Twilight Zone – Wordplay (10/04/85)

tzwordplay10Comedian’s comedian [1] Robert Klein is trying to learn about his company’s 67 new products in one week.  To be fair, one of the new medical products is a sphyg-momanometer.  OK, that’s a mouthful, but are they saying that a medical equipment vendor did not already sell sphygmomanometers? That and malpractice insurance would seem to be the first two items on a doctor’s shopping list.  OK, it really is too perfect a word not to be used in the script.

He was up until 2 am studying and even had his manual in front of him as he shaved. The first hint of things to come is when his wife refers to their child’s doctor as Dr. Bumper.  This is a great introduction into the story as it is unusual and jarring, but is a conceivable surname.[2]  Also it reminds me of Dr. Beeper.

Klein goes out to his car.  Oddly, he walks past the sports car in the driveway and goes to the family truckster station wagon to drive to work.  His neighbor tells him his dog just had five puppies.  He adds, “That’s quite a few for a small dog like an encyclopedia.” Klein calls him out for using the word encyclopedia, but his neighbor is just as confused that Klein doesn’t seem to know that the dog is an encyclopedia.

tzwordplay24At the office, a few individual words are randomly replaced with other unrelated words.  Experience becomes mayonnaise, anniversary becomes throw-rug, lunch becomes dinosaur.  He goes home for dinosaur and his wife asks him to look in on their son whose cold is getting worse.  She then actually says dinosaur and Klein accuses her of being in cahoots with people from the office.  He presses her to define lunch.  She is getting concerned, but tells him that lunch is a color — sort of light red.

Back at the office, the word replacements are becoming more frequent.  Soon, people are speaking in entire sentences of random words.  I was happy to see they followed the logic and people could no longer understand Klein either.  Although since from their POV, he is the only one acting strangely, you might think they’d be concerned he was having a stroke.

Even his name has been replaced — awesomely, he is now Hinge Thunder.  Finally arriving at his desk, he is surrounded by people speaking these randomly replaced words and understanding each other.  His isolation is perfectly captured by his phone ringing.  It is very easy to empathize with him and his dread of answering this call which he knows will be incomprehensible to him.  When the caller begins, “Timber, Hinge . . . ” and continues on, Klein flees the office.  He doesn’t even use the restroom because he doesn’t know whether to identify as an oven-mitt or a baklava. [4]

tzwordplay29At home, his wife is very upset but her husband can’t understand what she is saying, just like men everywhere.[3]   Upstairs, he finds his son is very sick, so they rush him to the hospital.  The emergency room has no idea what he is saying, but his wife is able to get help for the boy.  Klein feels helpless as he awaits an update.  He couldn’t help his son, now he can’t comfort his wife.  The doctor comes back with good news — at least judging by his wife’s reaction.

That night he begins leafing through his son’s picture book realizing that he will have to start over.

I love the concept, and the execution was great.  I would have liked a few more throw-away gags like the Fasten Step-Dad warning light in Klein’s car, but that’s just looking for trouble. That said, it would have been nice if it went to another level.  There is really no effort to tie his new vocabulary at work to this phenomena.  His age gets a mention, but only as aside — he’s only 42, after all.  Certainly he would like to be better understood at the hospital to help his son, but his wife is right there so there is no real tension or danger.

tzwordplay31So, there really was no irony, nothing learned, no twist, no comeuppance, no cruel fate.  I really enjoyed the episode, but if they have dumped most of the original series’s tropes by the 2nd episode, it does not bode well for the future.

I rate it & out of #*.


  • [1] Definition:  A comedian that no one thinks is funny.  See also Colin Quinn, Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters, etc.  Note that the late Garry Shandling was labeled a comedian’s comedian’s comedian thus circling around to be funny again.
  • Hey, look at me — I’m a blogger’s blogger!
  • [2] One site says there are 46 people named Bumper in the US, but I’m dubious.  In fact, I’m Joe Dubious.
  • [3] I had to identify as a woman for a few seconds to type that.  Back now.
  • [4] It’s hard to distinguish the jokes in such  wacky episode.  Of course, it’s probably difficult in the non-wacky episodes, too.
  • The neighbor is played by Robert Downey Jr’s father, Efram Zimbalist Sr.
  • TZ Legacy:  Feels like there is something, but I just can’t place it.
  • IMDb and YouTube (clip only)

3 thoughts on “Twilight Zone – Wordplay (10/04/85)

  1. When you said they took his son to the ER didn’t you mean the Elephant Room?

    Definitely one of my most favorite ones from the 1985 reboot.

    I think my favorite part is when the lady talks on the radio. That is by far the best front row seat to what it would be like if it happened to you.

    “resist sessioned on weather
    peaches today skyshadow but guilt sesame should reach leaping.”

    Absolutely my favorite line in the episode. Choice, classic!

    • Hinge! Hold on the Iris!
      I know! That’s quite a lot for a small dog like an encyclopedia, but Ginger came through like a champ!
      You said encyclopaedia? Ginger is an encyclopedia?
      Yeah! You know that Bill! Come on!

  2. What I loved about “Wordplay” was that it was a perfect premise for a TZ episode, and also something that happens to people in real life.
    Also, that at the end of the story he set out hopefully to cure his problem the way it is dealt with in real life.
    I really liked this episode.

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