If I had to rank my five favorite TV shows of all-time, The Twilight Zone would be firmly ensconced on that list. It might even make Top Three status. Series creator and head writer Rod Serling was so far ahead of his time, penning half-hour stories that are often as relevant now as they were when originally airing some 60 years ago.
For example: Want to better understand mob-mentality (i.e. why you can’t buy a roll of toilet paper at the moment)? Watch “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” or “The Shelter”. TZ’s first episode, “Where Is Everybody?”, might as well be a treatise on social distancing.
A few episodes venture into the world of sports, and without anything new in that department of late, they make a nice diversion until store shelves get re-stocked and the curve gets flattened. Here are four sports-themed episodes I recommend (available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or CBS All-Access)...
The Big Tall Wish (Season 1, Episode 27)
Bolie Jackson (Ivan Dixon) is a washed-up, beaten-down old boxer trying to make a comeback. His most adoring fan (his only fan, really) is young Henry (Stephen Perry), who idolizes him from the apartment down the hall. On the night of the comeback fight, with Bolie flat on his back and about to be counted out, Henry makes a wish—a “big, tall wish”— and suddenly Bolie has his hand raised in victory. Can the flabbergasted pugilist accept this magical outcome, or will his doubting, cynical nature not allow him to believe?
The Mighty Casey (S1, E35)
The Hoboken Zephyrs are the worst baseball team in the major leagues, and it isn’t particularly close. Manager McGarry (Jack Warden) is about at the end of his rope, when suddenly the eccentric Casey (Robert Sorrelis) walks onto the field during an open tryout. His blazing fastball and looping curve are unlike anything McGarry has ever seen, and suddenly there’s a pep in the skipper’s step. The catch? Casey is a robot, and thus not strictly legal to be on the diamond. McGarry couldn’t care less as his team rockets up the standings, until the jig is up and Casey’s true nature is discovered. When an artificial heart is implanted into his robotic body, it results in an outcome that no one sees coming.
A Game of Pool (S3, E5)
Jesse Cardiff (Jack Klugman) knows he is the greatest billiards player in Chicago. The problem? Hanging on the wall of Lister’s Pool Room is a picture—a ghost, really—of Fats Brown (Jonathan Winters), a champion of the past. In a moment of frustration, Jesse throws down the metaphorical gauntlet but is treated to a metaphysical surprise: Fats in the flesh. As the two rack ‘em up and engage in a battle for cueball supremacy, Jesse discovers that being “the best” may be more than he bargained for.
Steel (S5, E2)
Set in the distant future of, uh, 1974, human boxing has been declared illegal and replaced by the robot variety. Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin)—a former pugilist himself—is a stubborn old trainer of Battling Maxo, a decrepit, outdated model that pops a spring right before a big bout with a newer machine. Having no time or money to fashion the necessary repairs, Steel must step into the ring again, setting up a man vs. machine confrontation.