10 classic Twilight Zone episodes to watch before CBS All-Access launch

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Twilight Zone ‘It’s a Good Life’ – Image by CBS

5. It’s a Good Life

Originally aired: November 3, 1961 – Season 3, Episode 8

Written by: Rod Serling, from the story “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

Opening narration: “Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville.

On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away.

They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines—because they displeased him—and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages—just by using his mind. Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio.

This is Mr. Fremont. It’s in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot.

She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her, turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because, once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque, walking horror.

This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster.

His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you’d better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone.”

Plot: No need for a plot from me. Serling’s intro is all you need to know.

Why it’s a classic: In the world of creepy, terrifying children, Anthony Fremont is near the top of the list, if you ask me. The idea of being at the whim of anyone who is all-powerful is scary enough. Add to it the fact that he’s a child with no sense of fairness or empathy? It’s one of the most disturbing villains/supernatural beings in Twilight Zone history.

I admit, this episode still gives me the creeps. Serling always had an ability to find stories that tapped into the core of human fears and paranoia. The fear of being powerless is all too human. And there’s no feeling more powerless than what the people of this small town feel.

TIME named it one of the top 10 Twilight Zone episodes. It’s been referenced and parodied in The Simpsons (of course) and American Dad and it inspired the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” Even Michael Jackson sampled some of the opening narration in his song “Threatened.”