Submitted for your consideration...
There are over 150 Twilight Zone episodes, but I've narrowed them down to the 20 that I feel are ESSENTIAL VIEWING.
I've listed them chronologically, as I couldn't bear the thought of ranking them in preferential order (even though I have a pretty keen idea what would constitute my top three).
WHERE IS EVERYBODY?It's the very first Twilight Zone episode, setting the standard and tone with a one-man tour-de-force performance by Earl Holliman. Older folk may remember him from the 70's cop show POLICE WOMAN (where he co-starred with Angie Dickinson). Eagle-eyed film fans will recognize the town sets that were used 25 years later when filming a little film called BACK TO THE FUTURE.
ONE FOR THE ANGELSAmazingly, this delightful gem was the very next episode. Starring Ed Wynn (the funny floating fellow from MARY POPPINS) and Murray Hamilton (best known as the asshole from JAWS) as Death (who would be personified quite a few times in this series), it let us know that while Serling's series could thrill and chill the audience -- it could also make us smile.
TIME ENOUGH AT LASTPossibly the most iconic episode of the series, it is the first one of several to star future Bat-Villian extraordinaire Burgess Meredith. I find it interesting to debate whether Henry Bemis truly deserves his ultimate fate or not. Either way, it's as must-see as they come.
THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREETOne of the many episodes where Serling explored social issues in the realm of science fiction. Man's fear of the unknown, the inexorably easy slide from paranoia into rampant violence that has infected society throughout the years, from the Salem Witch Trials to the era of McCarthyism.
THE AFTER HOURSMannequins, mannequins, mannequins. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Creepy, creepy, creepy.
A WORLD OF HIS OWNEd Wynn's son Keenan (among his hundreds of roles, you may recall him as the soldier who is ordered to shoot up a Coca-Cola vending machine in DR. STRANGELOVE) stars as a playwright with a unique ability to make anything he records into his dictaphone -- come to life. Without a doubt, this episode features the most amusing ending of any Twilight Zone episode.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDEROther than Time Enough at Last, this is the Twilight Zone episode most cite as one of the best remembered of all time. Sure, you may see the twist coming a mile away, but it's still a classic.
NICK OF TIMEWilliam Shatner becomes obsessed with a fortune telling machine. A fantastic example of "doing a lot with a little". And rest assured, this is not the first time the Shat will appear on this list.
NIGHT OF THE MEEKOther than classic cartoons like The Grinch, Rudolph or Charlie Brown -- this may be one of the best Christmas themed half-hours of television ever produced. Starring Art Carney (a.k.a. the beloved Ed Norton) as a department store Santa with a magic bag that just keeps on giving.
TWENTY-TWORoom for one more, honey. When I think of Twilight Zone episodes that gave me nightmares as a child -- THIS is the first one that comes to mind. Fellow classic Sci-Fi geeks will immediately recognize the doctor as Jonathan Harris a.k.a. Dr. Zachary Smith from LOST IN SPACE.
SHADOW PLAYDennis Weaver (later to achieve his greatest fame as TV's McCLOUD) stars as a man who keeps living the same dream over and over and over. Trivia time: during the sequence in VANILLA SKY when Tom Cruise is driving through an empty Times Square, I'm fairly certain Shadow Play is playing on the Jumbotron screen.
WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP?People stranded in a diner try to determine the title question. Known for the "double twist" ending.
A GAME OF POOLJack Klugman (Oscar Madison himself) in my personal favorite of his many Twilight Zone appearances. Jonathan Winters in a rare dramatic role. Jeez, what else do you need?
IT'S A GOOD LIFEThe actual short story by Jerome Bixby is one of the most terrifying things I've ever come across. I even read it to an ex-girlfriend as a bedtime story fifteen years ago and scared the living bejesus outta her as well. This episode is an excellent adaptation, and if I WAS to pick the best episode, you can be sure I'd be giving this one very serious consideration. It's a good episode...it's a very good episode.
ONCE UPON A TIMEStrange to find a program with that title that's actually really well written. Starring the silent screen icon Buster Keaton, it's a rare comedy gem one can find in the Twilight Zone treasure chest.
TO SERVE MANIt would be hard to dispute TSM having the most classic Twilight Zone ending of all time. Like most other episodes, it no longer matters if you see it coming -- it's still extremely satisfying!
NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEETYes, the creature on the wing now looks rather silly, but everything else about this Richard Matheson penned episode is as high caliber as it gets. The Shat appears again in what might be his most famous screen performance that didn't involve a Starfleet uniform.
LIVING DOLLOther than his one-time stint playing the Bond villain Blofeld, this is probably the most unlikable role Telly "Kojak" Savalas ever undertook. Many say the Devil Doll segment of THE TRILOGY OF TERROR inspired the CHUCKY movies decades later. But I say that franchise owes more to this TZ episode than anything else. "I'm Talking Tina, and I'm going to kill you…"
THE MASKSAnother big-time iconic classic. Dying rich man leaves his greedy family their just desserts.
CAESAR AND MEI came oh-so very close to including The Dummy (episode starring Cliff Robertson as a different ill-fated ventriloquist) on the list. However, I find this other talking dummy episode (starring Jackie Cooper) to be far more frightening and just plain nasty.
Feel free to comment about all the classics that didn't make my cut, and the truly magnificent episodes that did.