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The Twilight Zone® “It’s a Good Life” Beat Sheet

By on January 15, 2016 in Beat Sheets, Monster In The House

twilight-zone-its-a-good-life
Written by:
Rod Serling, based on the short story by Jerome Bixby
Directed by: James Sheldon

Genre: Monster in the House

Opening Image: The camera pans down from the infinite stars, settling on Rod Serling, who stands in front of a map to present the story.

Set-Up: Serling introduces viewers to the town of Peaksville, Ohio, which is literally the last place on the map. This is thanks to a monster, one that can wish away anything it dislikes, and everyone must think only happy thoughts or risk facing its wrath. The monster in this house of Peaksville is revealed to be a six-year-old boy, Anthony Fremont (Billy Mumy). Everyone in the town fears him and his powers, including his parents and Aunt Amy. He has caused things such as electricity, cars, and common household items like soap to disappear. As Anthony sits outside, creating strange creatures such as a three-headed gopher, the grocer visits Mrs. Fremont (Cloris Leachman) to deliver what sundries are left in the town. In a moment of weakness, Mrs. Fremont almost admits that she wishes one of Anthony’s freakish creations would harm her son, but she stops herself before she can continue with the negative thought.

Theme Stated: Because the townspeople must think only happy thoughts or risk their lives by doing otherwise, the theme revolves around independent thought. What happens when people commit the sin of giving up their ability to think freely and instead give in to the whims of a bully?

Catalyst: Mrs. Fremont tells the grocer that tonight is TV night, when Anthony will make a TV show that everyone is forced to watch. It will also be a surprise birthday party for Dan Hollis.

Debate: What will Anthony do? His behavior is unpredictable. While Mrs. Fremont checks on Aunt Amy outside, Anthony plays in the barn, unsupervised. Aunt Amy wants to check on him, but Mrs. Fremont reminds her that everything Anthony says and does is “good.” It is believed that he can read minds, and so any thought to the contrary—even when he is not around—can have disastrous consequences.

Break into Two: Evening arrives, and the time for TV night and the party approaches.

B Story: The A Story is life trying to survive Anthony. If anything, the B Story is people’s relationships with him. But a 24-minute TV screenplay often forgoes the B Story beat; perhaps the A and B Stories are so intertwined as to be the same.

Everyone loves TV night! Well…. at least Anthony does…

Everyone loves TV night! Well… at least Anthony does…

Fun & Games: As Mr. Fremont (John Larch) prepares for the party, Anthony talks with him. Anthony is sad that no other kids played with him that day, but his father reminds him that he has sometimes sent other children “to the cornfield” when they have displeased him. Anthony recalls a neighbor who had thought bad thoughts about him and remembers “making him go on fire” as retribution. A neighbor’s collie begins barking outside, reminding Anthony that he has sent all of the other dogs into the cornfield. When Anthony believes the dog doesn’t like him, he sends it into the cornfield as well, but not before the dog yelps in pain.

Midpoint: After Anthony leaves the room, his mother runs into the arms of his father, who reminds her that it was “good” for Anthony to wish away the dog. It’s a false victory for the moment… they have escaped Anthony’s wrath, but the time clock appears as the party nears… for how long can they keep their thoughts at bay?

Bad Guys Close In: At the party, Dan Hollis (Don Keefer) opens his presents, which include some now-rare items: brandy and a Perry Como record. Most of the records are gone because Anthony hates music with singing. Dan wishes to listen to part of the album, but the others are reluctant, not wishing to “risk it” by angering Anthony. Instead, they ask Pat Riley to play the piano to Anthony’s liking. Meanwhile, Dan begins to drink more, causing him to stumble and accidentally interrupt the piano music.

All Is Lost: As Dan continues drinking, he begins to ponder what is left in the town, including the last of the alcohol. All is Lost for him and the townspeople as he realizes that everything is disappearing as Anthony wills it to. A brief whiff of death lingers for all, the death of a life of free will and independent thought.

Dark Night of the Soul: In a brief moment, Dan Hollis realizes what he must do. He must abandon all fear and take a stand, thinking for himself.

Break into Three: Dan Hollis begins to stand up to Anthony.

Finale: Hollis asks Pat Riley to play a song he wants to hear: “Happy Birthday.” When everyone refuses, Hollis turns against Anthony, calling him a monster and challenging him by singing aloud, an activity Anthony despises. Hollis begs the others to attack Anthony and end the tyranny as he distracts the monster. While everyone stands still in fear, Aunt Amy begins to reach for a fireplace poker, but hesitates, sitting back down. Anthony turns his wrath toward Dan Hollis, turning him into a jack-in-the-box before wishing him into the cornfield at his father’s request. As others usher Hollis’ wife upstairs to mourn, Aunt Amy begins to reminisce about how she liked it better when there were cars and electricity, but her musings are quickly quelled by Mrs. Fremont. A gust of cold air blows through the window as it begins to snow outside, and Mr. Fremont panics when he realizes it will kill half the crops. He immediately corrects himself, and with a hint of remorse, says that it is good that Anthony made it snow.

It’s good that Anthony controls everyone’s thoughts… it’s real good!

It’s good that Anthony controls everyone’s thoughts… it’s real good!

Final Image: The Fremonts gaze out window at the snow and look at each other with uncertainty about the future. Serling narrates about the importance of only thinking happy thoughts while in the presence of Anthony, concluding, “Anything less than that is at your own risk.”

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Cory Milles

About the Author

About the Author: Cory Milles has been teaching writing for over a decade. In his spare time, he writes Young Adult novels that seek to capture the power of story to transform his readers. When he’s not writing, teaching, or listening to his collection of movie scores, he can usually be found reading more on the craft of writing. He is an editor of Save the Cat!® Goes to the Indies and the author of the Young Adult novels New Miller's Grove, Legacy, Paradox and Redemption and is featured in the book LOST Thought: Leading Thinkers Discuss LOST. .

There Are 2 Comments

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  1. Tom Reed says:

    Love this beat sheet. Thanks, Cory. I have a theory that almost every movie made since 1965 can trace its roots back to a TZ episode, usually one written by Rod. At only 5’4″ the man was a giant. A creative colossus. His output is unrivaled to this day, even by Aaron Sorkin (who, to be fair, is nipping at his heels). Still, the breadth and depth of Rod’s work is staggering. When it comes to this episode’s influence on movies of our time, Looper owes a serious debt. It would be interesting to play a version of Six Degrees of Separation linking movies back to TZ episodes. All of JJ Abrams work owes a debt. ALL of our work owes a debt whether we know it or not. I look forward to more TZ beat sheets (I fondly remember your “Time Enough At Last” beat sheet).

  2. MARK11 says:

    I think as creator, exec producer, head writer, etc., SERLING was also forced to work with so much less budget money than SORKIN could ever dream of.

    Rod also worked with a lot of unknown acting talents in tv’s early days who came straight from NYC’s theatre beats…many houses which were not big names, again with big money.

    And being on a tight,,,VERY TIGHT bduegt crunch and timeline, he had to trust gut instincts many times on casting decisions and put all his energy into writing and rewriting his writer’s work.

    These are all major reasons as to why the latter, maybe latter 2 seasons of TZ were more sparse on consistent episodic greatness than previous seasons.

    But…

    Being a Serling fan, audience geek and eventual student of his work; I’ll take anything he’s created as well as SORKIN any time.

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