Original Air Date: May 18, 1962
Writer: Ray Bradbury
Director(s): James Sheldon, William F. Claxton
“Can they build a machine like a human?”
A middle-aged widower named George Rogers (David White) is scolded by his sister Aunt Nedra (Doris Packer) for improperly raising his three children: Tom (Charles Herbert), Anne (Veronica Cartwright of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien fame), and Karen (Dana Dillaway). In a magazine for Facsimile Limited, Tom notices an advertisement for a life-like female robot –“I sing the body electric.”
“They make a fairly convincing pitch here. It doesn’t seem possible, though, to find a woman who must be ten times better than mother in order to seem half as good, except, of course, in the Twilight Zone.”
The Rogers family visits Facsimile Ltd. where they are greeted by an eccentric salesman (Vaughn Taylor) in a dark room who grants them the chance to construct a female robot, everything from her eyes to her hair. Anne scoffs at the idea, but the rest of the family embraces a new robot mother.
Some time passes before the robot arrives. She appears in the form of an older woman whom they name “Grandma” (Josephine Hutchinson). Grandma is able to work wonders around the house, but one day while out kite flying, Anne has an outburst claiming she hates this robot woman. Just then a car comes whipping around the corner and Grandma leaps in front of it to save Anne. Anne is saved and amazingly, because she is a robot, Grandma dusts herself off with nary a scratch. In the end, Anne finally embraces her robot “Grandma.”
“A fable? Most assuredly. But who’s to say at some distant moment there might be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a grandmother whose stock in trade is love. Fable, sure, but who’s to say?”
There is an interesting little epilogue to this episode. As the children grow up, they continue in their fondness for Grandma but her relevance in their lives wanes. She is offered a sorrowful farewell as the Rogers family sends her back to Facsimile Ltd.
“As of this moment the wonderful electric grandmother moved into the lives of children and father. She became integral, important; she became of the essence. As of this moment they would never see lightning, never hear poetry read, never listen to foreign tongues, without thinking of her. Everything they would ever see, hear, taste, feel would remind them of her. She was all life and all life was wondrous, quick, electrical, like her.”
This episode presents another prescient glimpse into the future of artificial intelligence and robotization, however in “I Sing The Body Electric” the future is not dystopian. Instead the episode ends happily, but only when the robot is embraced and accepted by its human owners. This is a fundamentally different vision from many other science fiction narratives such as those found in The Matrix or The Terminator, as well as in fellow Twilight Zone episodes like “The Lonely” or “A Thing About Machines.” Nevertheless “I Sing The Body Electric” is a splendid addition to the series by Ray Bradbury, and in my view it is unfortunate we did not see more of his contributions to the show (despite the apparently uncomfortable relationship between Bradbury and Serling).
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The title for this episode was borrowed from the poetry of Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass, 1892).
- Ray Bradbury submitted several script ideas to The Twilight Zone, however this was the only story selected for production. Ray Bradbury later rewrote the story and it became a television movie The Electric Grandmother (1982). Some of the other script he submitted to The Twilight Zone included an earlier version of “I Sing The Body Electric,” a tale of space exploration entitled “Here There Be Tygers” (it would have required considerable special effects), and a story of drifters who see a strange mirage “A Miracle of Rare Device” (which was purchased by Buck Houghton but for which production was halted based on unknown reasons).
- According to Ray Bradbury, he had initially introduced Rod Serling to the writings of Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Roald Dahl, and John Collier (and perhaps also George Clayton Johnson). Unfortunately as time passed and his popularity grew, Serling was often viewed by many science fiction and fantasy writers as a plagiarist and an opportunist following the meteoric rise of The Twilight Zone, and his relationship with Ray Bradbury also soured considerably to the point of animosity (Bradbury accused Serling of plagiarism for similarities between a Bradbury short story featured in The Martian Chronicles and Serling’s pilot “Where Is Everybody?”) Ray Bradbury often spoke of his time on the show candidly in later interviews (despite his apparent reluctance to do so) but Rod Serling typically kept his mouth shut, preferring to offer praise of Bradbury’s body of work, while also acknowledging his prose was often found to be difficult to adapt into a teleplay (Producer Buck Houghton agreed with this point). Ray Bradbury later received his own series entitled The Ray Bradbury Theater in 1985.
- Needless to say, Ray Bradbury was extremely disappointed in this episode. He had requested that Serling create the episode exactly as he wrote it, but it was edited down for run-time purposes –and per Bradbury they cut the most important part.
- June Vincent was originally cast as Aunt Nedra but director William F. Claxton replaced her with Doris Packer.
- This is one of four episodes (the only not to appearing Season 1) to not feature mid-episode narration by Rod Serling. The other three were some of the most iconic episodes: “Walking Distance,” “TimeEnough At Last,” and “I Shot An Arrow Into The Air.”
- This is one of the few episodes in which Rod Serling’s closing narration did not include the phrase “The Twilight Zone.”
- The opening shot of a suburban home was the same one featured in the previous episode “Young Man’s Fancy.”
- This is the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone.