One of the great things about the eighties iteration of The Twilight Zone was that it knew when to keep things short. Not all short stories, when translated onto the screen, can fit neatly in a half-hour running time. The worst thing in the world is for a story to drag on, but not The Twilight Zone! It had perfected the now-long-dead art of microfiction on television and divided many of its episodes into segments, as proven by brilliant shorts like one of my faves, I Of Newton.
In I of Newton, math professor Sam is having trouble working out an equation on a classroom blackboard. He is so frustrated, he exclaims he'd sell his soul to solve the equation before him. It's just an expression, but all the same a demon springs out of nowhere to collect on his word, and tells Sam there are no takesies-backsies! Instead, he has one chance to save his soul: He can ask the demon three questions about his abilities, then lay down a task. If the demon is unable to perform it, he's off the hook.
There are so many things that I love about this segment. I thought condensing it in list form would make it not TLDR, but no.
- The characters are badasses. Sam, played by Sherman Hemsley, stands his ground and doesn't lose his shit even at the prospect of eternal damnation. Ron Glass is also memorable as the scene-chewing, smooth-talking demon, who's more sleazy car salesman than hellspawn. And as he so aptly puts it, "I'd like to cut through all that victim-demon negative imaging, you know what I mean?"
- The great imagery in their dialogue. Especially when the demon descrives the extent of his near-omnipotent powers in intimidating detail. Or when he likens Hell as a kind of "re-distribution" company of souls. Most of the episode is just them talking, which is probably why the two characters are so well-developed. It also makes me think this would make a great two-man play.
- The shirts! The slogan on the demon's shirt changes as he moves, and it's played to maximum effect thanks to clever editing. It's one of my favorite things about the segment; the demon isn't clad in a cheesy cape and trident--just horns, a cool pair of shades, and these babies:
I cannot tell you how badly I've wanted to dress up as this demon for Halloween. It would be so easy to put together. And people who'd get the Twilight Zone reference would become insta-friends. Sadly, we don't really celebrate the holiday in my country. Bummer. But getting these shirts printed out and just wearing them on the streets is still a dream of mine.