It’s a weird dynamic when a critic is asked to review a “season” based on a sample of it. My hope is that “The Twilight Zone” this year will be the inverse of the last. The first impressions last year were countered by the natural ebb and flow of the anthology format. So maybe if the first four episodes sent to press last year were the series best then this year they’re the series worst? That’s my thin hope because every episode in this trio disappoints to varying degrees. They all have some idea that intrigued Peele and his team, but don’t creatively build on those foundations. Serling’s masterpiece wasn’t just a show about twists, even if that’s what history has somewhat reduced it to in memes and clips. It was about subverting ideas, often with social resonance, which makes Peele the perfect man to inherit that throne. All three episodes sent for season two feel thinner on not just social commentary but insight into any aspect of the human condition. They’re more “huh” than “wow,” chapters that may be remembered for their concept but not their execution, and that’s a key difference.
In “Meet in the Middle,” the great Jimmi Simpson (“Westworld”) suddenly hears a voice in his head while he’s on another bad date. It’s a young woman named Annie (Gillian Jacobs) and they can communicate telepathically. These two lost souls end up forming a relationship through their thoughts across the miles, before agreeing to eventually meet. Naturally, it doesn’t go as planned. There’s a super thin parallel to online relationships in that we don’t really know someone until we know them in person, whether that connection is telepathic or on Twitter, but it’s underdeveloped in part because from the minute that the narrative relies on us only seeing his perspective, we know something is up. It’s also another episode that could have been tighter. If “The Twilight Zone” gets a third season, I beg everyone involved to go to a half-hour format. Even the original series suffered in the hour format it employed for only its fourth season. Simpson does strong work in “Meet in the Middle” (he always does) but it doesn’t add up to much of anything and takes a long time to get there.
More goofily entertaining is “The Who of You,” in which a struggling actor (Ethan Embry) decides to rob a bank. As the tension is rising, he locks eyes with the teller, and the two switch bodies “Freaky Friday”-style. And it doesn’t stop there. It turns out he can jump into someone else’s skin just with eye contact, and begins a journey that will cross paths with a psychic played by Billy Porter, a cop played by Mel Rodriguez, and the lead investigator played by Daniel Sunjata. It’s got a fun cast and premise, but again takes too long to fill out a runtime and ends with such a cheap twist that it will provoke an eye roll.