The Twilight Zone: The Definitive Edition Season 1

That The Twilight Zone reissues are starting again from the beginning might seem a cheap cash grab, but this one's more of a rectification. Initially packaged in four-episode discs and hodgepodge box sets — before the industry standard full season box took hold — it became impossible to collect its five seasons coherently. That's changed with the remarkable (and worthwhile) Definitive Edition Season 1. The series began in 1959, the brainchild of writer and host Rod Serling; his authoritative, sonorous tones are as much a trademark of the program as its creepy theme song (which, by the way, hadn't yet been added in the show's first season). In the early days, Serling adapted short stories into the show's half-hour "mysteries" but regularly with his own Zone spin. And in these days of increasingly disaffected American life, loneliness and disassociation are the first season's most prominent themes. Just sampling a few of the first season's landmark episodes bears this out: the show's very first episode, "Where Is Everybody?" features the now-standard sci-fi trope of the last man on earth; "The Lonely" features a man left alone on another planet as criminal punishment; and in "Time Enough to Last," Burgess Meredith portrays the famed reader presented with an opportunity to get some reading done after a holocaust. But The Twilight Zone is not all ennui and loneliness — one of the show's most fascinating elements is the breadth of its explorations: a Western one week, sci-fi the next; here a social statement, there a horror show. The variety of its source material helped this diversity in the early days, but it's Rod Serling's ambitious vision that turned the Zone into the blueprint for so much creative sci-fi exploration in the next half century. The influence of the show is almost impossible to grasp — each episode sets off haunting echoes of its pop culture impact, whether adapted for Star Trek or parodied on The Simpsons. The program draws a direct line between the writing of Edgar Allen Poe and the direction of Alfred Hitchcock through to the career of "gotcha" director M. Night Shyamalan (who should pay royalties to Serling). In terms of DVD extras, the original issues chopped the programs a little to provide greater coherence to the original DVD's haphazard collections, but now presented in chronological order, this DVD set restores the "teases" that Serling presented at the end of each episode outlining the next mysterious journey into the unknown. It also includes contemporary commercials and highlights of other network programming of its day, like Steve McQueen's TV Western Wanted: Dead Or Alive. But the most valuable extra of all will only accompany this first season: a comprehensive book called The Twilight Zone Companion that outlines fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes of each episode in all five seasons, as well as providing trivia, interviews, profiles and analysis that put it all in perspective. Once you're hooked, at least you know that the rest of the set will also be released in such a coherent and yes definitive, package. Plus: interviews, commentary, audio-only tracks, radio dramas and more. (CBS/Image/Vid Canada)