Rewatching “Cavender is Coming,” it’s easy to see why it wasn’t so popular. It’s not a dark or scary episode at all, and it relied on comical sitcom-y beats that don’t seem to work that well. There are moments where Burnett’s character Agnes, a clumsy woman incapable of holding down a job, says a line that sounds like it was intended for a sitcom with a live studio audience. Except there’s no audience in the background laughing, so subsequent pauses from those lines feel awkward and hollow. In another episode of “The Twilight Zone,” these weird stilted moments would’ve been a clue-in to the audience that something mysterious was going on, but there’s no feeling of the sort happening here.
As it turns out, the episode originally did include a laugh track, and that was how viewers in 1962 experienced it. The episode now airs with the laughter removed, and fans have never seemed to agree on whether or not this was the right choice. Sure, the lack of laughter makes the bad jokes flop even harder, but a laugh track also simply feels out of step with the tone of a “Twilight Zone” episode. The show was never that great at being pure comedy, which is why so many of these most maligned classic episodes are the ones that aim for humor.
“I’ve seen a couple of [Rod Serling’s] comedies,” Anne Serling explained in that same interview, “but I don’t think they quite worked. I like his dramas so much better.” Although she clarifies that Rod in person was “the funniest person I’d ever known,” this take on Serling’s writing is pretty common. Serling was known in his time as the “angry young man” of Hollywood, not as the funny one.