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Sunday, July 02, 2006

2.17 --- Private Channel

Directed by : Peter Medak
Written by : Edward Redlich
Starring : Scott Coffey, Andrew Robinson
First aired : 21st of May, 1987.

Keith (Scott Coffey, Lost Highway, Mullholland Dr.), an obnoxious teenager, is not a happy camper. After boarding a flight, Keith is informed by the stewardess that he cannot use his pocket radio, and is generally advised to keep his behaviour in check. Midway through the flight, Keith sneaks into the bathroom to listen to some anyway, but all he can catch is some country station.

Just as he's busy doing it, a bolt of lightning strikes the airplane and Keith stumbles, dropping his radio into the sink. When he puts it back on, he can't hear any music - instead, he hears a voice begging him to leave the toilet as it's urgency. He storms outside and confronts the older lady standing in front of the door, but she claims she never said a thing. Minutes later, Keith "overhears" a young girl studying biology, where in fact she's not saying anything. It shines on him that his radio is not a radio anymore - it can tap in people's thoughts.

A fact which just saved his life, as the fellow sitting next to him (Andrew Robinson, previously in Profile in Silver) is planning to blow the plane up. Through his headphones, Keith learns mr. Williams - that's his name - is righteously pissed because his wife and child died in a plane crash, and negligence was cited as the reason. Keith tries to talk him out of it, but Williams, while completely shocked the kid knows his story, decides to go for it anyway and stands up, revealing he's strapped with explosives and ready to push the trigger.

Moments before he does so, Keith sneaks behind him and puts him his headphones on, and Williams is confronted with the thoughts of all the passengers streaming into his head. He is struck with remorse, and gives up his mission. As people walk through the cabin, many of them step on Keith's radio left on the floor...which he doesn't seem to mind.


A neat little short bookending this unusually spread out airing, Private Channel is probably the best of season 2 shorts, but still far away from the glory of its season 1 counterparts. Coffey is amusingly snotty, if looking a bit overaged (he's supposed to be 16, as the narration states), and Robinson is standardly good...though I could have done without his Khan-esque "noooo !" at the end of the episode.

Private Channel also marked the last time Peter Medak would direct a Twilight Zone episode. Medak, one of the more prolific Zone directors, had his high points with Grace Note, Dead Woman's Shoes and Ye Gods, but also helmed underwhelming Still Life and Button Button. You be his judge - I personally liked his style, even in weak pieces.

Worth noting that mindreading is a rehashed concept within the Zone - George Clayton Johnson's classic episode A Penny for Your Thoughts is of similar ilk.

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