'Twilight Zone' Creators and Cast on Why the CBS All Access Take Is Relevant Today

The Twilight Zone-Steven Yeun-Publicity Still- H 2019
Robert Falconer/CBS

CBS All Access' reboot of Rod Serling's classic anthology show is one of this year's most anticipated series. Executive produced and hosted by Oscar-winner Jordan Peele (Get Out), with a stacked cast including Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), DeWanda Wise (She's Gotta Have It) and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) — as well as a legacy of packaging relevant social commentary in an engaging science fiction format — The Twilight Zone has the potential to be a cut through the clutter for the streaming platform.

The 10-episode series will debut with the first two episodes April 1 and the third 10 days later. So far details have been hard to come by about just which themes the reboot will be exploring — it will take inspiration from a classic episode for the Scott-led episode, "Terror at 30,000 Ft." On Sunday at PaleyFest, the cast and creators spoke about rebooting the beloved original and why The Twilight Zone is so relevant now.

If the arrival of The Twilight Zone feels purposeful, it's because it is. A reboot had been in the works for a while, but for executive producers Simon Kinberg and Jordan Peele it was all about timing. "I sat down with Simon a couple years ago, and we did the whole, 'OK, well, this is too big a show to reboot, but if we were going to do it, how would we do it?' And one of the things that we kept coming back to was that the timing felt right. Because one of the sentences you hear often, like once a week for the past couple of years, is it feels like we're living in the fucking Twilight Zone," Peele said.

Kinberg agreed. "I think the world, all of a sudden, was in desperate need of The Twilight Zone. If I told you three or four years ago that a reality star would be the president with access to the nuclear codes, you would've been like, 'That is a crazy episode of The Twilight Zone.'"

For the showrunners, the political undertones of Serling's lauded original was key, Peele explained. "He's a master of parable, he's a master of allegory, and and what he did was he spoke to society through stories. Which, you know, we believe this is one of — if not the most — the powerful weapons that we as people have against violence and hatred and all the awful things that the world can bring."

Though the cast was tight-lipped about the content of their episodes, Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project) noted that his entry into the series focuses on something that he sees as a very real threat. "It definitely dealt with the overall theme of toxic masculinity, which I will say we're definitely being strangled with."

Yeun, who leads a story known only as "The Traveler," got the part after Peele "slipped into his DMs." Yeun said that the fact the show was trying to "do something" was part of what drew him to it. "It was really one of those things where it was like, cool, people are really trying to say something, really trying to do something. Not just caught up in this fog, this plethora of riches that we have in this world to consume. Instead we're taking the time to make something that says something."

It wasn't just about the messaging in the stories but also about the opportunity and inclusivity that Peele has created, star Sanaa Lathan explained. "I've literally been in this business for all my life, but for 20 years professionally. I remember when there were like five of us, and when I say 'us,' I mean women of color. To know that now we have filmmakers like Jordan who are putting out beautiful multicultural casts like we have on this series, it's an exciting time to be in this business."

With Serling's family in attendance in the packed auditorium, Peele spoke about the positivity of The Twilight Zone and the necessity of creating entertainment that speaks to the audience. "People need to escape, so if you can offer escapism and talk to them at the same time and start a conversation, then you get the best of both worlds and get people leaning in. When you lecture people about your views on the problems of society, they tend to close up. When you talk to them on the level of laughter and cheers and tears and scares, they react emotionally."

This need to connect was what inspired Kingberg and Peele to revisit The Twilight Zone and reimagine the vital lessons at the series' core. "When you sift through the fun of them, they have this underlying message of acceptance, of love, of coming together, and that fear is our enemy."