Monday, September 21, 2020

Reflections on The Twilight Zone's "A Nice Place to Visit"


During this seemingly endless pandemic I’ve taken to watching the sermons of Bishop Robert Barron on YouTube.


A few weeks ago, he spoke at length about a painting in Paris’s Musee d’Orsay by Thomas Couture called “The Romans of the Decadence.” It shows a large crowd of people engaged in all sorts of carousing and debauchery; but at the center of the canvas is a woman who looks directly out toward the viewer, and seems utterly bored with the revelry that surrounds her.


The message, according to Bishop Barron, is that all of the pleasures this world can offer, wonderful and wicked, legal and illegal, will eventually not be enough to satisfy us. We were made for something greater.


To me, that sermon was a reminder of a classic TV episode that communicated  a similar message. “A Nice Place To Visit” aired on April 15, 1960, near the end of the first season of The Twilight Zone



As the show opens we meet Rocky Valentine (Larry Blyden), a career criminal in the midst of robbing a safe in a pawnshop. He is shot and killed by the police while trying to escape. Seemingly moments later, he wakes up and meets Mr. Pip (Sebastian Cabot), a debonair man in a white suit, who introduces himself as Rocky’s “guide.”




A clearly confused and suspicious Rocky is given a luxurious apartment, a new fancy wardrobe, and piles of cash. Taking stock of “the joint, the clothes, the booze,” he figures he must be in heaven, and Pip is his guardian angel. “Anything I want,” he says, gleefully rubbing his hands together, and it’s off to the casino. As beautiful women cheer him on, he tries roulette and the slot machines and he can’t lose. 



Still, Rocky is curious as to why he was allowed into Heaven: "I must have done something good that made up for all the other stuff.” Pip takes him to the Hall of Records to review his file, which provides no answers: Rocky has been a rat since he killed a dog at the age of six. But if God is fine with the decision, he figures he’s happy to keep living the good life. 



But one month later, Rocky finds that everything he used to enjoy now brings no pleasure at all. Even the prospect of robbing a bank fails to interest him, as he already knows he’ll get away with it.


“I don’t think I belong here,” he finally tells Pip. “If I have to stay here another day I’m going to go nuts! I don’t belong in heaven. I want to go to the other place.”


“Heaven?” Pip replies. “Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This *is* the other place!”


And that cues up Rod Serling’s close: “A scared and angry little man who never got a break. Now he has everything he’s ever wanted. And he’s going to have to live with it for eternity…in the Twilight Zone.”


Did you guess the outcome when you first saw this episode? Whether you did or not, it’s the message that I find most interesting. And while The Twilight Zone routinely delved into provocative questions related to ethics and philosophy, it was not the only series from the Comfort TV era to contemplate the same set of circumstances described by Bishop Barron and painted by Couture. I can think of two other series, both among the era’s most popular situation comedies, which also explored this scenario.


Guesses? If not, I will humbly recommend my forthcoming book, out next month, which I’ll talk about more in my next blog.


As I write this, the Emmy Awards are being presented on ABC. I’m not watching – I haven’t watched in more than a decade. See previous Emmy-related blog entries for those reasons. But I do know a little about some of the shows deemed worthy of Emmy recognition. And I wonder what messages those shows are sending, or if that’s even a relevant question.


One might think that some lessons would remain pertinent in any era of entertainment. But if we could count on that being the case 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, I’m not sure we can still count on it now. To illustrate I give you The Good Place, a recent Emmy-winning series that closed out its first season with a twist similar to the one in “A Nice Place to Visit.” But on that series, the inversion of good and bad destinations was not the end but a starting point, from which the show asked questions that never would have occurred to previous generations, such as whether “the good place” was really good for everyone. What times we live in.


Here is a look at the Couture painting:




  1. No offense, Mr. Hofstede, but the controversial Roman Catholic apologist Michael Voris has blasted Bishop Barron. Grab a barf bag and check out the following URLs:

    To learn more about Michael Voris, check out a certain blog commentary at the following URL:

    1. He is entitled to his opinion. I do not share it.

  2. Excellent article as always, David, and very insightful. I really appreciate the way you linked the painting, the episode, and the world of today.

  3. I always liked this episode. Your screen grabs reminded me that when I was a teen, in the late '70s, I used to have a camera set up on a tripod in front of my B & W TV set so that I could take photos and make my own stills. How things have changed!

  4. This episode is starting right now in ET/CT on MeTV for anyone who wants to see it.