My parents put the kibosh on me getting my first New Year’s Eve kiss when I was 14 years old. I desperately wanted to go to a party where my crush would be and they did actually drive me to the party, but my father marched right up to the door and, after determining that no parents were present in the house, ordered me back to the car. My friends begged and pleaded, even showing my dad their mugs of booze-free hot chocolate and protesting that everyone was just watching "Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve" on the television in between playing the piano and singing show tunes.
My dad wouldn’t budge, and in utter humiliation I walked back to the car with him and got in to go back home. Arguments ensued between us about their responsibilities as parents and me shouting that they were sending a terrible message that they didn’t trust me until we got home and I stomped off to go sulk at my terrible misfortune.
“You can watch ‘The Twilight Zone’ with us,” my dad called after me. “It’s the marathon.”
“I don’t care,” I petulantly shouted back.
But that was a lie. I went straight to the den to watch it; I just wanted to be alone to lose myself in the sound of Rod Serling’s voice until I fell asleep. I was so riveted that night that I don’t think I even switched channels to see the ball drop, even though I'd seen most of the episodes already.
Many New Year’s Eves have passed since that night of teenage humiliation ameliorated solely by Rod Serling; watching the marathon is still my favorite thing to do. In fact, it's the greatest thing to do on New Year's Eve, which can be a fraught or expensive day otherwise.
My therapist once suggested that having any comforting television marathon on during holidays — and "The Twilight Zone" is my personal happy place — might be popular because it serves as an enticing alternative to “what’s outside,” be it intimidating crowds, loud fireworks, forced fun or anything else overwhelming. Rewatching episodes at home on the couch, either alone or with company, can be familiar and comforting.
I know that’s a big reason why I still opt to watch the marathon, rather than spend all night at crowded parties or bars. At best, I'll stay briefly out somewhere before heading home to pick up with it.
My father introduced me to "The Twilight Zone" as a kid when he noticed that I gravitated toward books with magical or paranormal plots. He was right to do so: I was immediately enthralled by the weird characters, the morality lessons, the supernatural storylines and the occasional happy endings.
And even 60 years after it originally aired, the show remains relevant. Existential dread and loneliness were themes throughout the whole series, and I’d argue we acknowledge those feelings far more publicly now than we did then. Who hasn’t looked at themselves in a mirror — like the titular character in “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” — and wished that a more confident version of themselves would step out and take over. Xenophobia and bigotry (subjects of the fan favorite episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” amongst many others) are more prominent than ever as 2019 and three years of the current presidency come to a close. The number of hate crimes might be down, according to the FBI, but hate-based violence against individuals has risen to a 16-year high. And, there iseven more distrust of the technologies that populate our lives now than was seen in episodes like “A Thing About Machines” and “The Lateness of the Hour.”
(Plus, the inimitable Jordan Peele took on the task of rebooting the series this year with his signature spin and that was renewed for a second season.)
Rod Serling not only captured the fears and inner thoughts of his audience 60 years ago, he also somehow managed to understand humans in a way that gives longevity to so many of his episodes — never mind his eerie knack for predictions. “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” foretold the rise and popularity of “Instagram face,” while Navy pilots have had UFO sightings this year even as others have broken their silence about witnessing strange flying objects more than a decade ago. (Hopefully these current stories wrap up in a way that doesn’t mirror Serling’s plot in “To Serve Man.”)
Watching "The Twilight Zone" marathon is the best way to end the year because the show had a handle on what makes us human, what we love, what scares us and what might happen if our greatest wish came true. It also collectively reprimanded us for our failings and doled out punishment for the greedy, the bigoted and the haters. The shows are old but the message is lasting.
And is there a better way to end a year and begin a new one than entering another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but also of mind? It is, after all, a journey into a wondrous land of imagination.