One of the most anticipated Twilight Zones of this new season, “You Might Also Like” has two major selling-points. First off, it was written and directed by Osgood Perkins, a talented young horror filmmaker who’s the first person to get what could be called an “auteur credit” on this show.
While it’s true that on most TV productions the buck ultimately stops with the showrunners—no matter who’s credited as writer or director—Perkins’ stamp is evident on “You Might Also Like.” Like his films The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, this episode has a visual style that emphasizes the spare and pristine. And like those movies it follows a woman who’s alienated and paranoid.
Gretchen Mol gives a riveting performance as the woman, Janet Warren, who lives in an ostensibly utopian America where seemingly every person of means dresses in white, lives in a clean suburban McMansion, and looks forward to the next cutting-edge consumer product advertised by their society’s overlords. The problem for Mrs. Warren is that she recently had a stillborn baby, and in her grief she’s no longer convinced that buying something new will solve her problems… and she’s especially not sure that “The Egg” currently being pitched day and night on her TV is the answer for her.
The other reason “You Might Also Like” had such advance buzz is that it’s ostensibly a sequel to “To Serve Man,” which is generally regarded as one of the 10 or 20 best episodes of the original Twilight Zone. This connection isn’t vague or allusive (unlike some of the other episodes from this second season, which only have tangential relationships with the first version of the show). About halfway through “You Might Also Like,” the aliens from “To Serve Man” actually do appear, marveling at Janet’s iconoclasm while wondering how her leg would taste, deep-fried and served in a KFC bucket. These are definitely the same deceptively friendly antagonists from the earlier episode. The only real nod to modernity is that now these human-eaters from beyond the stars argue about which pronoun to use when they’re making decisions via hive-mind.
The gag about the pronouns exemplifies what Perkins doesn’t handle so well in “You Might Also Like.” The social satire in this episode is—to put it bluntly—too blunt. The TV advertising parodies that pop up throughout are pretty spot-on, as is the “To Serve Man”-like idea that people today might obsess about getting access to the Next Big Thing without knowing much about what it is. (When Janet asks her neighbor why she wants The Egg, she answers, “Because it’s coming out?”) But when the aliens summon Janet to their mothership and explain to her that they learned how to exploit human need by watching out commercials… that’s not exactly a “whoa, makes you think” kind of moment.
This though is where Perkins’ writing and stylistic choices, along with Mol’s strong performance (as well as Greta Lee’s as her neighbor “Mrs. Jones”), compensates greatly for the overall obviousness. Perkins doesn’t pretend he’s saying something original or profound. Instead, he leans into the over-the-top elements of this episode, with its austere set design and with its screen-filling chapter titles. (“PART THREE: THE MADWOMAN IN THE OXYGEN TOWER.”) And Mol—an actress who’s always had a tinge of the theatrical about her—thrives in Perkins’ airless artificiality. She crushes the moment when Janet demands of the aliens, “Take me to your supervisor!” And she clearly has fun with Perkins’ sometimes self-contradictory dialogue, which has her agreeing with Mrs. Jones by saying, “No. I am,” and, “No. More than anything.”
In the end, what makes this episode work isn’t its theme—which just barely has anything to do with the story it’s supposed to be a sequel to—but its wit. It’s funny when Janet tries to prevent herself from spontaneously floating into space by tethering herself to her house with a literal tetherball. It’s funny when the alien supervisor recounts the things they’ve learned from monitoring Earth’s television broadcasts, including, “1965: The Beatles defeat the son of your god.” At the least, “You Might Also Like” is downright snappy.
And there are elements to this episode that do resonate… and sometimes in ways probably even Perkins couldn’t have anticipated. In the closing sequence, Janet decides just to give in to the way of things and claim her Egg, even after the aliens have warned that the product is designed to hatch unstoppable carnivorous babies. This ending is effective—not so much because of what it has to say about Janet’s depression or about conspicuous consumption, but because of the haunting climactic image of the world in chaos in the background, while people flock eagerly to the mall. Few could’ve guessed back at the start of 2020 that this would become the most plausible part of any new alien conquest story: society collapsing, while citizens shop ‘til they drop.
- When Janet urgently tells her neighbor, “Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mrs. Jones?”… that’s too cute by half.
- On the other hand, I loved the bizarre detail that nearly all the kids mentioned in this episode have an “x” in their names: Rex, Xander, and Xerxes.
- Also cool: the Muzak version of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” Not sure it had a thematic point; but even bastardized, Steely Dan is an absolute good.
- Next up: “Downtime.”