“Night Gallery” is something of a redheaded stepchild for Rod Serling. While his Magnus Opus “The Twilight Zone” is talked about in hushed reverence, and his films like Planet of the Apes are seen as highlights of there genre, “Night Gallery” finds itself swept under the rug, hidden like a dirty secret, barely known and barely acknowledged by those who do know it. Is this fair? Well yes and no.
To put it quite frankly “Night Gallery – The Complete First Season” is infuriating to review. There is simply no way to draw a bead on its quality. To put it lightly, the quality of the show is about as regular as the bowels of an 80 year old man who has gone without his prunes for a week. It swings so wildly between awful and great that one would be tempted to diagnose it with a bi-polar disorder.
Part of the problem for “Night Gallery” inbred. For one thing the show lacks the appealingly auteuristic voice of “The Twilight Zone”, primarily because Serling had virtually no creative control on the show. Another is the format of the show itself; the anthology format was a huge mistake. By shoehorning multiple tales into each episode, the run time was drastically slashed, meaning that the show had none of the time to brew tension the way a vintage “The Twilight Zone” episode could, meaning that too many episodes resemble the “Futurama” parody of “The Twilight Zone” - "The Scary Door". Lastly the back catalogue of Serling’s previous work (and yes I'm bringing up “The Twilight Zone” again - you “Night Gallery” fans can feel free to lynch me later.) was simply too rich to ignore, and much of it was strip mined, badly and blatantly, for “Night Gallery”. Episodes like “The Doll” litter the landscape, old “Twilight Zone” concepts bastardized. Even if comparisons to “The Twilight Zone” are unfair (which I'm sure the many e-mails being prepped as I speak will tell me), they're sort of hard not to make especially since Serling is not so much inviting that particular ghost in, as he is telling it to put its feet up, have a beer, and help itself to whatever is in the fridge.
At the same time though, there are episodes of “Night Gallery” that find its voice (which resembles the classic EC comics much more then it does “The Twilight Zone”) and the effect can be pretty spectacular. For every abysmal piece of nonsense like “The Doll”, “A Matter of Semantics” (With Cesar Romero shamelessly mugging as Count Dracula) or “Make Me Laugh” (an embarrassing directorial turn from a young Steven Spielberg), there are episodes like “Eyes” (Spielberg’s first directorial effort and reason enough for completests to plop down money for this set), about a rich sociopath who will go to any lengths to see again, “Professor Peabody's Last Lecture” where Carl Reiner finds that ancient Gods don't enjoy being mocked, and “Return of the Sorcerer” which features a star turn by the always-enjoyable Vincent Price. In these episodes a wonderful chill sets in, and even if Network Television kept them from being actually scary, they have the nice tone of a tale told round the campfire, with a welcome sense of irony. If one strains hard enough one can nearly here the Crypt Keeper giving a hearty “Heh, heh, heh” of approval.
So is “Night Gallery” worth the fifty bucks? If you’re a fan undoubtedly yes, but most likely you already own it, and you’re plotting to kill me in a way that will allow you to paint an Ironic creepy painting about the event. If you’re not, try to rent it or get it used. There is plenty that's sweet about “Night Gallery – The Complete First Season”, but you're going to have to pucker up and suck on a few lemons first.
“Night Gallery” comes with the original Six episodes of the series and a few random episodes from later in the run, or as the box insists on putting it, TWENTY STORIES!!!!!. Apparently the smart folks at Universal thought this, and chances to see washed up stars (and giggle at how young Sally Field and Diane Keaton look), was enough. Obviously this is what they thought, because the set comes with nothing else.
Literally - nothing. Folks, they couldn't even pony up the scratch to remaster the freaking episodes (and they look pretty damn bad too). I suppose you could see the random episodes as extras, but “Gallery” fans shouldn’t get to excited because their inclusion seems to point to Universal's intentions never to release anything “Gallery” related again, and seem to be included so Universal could mercenarily pimp some star power.
I can't recall a set being treated with this much disrespect.