Few television shows have remained relevant in our cultural lexicon for as long as Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” Employing elements of science fiction and the supernatural, every episode serves as a timeless morality play exploring some dark corner of the human experience, often with a terrifying ironic twist. Its ability to unnerve generation after generation is a true accomplishment, though it does fall short of presenting a single instance more terrifying than the presidential election just a year away.
Man’s hubris, our tendency toward self-destruction, our fear of the unknown, it’s all on display in “The Twilight Zone” and the punches are rarely pulled, but we would take any of its nightmare scenarios over the 2024 race. We ranked the top 30 episodes of this classic series, and none of them come close to the dread we feel over the next year.
30. “A Game of Pool” (Episode 3.5)
Jesse Cardiff is an ace pool shark, but no matter how good he gets he can never escape the shadow of his legendary predecessor Fats Brown. That is until the ghost of Fats comes down from heaven and offers Jesse a chance to prove himself by beating Fats in a game. Jesse does so, only to find that now he is the legend, doomed to live in limbo until a new challenger can usurp him. It’s not the scariest episode of “The Twilight Zone” but it’s a poignant reminder that when someone big dies, it’s only a matter of time before someone takes their place. Think Trump/Hitler.
29. “Nick of Time” (Episode 2.7)
In the first of two William Shatner appearances, a couple awaiting car repair at a diner begins to suspect that the novelty fortune teller on their table is supernaturally accurate. The man becomes obsessed and begins to unravel until his wife makes a case for the futility of trying to know the future, and they decide to walk away. It’s sort of an allusion to Pandora’s Box where man is spared the curse of foresight. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, this whole existing thing. We would give anything to not know how fucked we’re going to be after #election2024.
28. “A Nice Place to Visit” (Episode 1.28)
A guy dies and goes to what he thinks is heaven because he does nothing but win. The twist? It’s actually hell, and winning gets boring after a while. Big Deal. We’ve known this is hell since 2015 and we still need to go to work and shit.
27. “The Masks” (Episode 5.25)
A wealthy man on his deathbed forces his greedy heirs to wear grotesque masks until the stroke of midnight to receive their inheritance. When they remove the masks, however, they find their faces have been permanently deformed, their outward appearance now matching the ugliness within them. Take a look at that picture. Everyone there is still more appealing than Trump, Christie or DeSantis by a country mile.
26. “Little Girl Lost” (Episode 3.26)
A young girl vanishes into another dimension through a mysterious portal in one of the walls of her home. It seemed awfully scary in 1962, but today we should all be so lucky.
25. “The Lonely” (Episode 1.07)
In the future, prisoners are marooned on their own planet, with only a sex robot for company. This is supposed to be scary? Real-life prisons are overcrowded, under-resourced, and not a sex robot to be seen. Robert Duvall’s prison sounds better than most of our lives.
24. “Two” (Episode 3.01)
In the future, a world war rages for so long that in the end there is only one survivor from each side. One of them is a woman, and the other is a Charles Bronson. They almost kill each other, but eventually decide to call off the battle and, presumably, repopulate the earth. It’s grim sure, but the survival rate of this war is higher than the survival rate of the upcoming third World War by about two.
23. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (Episode 2.28)
Stranded at a snowed-in diner, the passengers of a bus discover that someone among them is secretly an alien in disguise. We would kill to have a problem as tame as “Who is the interloper?” Instead, we must decide which proven interloper will do the least amount of damage running our country for the next 4 years.
22. “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (Episode 5.17)
In a future overtaken by vanity, everyone is forced to have cosmetic surgery to make them look like one of a dozen beautiful people. They get twelve people to choose from?! We only get to choose between two people to be president and they aren’t even hot!
21. “The Odyssey of Flight 33” (Episode 2.18)
Accidentally traveling to the time of the dinosaurs is scary, sure, but at least you’re up there in the safety of an airplane, not down here on the ground, present-day watching the dinosaurs run the government.
20. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Episode 5.03)
A gremlin threatens to destroy an airplane mid-flight, and no one will heed William Shatner’s panicked warnings. If you think that’s bad, wait until you see what four more years of neglect does to our entire infrastructure. It doesn’t matter if we wind up with Biden again, Trump again, or any of the other GOP mutant hopefuls, you’re going to want to avoid trains and bridges.
19. “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (Episode 3.14)
A clown, a hobo, a ballerina, an Air Force captain, and a Scotsman all find themselves in a circular room with no exit, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. Each one of them would be a more viable candidate than anyone we will see on the 2024 ballet.
18. “Twenty-Two” (Episode 2.17)
A stripper recovering from exhaustion keeps having a recurring dream in which she wanders down to the hospital morgue, where a nurse tells her “Room for one more, honey” before she wakes up screaming. Later, when she is boarding a plane, a stewardess identical to the nurse in her dream says “Room for one more, honey.” She screams and runs away. The plane takes off and explodes. It must be nice to be able to change your fate like that. We’ve been having nightmares about the next presidency every night and we’re still gonna have to get on the plane.
17. “The Eye of the Beholder” (Episode 2.06)
In a world where everyone is a pig-faced ghoul, a conventionally attractive woman is considered deformed, and after her 11th attempt at corrective surgery she is still “ugly.” Hang on… 11 surgeries? So even in this fictional world run by literal fascist pigs, insurance will cover 11 surgeries to fix a purely cosmetic issue? Which world is the dystopia again?
16. “The Howling Man” (Episode 2.5)
A man seeks shelter from a storm in a monastery, where he finds that the monks are keeping a prisoner. The prisoner howls and begs for help, but the monks warn the man that the prisoner is in fact the devil and must never be released. We got a guy like that. If you listen closely you can hear him howling now. “This trial is a witch hunt,” he says. “Stolen election!” he whines. “Make America great again!” For the love of God, don’t let him out.