duh)
One of the high-water marks of there series’ use of building dread, you can guess the twist of “The Midnight Sun” in the first five minutes. But watching Norma and her landlady attempt to survive an unbearable heat becomes unbearable for the viewer too, as each scene of distress and pain becomes (seemingly) very real. Can’t recommend enough.