Story by Richard Matheson
Teleplay by Logan Swanson (aka Richard Matheson!)
Directed by Peter Medak
Original Airdate - March 7, 1986
Mare Winingham - Norma Lewis
Brad Davis - Arthur Lewis
Basil Hoffman - Mr. Steward



One day a box with a button is left at the door of a couple, who live in an apartment complex that has obviously seen better days.  They are told by the large man in a black suit and hat, who shows up that night, that if they push the button on the button unit, they'll get $200,000 dollars.  When they push the button, someone they don't know will die.  The wife is intrigued, but the husband is against it from the start.  They open up the box to see if anything is inside it, and there is nothing.  Just the button on the top. The husband throws the box away.  The wife retrieves it from the garbage and puts it back together, since the man said someone would retrieve it. 

She sits for days thinking about pushing the button.  The husband thinks the entire idea is creepy, and they debate the pros and cons of pushing it.  Finally, the wife pushes the button.  The large man shows up at the door again with a briefcase of money.  When the wife asks what happens next, the man says, sarcastically, "You spend the money."  And when she asks what happens to the button unit, he says it will be reprogrammed and given to someone…someone she doesn't know.



"Button, Button" is one of my faves from the show.  I've always enjoyed it, and this is odd because Alan Brennert mentioned to me that it's one of his least favorite.  But, Alan also likes "Little Boy Lost" and I don't, so it comes down to individual tastes.  Based on an original short story written by horror legend Richard Matheson, and adapted for the new Twilight Zone by Logan Swanson, who is really Richard Matheson, it does follow his short story fairly closely.  Matheson is one of the writers who worked on the original Twilight Zone, and his stories were always right up there with Serling''s in terms of quality and scares.

I have been a Matheson fan from the moment I read his 1971 novel "Hell House," when I was 14; it's the best ghost story ever written, and I'm taking into account Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" when I say this.  In my opinion, the second best ghost story ever written is "Ammie, Come Home," by Barbara Michaels, and the third best is "The Crying Child," again by Barbara Michaels.  Jackson's novel comes in somewhere after those for me, because in many ways it's not really a ghost story at all, but a haunted person story.  The 1962 movie "The Haunting," directed by Robert Wise, puts the story squarely in the ghost category, which was just perfect for the movie. I feel it's just about the scariest ghost movie ever filmed, taking third place behind the superb 1980 Geoge C. Scott film, "The Changeling," which IS the scariest film ever made, and the original 1989 film, "The Woman in Black," which is the most nail-biting-est film in movie history.  But Jackson's book is much more ambivalent, and you're never sure if it's ghosts or the effect of the people drawn to Hill House on it.  Even Jackson herself couldn't say whether it was a ghost story or a haunted person story. 

What I really enjoy about "Button, Button," though, are the performances of the three actors in it.  Mare Winingham is marvelously snarky as the wife.  She doesn't work, yet nags her husband about their car being too old, and that they don't have enough money.  A hundred special touches in this give it an extra zing. Time is shown passing by Winingham have a cold and recovering, not showering, not making dinner, the husband walking through in different clothes on obviously different days, etc.  Winingham wakes up one morning, and has to remove her hairbrush from her tangled hair, apparently having slept with it wound up all night in her hair…you can just envision someone doing this, and it's pretty funny.  She smokes incessantly, all day every day, even the minute she wakes up.  She uses a flashlight to see her way around their apartment when it's dark;that reminds me of my mother, who did the same thing.  Winingham comes down the street with a grocery cart filled with groceries, because they only have the one car and it's not in driving condition at that moment.  No one pushes a cart down a city street unless they are homeless or don't care what people think of them.  These two people are trailer trash who don't live in a trailer, and all their actions emphasize this point.  So, when the chance comes for them to make a good chunk of money, people who have never had much to begin with, Winingham is all for it.  All of these quirks give her character facets that no words could ever have done.

Brad Davis is extremely amusing as the husband.  He has a slight stutter, and uses it to good effect during their arguments.  He gets mad and slams his beer bottle down on the table, which fountains beer everywhere. Their car looks like an old Ford Pinto; it's not running at the beginning of the episode and he's shown working on it.  Later, as time goes by, he announces it's fixed.  It's apparent that he's a henpecked husband, but he doesn't seem to mind it.  Davis was a consummate, intelligent actor, and his abilties are missed.  He died far too soon.

Basil Hoffman is engimatic and commanding as the man in black.  He makes obviously phoney comments about their lovely home, with his voice literally dripping with sarcasm.  Even Winningham gives him an incredulous stare when he says this.  When he returns to give them the money, he's sneers even more.  He's just right for this part, and plays his few minutes of screen time perfectly.

While I'm talking about this episode, I'd like to comment on the 2009 film made based on the same Richard Matheson short story, "The Box," which starred Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.  When I saw the trailers, I knew it would not be a successful adaptation.  "Button, Button" runs for just about 15 minutes, and you don't need any more time to tell this story effectively.  Add anything else to it, and it falls flat.  As I saw with this film, adding an additional 90 minutes to the story killed it and then continued to bludgeon the story more.  We don't need to know what happened after she pushed the button, because after the man in black says, "Someone you don't know," our imagination provides us with a picture no TV or movie could ever fulfill.  "The Box" was a dismal failure because it tried to guide us to an ending that was alien to the plot.  I watched it all the way through, but should have turned it off after it began to throttle itself.  If you haven't seen "The Box," don't bother; if you have, you'll understand this review.  Buy the new Twilight Zone DVDs and watch "Button, Button," and you'll save yourself 90 minutes of torture.  If you have seen "The Box," buy the NTZ DVDs to see a superlative adaptation of the story…it's the best out there.