Perhaps encouraged by CBS’s success with The Twilight Zone, ABC launched The Outer Limits in 1963. Although it’s often overshadowed by Rod Serling’s version, it was successful enough to run for 2 seasons and is still considered an iconic sci-fi anthology series. Also, make no mistake about it: There are some definite horror elements here. However, The Outer Limits veers harder in the sci-fi direction and spends more time on it, too.
Each episode is almost an hour long. If you’re a creator, that means you’ve got more room for possible shocks or anything else you want to cram in. On the other hand, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing or to simply have bad things drag on. Thankfully, The Outer Limits tends to avoid such pitfalls, although some stories are bound to be better than others. It’s all according to one’s taste. At the very least, The Outer Limits also featured William Shatner, so it had the Shatner Factor!
My Favorite Episodes
One could ramble on about each and every episode, but let’s narrow the focus down to some of my subjective faves. Here’s where I’ll have to be honest: I had never seen a single episode of The Outer Limits prior to doing this anthology flashback series. However, I do occasionally like a good (or bad) sci-fi story. Of the 14 episodes from season 1 that I’ve now seen, I’d decided to focus on 3 of them: “Nightmare,” “Corpus Earthling” and “Zanti Misfits.”
Regarding “Nightmare,” I mostly appreciate the episode for the performance of Bill Gunn as Pvt. James P. Willowmore. It seems like he gave the performance his all, preventing the episode from getting too mired in silliness. That being said, I also like a particular Ebonite alien (John Anderson), thanks to his iconic look. The episode is also notable for having a young Martin Sheen as Pvt. Arthur Dix.
“Corpus Earthling” is one of the most entertaining episodes. It features small, alien rocks plotting to take over the human race. How? Mind control, of course! It’s a zany premise, but it ends up also having surprisingly heavy elements of tragedy. The wicked rocks are described by the narrator as being “strange organisms beyond the imagination of man.” If the shoe fits, wear it! The episode stars Robert Culp and Salome Jens.
One of the more iconic episodes, though, has to be “Zanti Misfits.” I must admit, I like this episode for a dumb reason: I find the so-called Zanti Misfits funny to watch. They are basically insects with pissed off-looking human faces. What’s not to like about that! As I said, it’s not a smart reason to like the episode, which actually does have some more sophisticated story elements. I just could not get past these Zanti things, though. Another fun aspect: This episode takes place in a ghost town named Morgue. Again, that’s a nice touch! This episode starred Olive Deering and Michael Tolan.
I can’t say I prefer The Outer Limits over The Twilight Zone (read our The Twilight Zone anthology flashback here), but there are some memorable moments and monsters (which producer Joseph Stefano referred to as “bears”). There are times where the series seems to be on the self-aware side, as no one could possibly look at the Zanti Misfits, for example, and take them seriously. I can appreciate that kind of humor.
That being said, some of the characters in The Outer Limits do have depth, if you’re into that sort of thing. While the show doesn’t have Rod Serling’s cool-as-hell screen presence, it does begin with the freaky “Control Voice” narration, which has its own charm.
What are your thoughts on The Outer Limits? Let us know in the comments!