From Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg, the modern re-imagining of The Twilight Zone (available to stream at CBS All Access, where you can also watch every episode of the original series) has Peele serving as host and narrator, in the role previously held by Rod Serling, as the anthology series explores different genres and tones in its socially conscious storytelling. Throughout its 10-episode season, it will explore the human condition in ways that are terrifying, horrific, funny and always entertaining, while it leaves you with plenty to think about.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Monkeypaw Productions President Win Rosenfeld, who’s an executive producer on the series, talked about how this The Twilight Zone evolved, what everyone involved was most nervous about, when they knew they were on the right track, how Jordan Peele approached bringing his own personality to the role of the host, why this new version has profanity, assembling an incredible cast, and whether there could be more episodes. He also talked about why he’s excited about their upcoming HBO TV series Lovecraft Country, and why he hopes their version of Candyman will leave an indelible mark on audiences, the way that the original did on them.
Collider: I’ve been excited about the return of The Twilight Zone since it was announced, but I had no idea just how mind-blowingly amazing it was going to be. As far as I’m concerned, it’s absolute perfection, from the storytelling, to the cast, to Jordan Peele’s spot-on delivery as the host.
WIN ROSENFELD: Thank you!
How did this originally come about? Who had the initial idea to do this?
ROSENFELD: We were actually initially encouraged by Simon Kinberg and Genre Films. This has been a much beloved property for them, as well. Early on in the process, partly inspired by Jordan’s very public love of Rod Serling and the original series, and Get Out, we had the great fortune of them picking up the phone and giving us a call, and saying, “Hey, do you think there’s something to do here?” And so, that’s how it started.
When it came to doing this show, what was everyone most nervous about?
ROSENFELD: Oh, my god, all of it. It’s so scary, when you have something that you love and respect, as much as we love and respect the original The Twilight Zone, and our chief goal was to do right by Rod Serling and the legacy of the show. Jordan said, “The Twilight Zone ain’t broken.” Our approach to re-imagining was really about trying to unpack and figure out why it worked so well, and what made those stories and episodes so incredibly timeless and durable today. The biggest danger, always is getting in your own way, and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t doing that.
At any point, along the way, did you have a moment where you were like, “Okay, we’ve got this. We’re onto something with what we’re doing,” or does that moment not come? Are you just always nervous about how it will be received?
ROSENFELD: There were big epiphany moments, along the way. There were a couple of key words and phrases that we landed on, that became guiding principles for us. One of them was this idea of mischief, and that when we’re at our best, we’re being a little mischievous. We were able to look at episodes and say, “No, that isn’t mischievous enough,” which meant not dour, and clever but not condescending, and just enough of a wink, at the right place. We want people to have a good time.
What Jordan Peele has done as the host is so perfect, with the slightest twitch of an eyebrow or the hint of a smirk while he’s talking. Did you guys have any conversations about how he would find that perfect balance between channeling Rod Serling while also bringing his own personality to the role?
ROSENFELD: Yes, we definitely did talk about that. From the beginning, Jordan was like “The one thing that I’m not gonna do is a Rod Serling impression.” And I was like, “Of course not.” We certainly never wanted to be in the position that it felt like we were doing parody. Jordan was particularly sensitive to that because his face is really associated with comedy. If anybody’s seen Key and Peele, it associates him with outlandish wigs and on the body of a Chihuahua, and all of these strange scenarios. On the other hand, the Rod Serling narrator is a combination of this omniscient gatekeeper to this other dimension, and a presence that firms and cements the surreality of the show and the fact that he’s in the shot, narrating the shot. At the same time, he also brings a certain avuncular ease and comfort. He knows something that you don’t know. When executed correctly, that can be both unsettling and comforting, at the same time. That’s what Jordan is, and that’s who he is.