Reviewed by Kate Orman
First Appeared in Burnt Toast#11, 1992
1964-1971, Columbia Pictures Television. 252 episodes, 72 in black and white, 180 in colour. Created by Sol Saks. Starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Agnes Moorehead and Dick Sargent.
Good Lord, I'm writing a Bewitched review.
For someone who has always confused the series with I Dream of Jeannie, and accorded it approximately the same respect, this is an odd thing to be doing. On the other hand, my flatmate is filling tape after tape with it; hardly an evening goes by when strange chortles don't float from the loungeroom as another episode is logged. It was inevitable that I'd end up watching at least some of the series myself. I was surprised. Bewitched is to I Dream of Jeannie as The Addams Family is to The Munsters -- the original, with all the original ideas. It set a pattern which sitcoms have been following ever since.
Situation comedy, by its very definition, is humour which arises from a situation. It has a long and honourable tradition predating, say, A Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing -- there is sitcom in The Epic of Gilgamesh. All too often, modern sitcom (especially American modern sitcom) consists of the actors coming on one by one, throwing sassy one-liners of the "Kiss my grits" ilk, and then waltzing off again to the sound of applause. The kids are precocious, the teenagers have Problems which are resolved within twenty-four minutes, and everything is hunky-dory and Western and white.
Bewitched stands out as a sitcom of the sixties because it manages to challenge the culture that produced it -- while still remaining within the bounds of that culture. It is an offshoot of the same American light-hearted occult-ism that gave us The Groovy Ghoulies. It presents us with the ultimate in mixed marriages -- an alien woman from a matriarchal, moneyless society, wedded to a man who works for an advertising firm. And wedded happily. And doing the cooking and cleaning because that's what mortal women do.
The show is worth watching purely for the leads, who are not even slightly self-conscious -- they're quite unaware of the audience as they pull incredible faces and react to the flawless special effects (Star Trek should have looked this good). It's difficult to imagine Dick York not being Darrin -- even though, for the last two seasons of the show, that was precisely what happened.
Agnes Moorehead is equally relaxed as she puts in her episodely appearance as one of Samantha's bevy of incredible relatives -- in this case, a mother who is genuinely concerned for her daughter's abdication of her heritage. "I can't see where I went wrong. I brought you up as a proper witch, taught you all the best incantations, and here you are, married to a mortal, doing the most menial tasks -- a fallen woman." That's a point of view the contemporary feminists would have recognised.
Another regulars who deserves a mention is Larry Tate, Darrin's greedy boss, who has to cope with a different finicky client every week as well as accepting yet another cockamamy explan-ation from Darrin about the missing cow or whatever. Unlike some of Sam's relatives (eg Aunt Clara), the Tates are not mere plot devices, but are the sort of people you might well have over for dinner. I wonder if American audiences noticed the constant sending-up of advertising (and hence the whole American lifestyle), or the jibes at US competition with Russia in the 'moon shot' episode? Probably not, judging by the ratings. If the witches saw the whole Western way of life as simply silly, that was okay, since they looked pretty silly themselves. Who had it the right way round? Larry says, "If you think you can get ahead in this business riding on nothing but hard work and talent, you're crazy!"
And then there's poor old Gladys Kravitz, the neigh-bourhood snoop, who has long since worked out the truth about Sam and just can't get anyone to believe her. A joke on McCarthyism? You can't help but feel sorry for the poor woman. Which is a secret of the show; Gladys and Endora might be obnoxious, but they are obnoxious people. There are surprisingly few stereo-types in the series. Even Tabatha, the cutesy little kid, fails to dominate the proceedings the way that the little girl in Full House does. Simple solution: she's a real two-year-old, and can hardly put a sentence together. Just like the real thing.
Probably the closest modern comparison with Bewitched would be Mork and Mindy -- also about an alien who tries to adopt western culture and values, and turns them topsy-turvy in the process. Sam's naivety about mortals is similar to Mork's, although she seems to have done her homework (in the form of Darrin). A major difference is that Mork showcases the inexorable Robin Williams, whereas Bewitched is much more of a group effort. Perfect Strangers, featuring the innocent Miposian coming into contact with the joys and foibles of The American Way of Life, is also woven from the same loom.
This is not Earth-shattering social comment. But the seeds are there. Comedy and fantasy are rarely combined -- at least, not intentionally -- but fantasy allows us to hold all sorts of distorting mirrors up to our own assumptions.
This is my idea of situation comedy. The situation is what you are doing right now. See the joke?
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