Hollywood, it seems, just can’t stand to leave the classics alone. Whether it’s remaking Oceans 11 for the umpteenth time, or trying to breathe new life into a series that went off the air only a decade ago (or less) – a substantial proportion of “new” entertainment offerings are not new at all. Take, for example, CBS’s recent reboot of The Twilight Zone, currently available only on CBS All Access, CBS’s streaming platform.
The original series, created and narrated by Rod Sterling, ran from 1959-1964. It combined elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror – or sometimes just O’Henry-esque ironic twists; and although some episodes were much darker than others, and although the original series might not have held much appeal for younger viewers, it was, all-in-all, a series parents could watch with their kids nearby, without having to worry about their child being inadvertently exposed to anything horrifically violent, gory, profane, or indecent.
The same cannot be said of CBS’s reboot.
The first episode of the new version had a typical Twilight Zone twist. It centered around Samir, an aspiring stand-up comedian whose topical/political jokes fall flat every night. After finishing a set he finds himself seated at the bar with a legendary comic who advises him to put more of himself in his act, but cautions him that once he puts it out there, it’s gone forever. Samir performs another set, and this time he includes some jokes about his dog, which the audience loves; but when he gets home, his dog is gone and there is no evidence that the dog ever existed. The following night he talks about his nephew in his act, and his nephew likewise disappears. Samir realizes that anyone he talks about in his act will vanish without any trace of their having ever existed. He decides to use this power he has to rid the world of bad people – a comedian who killed a woman and child while driving drunk; a high school bully who later murdered his wife; all the while, and he is rewarded with growing fame and success. But he quickly learns he can’t use the same material — this power he has requires “fresh blood” every night– and he soon runs out of people to name in his act, so he turns to personal grudges and rivals: his girlfriend’s law professor/mentor who he has always suspected of trying to seduce his girlfriend; a rival comedienne. In the end, when confronted with the truth that he only cares about himself and his own celebrity, he names himself in his final act, and disappears without a trace.
Although the plot is very typically Twilight Zone, the delivery is not.
The hour-long episode included 26 f-words (unbleeped, unmuted), 19 s-words, and various other obscenities like b*tch, pr*ck, d*ck, p*ssy, *ssh*le, and more. The script included phrases like “I would throw you some p*ssy every now and again,” “p*ssy-eating joke,” “could you suck my v*g*na?” and “mother f*cking.”
I streamed this episode on an Apple TV device. Before watching, I turned the parental controls to their most restrictive settings. Normally, with the parental controls turned-on, you would have to enter a four-digit PIN code before you could stream anything rated above the age-rating you set (in this case, G); and in some cases, the pin code is required to even launch the streaming channels/apps on the Apple TV device.
Those restrictive settings did not prevent me from launching the CBS app on the Apple TV device (i.e. I did not need to enter a PIN to launch the app), and no PIN code was required to stream the TV-MA-L- rated episode. The CBS All Access app has no parental controls of its own that I could find. I should also add, that the rating was not displayed anywhere except in fine print next to the episode summary. It did not appear on screen at the beginning of the episode, or at any point during the episode.
There was no reason or intrinsic need for CBS to make this new version of The Twilight Zone a TV-MA, except that they could. The language used in this episode would still be considered off-limits for the broadcast medium, it would even be disqualifying for most advertiser-supported basic cable channels because many sponsors would shy away from TV-MA-rated content, but because this series exists only on their streaming platform, they are not bound by broadcast content restrictions or even, it seems, advertiser scruples.
But this is the brave new world of streaming video, where everyone is trying to be the next HBO – trying to one-up competitors with edgier content. Unfortunately, parental controls have not kept pace with the boundary-stretching content, and that’s a problem for families with young children. Any household that has opted-in to CBS All Access has also opted-in to all of its TV-MA-rated content. You can’t say, “I want CBS All Access, but only the stuff that’s rated PG or TV-14.” It’s all or nothing.
As more and more families are making the switch to streaming video platforms and services, parents need to be aware that although these streaming services provide the illusion of a greater range of options and more control over where and how content is consumed, it comes with substantial downsides; the biggest of which is substantially more adult content available across these streaming platforms and inadequate controls to limit your child’s ability to access the adult content.