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Pretty Bad: 6.25%
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Twilight Zone, Episode 3.05: A Game of Pool
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by Chris Parry

"Gene Siskel, I challenge you! Get your ass back down here!"
5 stars

If you were to pick five or six of the greatest actors to have graced the Twilight Zone stage, there’d be little argument that Jack Klugman should be on your list. Klugman may have been best remembered for his work on TV’s The Odd Couple and Quincy, but his four appearances on the Twilight Zone rank amongst the greatest, most consistent, most wonderfully laid out of all his work. Just as Burgess Meredith makes Where Is Everybody arguably the most memorable of all episodes, Klugman’s work makes his four entries, In Praise of Pip, A Passage For Trumpet, Death Ship and A Game Of Pool every bit as seminal as anything Meredith put out there.

In this outing, Klugman plays a pool hustler who can’t seem to shake the shadow of the great Fats Brown (Jonathan Winters), a fifteen years dead pool-shooting legend that, no matter how good he gets, nobody believes he could have beaten. “Jesse Carter, pool shark, the best on Randolph St, who will soon learn that trying to be the best at anything carries it’s own special risks, in or out… of the Twilight Zone.”

Jesse Carter is better than anybody, or so he believes. He can shoot pool like a whirlwind, putting just the right angle, power and English on every ball, and beating all comers. But how does a champion prove his worth when all anyone will take about is how good a dead guy was?

Jesse’s pissed, and late one night as he yells out his problems to an empty pool room, the call goes out to the long dead Fats Brown to come back to earth and accept Jesse’s challenge. But when Fats gets to his destination, he doesn’t just opt to play for dollars, he instead offers Jesse a real winner-take-all stake; if he wins, he lives to tell about it. If he loses, he loses his life.

Written by George Clayton Johnson, A Game of Pool is not one of the more complexly plotted episodes of the series, and it never comes close to being scary or spooky, but where it really comes to the fore is in its simplicity. Seasoned TV director Buzz Kulik knows he’s got two great actors on the screen in Klugman and Winters, and rather than compete with them by getting too complicated, he merely gives them pool cues, puts them in a big empty room and let’s these bad boys emote up a storm.

And emote they do, especially Klugman, who never, ever seems to sleepwalk through an acting gig. Today, even with barely any use of his vocal chords possible through illness, he still refuses to call it quits. Though Winters is well cast in the role of Fats Brown and does a decent enough job, his trademark humor is very lacking. Winters has been a comedian for decades, and still appears in feature films and TV to this day, having co-starred in the feature film adaptations of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Flintstones, as well as being the voice for Papa Smurf in the animated series The Smurfs, but here he struggles with the drama of the piece. In comparison, Klugman explodes into his well-written role, chewing up the screen and totally overshadowing Winters’ character. Klugman believes what he’s feeding you, and that makes all the difference.

Teleplay writer Johnson, who debuted on the screen with his work on the Twilight Zone, of which he penned eight episodes, would not go on to write a whole lot more TV, though he did scribe the script for Oceans Eleven (both the original and the remake), as well as episodes of Star Trek, Kung-Fu, and the novel Logan’s Run. He also returned to ‘the signpost’ when he wrote a story in the Twilight Zone movie of 1983, and the later return-to-Twilight-Zone TV series.

Klugman, Winters, director Kulik and writer Johnson combine wonderfully to put together a wonderful piece of TV with A Game of Pool, and though the excitement factor of some episodes in the series isn’t really there, the mood, the intelligence, the characters and the message are all there in spades. This is the standard that the Twilight Zone became famous for, and when you compare it to other sci-fi of the time (The Other Limits, etc), it’s clear why Rod Serling’s creation is still much loved today.

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originally posted: 07/12/02 02:43:46
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This episode of Twilight Zone has been reviewed as part of an ongoing retro TV series. For more in the Twilight Zone Episodes series, click here.

User Comments

7/05/13 tcrog wonderful to see actors making their craft better as they grow 5 stars
9/08/11 Keith Foster Klugman and Winters BOTH set this one on fire. 5 stars
7/28/06 David Cohen Perhaps the smartest, tensest half-hour of drama ever to grace television 5 stars
11/19/05 BrendaS918 Viddy well. 4 stars
11/25/04 joe it sucks 2 stars
5/31/04 dude pretty good 4 stars
5/04/04 Andre Dickson This is a flawless story. It server a monument in time when high quality, adult storylines 5 stars
4/09/04 tatum Nicely acted episode 4 stars
10/06/02 Buddha A fine performance for a TV show. 4 stars
7/17/02 Klute An awesoem episode of a great series. Klugman deserved more success. 5 stars
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  13-Oct-1961 (NR)
  DVD: 28-Jun-2005


  13-Oct-1961 (G)

Directed by
  Buzz Kulik

Written by
  George Clayton Johnson

  Jack Klugman
  Jonathan Winters

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