Get Back in Your Bottle: Comparing I DREAM OF JEANNIE to BEWITCHED

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday… on a Tuesday!  This week we’re preempting coverage on the best episodes of I Dream Of Jeannie (1965-1970, NBC), which will begin tomorrow, for an introductory essay on the series and its relationship to the other famous female-led supernatural sitcom of the ’60s, Bewitched (1964-1972, ABC), the better show and one of the first I ever discussed on this blog — long overdue for its own more serious examination.

Bewitched and Jeannie will forever be compared. In addition to existing within a popular trend — the manipulation of domestic comedy to support the higher concept narrative decor of the 1960s — they both featured iconic blondes with magical powers and men who simultaneously loved and wanted to contain them. Their comparable setups led to similar stories — there was a lot of idea-sharing, in both directions — and eventually a sense of formula that no premise-led ’60s sitcom could avoid. Both were produced by Screen Gems on the same lot, allegedly inspired by motion pictures (I Married A Witch and Bell, Book And Candle for Bewitched, and The Brass Bottle for Jeannie), and helmed by men (Bill Asher and Sidney Sheldon) who shared a recent credit: The Patty Duke Show. Structurally, they were rooted in the ’50s husband/wife shows, best embodied by the finest of that era, I Love Lucy, but also claimed a touch of Dick Van Dyke’s “sophisticated suburbia,” while embracing the emerging broadness of the decade — relishing in the supernaturalism that had previously played in 1953’s Topper, but was peaking in the mid-’60s with My Favorite Martian, and both Munsters and Addams in ’64, the year of Bewitched’s debut. In fact, it was the success of Bewitched, ABC’s biggest hit at the time, that encouraged and inspired the sale of Jeannie to another network eager to compete. Now, there’s been a lot of debate over the years about the extent to which the latter owes its creation to the former, and whether Jeannie is a “rip-off” of Bewitched. Here’s what we know: NBC asked Screen Gems for a Bewitched-like series after screening the pilot, and the studio first re-approached creator Sol Saks, who declined. Screen Gems then hired Sidney Sheldon and, before Bewitched’s debut, he started developing both a ghost-themed pilot with Groucho Marx and Jeannie, but only Jeannie was shot — and well after Bewitched was already a hit. By then, Sheldon had seen enough of his friend Bill Asher’s show to want his blessing before creating something similar, allegedly telling both Asher and Elizabeth Montgomery that he was trying to find his own version of Samantha’s nose twitch. This all suggests a conscious effort to not only match Bewitched’s success, but, in some ways, Bewitched itself — by the network, the studio, and even the creator, who may not have stolen the idea, but used it as a reference point during conception. And, well, that’s show biz.

Yet for as much as these two classics have in common — likely intentionally — there are enough differences to make having a preference easy. Mine is simple: Jeannie is not without its own charms, but its premise is fundamentally limited, rendering it unlikely for the series to be written half as well as Bewitched, which — from inception — is richer in every way, starting with character. Specifically, if there’s a key difference between the two that defines why there’s such a qualitative disparity, it’s how they instill established motivations in their leads, enabling conflicts that then dictate the weekly storytelling. Jeanne’s relative inferiority here has a ripple effect that hits everything, making it almost impossible to give the show higher marks on any metric. Oh, I’ll try to be fair — generous, if I can — but even more than with Munsters and Addams, we’re not dealing with scripts of equal value, and there’s less of a case to be made in support of the lesser. And though I’m not thrilled that coverage of Jeannie is going to be so concentrated on Bewitched — I try not to do that — this time, it’s unavoidable: Bewitched deserves it.

Let’s start with a point of convergence: powerful women loving powerless men who nevertheless have (emotional) power over them. I frame it this way deliberately — there’s a tendency to ascribe social commentary to some of TV’s silliest and most escapist shows to legitimize our enjoyment, and while I’m usually reluctant to do so, because it feels like I’m favoring an interpretation of the material over the material itself, Bewitched is an exception because it’s positioned for conflicts that invite such scrutiny. Also, the show — as established by director Bill Asher, who was its sustaining creative force, and original producer Danny Arnold, the future Barney Miller creator who templated Bewitched’s tone and thematic interests in story — made explicit the premise’s subtext. So, I wouldn’t suggest sociopolitical commentary as a reason to enjoy any sitcom — when it’s at the expense of more important traits, it can be just the opposite — but here, its presence is proof of a more thoughtful construction, providing character specifics with foundations of dramatic weight and emotional relatability that aren’t, as in the case of, say, The Munsters, only situational. No, Bewitched is a civil rights era piece and regularly shows it. In the first year (produced mostly by Arnold), the show routinely chastises our tendency to adopt negative prejudices and believe stereotypes about people we don’t know, all the while exploring, in plot, a family’s disgust at a “mixed” marriage where the wife has married “beneath” her station. The racial, and even gay, metaphors are obvious, in some scripts more than others, but there’s also room for an interfaith understanding of the marriage, along with a possible economic drama (Asher’s initial idea) — upper class vs. middle class — courtesy of the fact that they have different backgrounds and families who don’t understand each other. This is a classic clash that encourages depth because it’s based on real-life truths. And theirs aren’t merely allegorical — Sam and Darrin are beyond different races, they’re different species. They have different faiths in the sense that they were raised to believe different things. And they came up differently: she had everything, he did not. That’s not subtext — that’s the characters, and the conflict. (Also, this was conscious; head writer Bernard Slade would use class and religion for discourse on his own rom-coms, Love On A Rooftop and Bridget Loves Bernie, respectively.)

Any series with this premise could boast similar motifs — Bewitched benefits by its construction — but that’s the point: it’s knowingly built to engage with stronger dramatic themes, and while these certainly aren’t necessary on a sitcom, they’re an asset when filtered through a comic conflict and in support of the characters. That is, all the high-concept, unique drama between Sam and Darrin has these other subtextual issues percolating under the surface, giving extra weight to the characters’ perspectives so that they’re both funnier and more relatable. To be fair, Jeannie is not harmed by not having anything so lofty in supply, but it’s a sign of Bewitched‘s smarter design that it sets itself up to be more narratively prosperous in comparison. For instance, Jeannie’s conflict isn’t deepened by talk of prejudice because the show features clichés about genies and doesn’t treat any negative stereotype as worth challenging. It isn’t deepened by faith because there’s no family around (regularly) to cement different belief-systems and make them a point of contention. And it isn’t deepened by classism because Jeannie’s existence as a servant to others means she gets nothing from her unlimited powers — she is no richer than Tony. The show therefore has less to play with in story — fewer conflicts about Jeannie’s identity as a genie, fewer problems with family members, and fewer dramas about an imbalance in who can provide for whom… However, to extend the social framework a little further, there is one place where both series have common ground: the battle of the sexes. As indicated above, the two shows are about powerful women whose power seems to be a problem for men. This may be a modern application of second-wave ’60s feminism, yet the idea of a housewife who has the capacity for more, but is with a man who actively wants to contain her (and have her literally stay home), was not new. The quintessential version of this archetype was a decade old: Lucy Ricardo, who yearned to be more than a wife (and mother), despite her husband’s opposition. I Love Lucy, which Bill Asher directed for over three years, affirms the genre by depicting the man/woman interchange as both conducive to happiness — just like Bewitched and Jeannie do — but with an unavoidable tension, and thematically, it’s the primary conflict of all three.

Of course, Jeannie and Bewitched don’t apply this conflict the same; again, Bewitched positions itself better, thanks to a premise that’s smarter and more precise with character. It starts with a mortal man who marries a witch and asks her to lead a normal life with him — no hocus pocus — because he wants to be the provider. She agrees because she loves him — there’ll be no hocus pocus. From there, we know exactly what Darrin and Samantha want — it’s the same thing actually, but with an inherent problem: she is a witch by nature and he is asking her not to be; how can she do that? What’s more, although she doesn’t want to resort to witchcraft, the “mixed” marriage brings out opposition from her family — mother Endora, in particular — whose efforts to split them up, often by putting Darrin or his livelihood in jeopardy, forces Sam to deploy her powers. That’s a brilliant clash, because it makes Sam do what neither she nor Darrin wants in order to preserve what they cherish most: their relationship. It’s also born from the objectives of the antagonists, like Endora, who has many reasons for not wanting this couple together beyond just implied racism/classism — like the thought that Sam’s forced suppression is cruel. Yet what Endora fails to realize is Sam has chosen to give up witchcraft, not only for love, but also because she believes life has more meaning when it doesn’t come easy. And Darrin, in spite of forbidding witchcraft — because, as he admits, his own ego doesn’t want her to have anything he can’t provide — also makes choices that endear him to Sam and us: he loves her so much that he’ll endure weekly torture just to be with her. So, both leads make sacrifices, and the domestic drama of a wife being contained by her husband becomes a palatable, and noble, prospect — never mind that, like Lucy, Sam and her witchcraft can’t be contained. And because of this structure, there’s an inner conflict of Sam not wanting to use her powers, an interpersonal conflict of Darrin not wanting her to use her powers, an external conflict of Endora (or another supernatural being/force) making her use her powers, and all of this is in addition to the basic dilemma of trying to keep the rest of the world, specifically Darrin’s boss from a sexy Manhattan ad firm, from finding out that Sam has powers. That’s so much to play with — and it’s all thematically sound and motivated by character!

Jeannie, meanwhile, is limited. Let’s start at the pilot — Tony finds Jeannie, she grants him wishes, and he frees her. But despite her freedom, she falls in love with her new master and decides not to go, becoming his personal genie — all in the hopes of amorous reciprocation… never mind that he’s engaged to another woman and initially wants Jeannie to leave. So far, it makes sense: Jeannie’s goal is getting Tony to love her exclusively and she’s going to use her powers to make it happen — usually by helping him, but sometimes by harming him (especially if there’s another woman present). This will create weekly, situational conflicts. As for Tony, his mission in the pilot is to get rid of Jeannie, but we know by the look in his eyes after their kiss, this is going to change, and soon enough (by the following entry), he definitely wants Jeannie around. His objective then — the thing he’s pushing for in story — is keeping her and her powers a secret because they’re a threat to his military job. This makes for the same dynamic as Bewitched and Lucy, where the woman is powerful, but the man wants to keep her “bottled up.” However, this doesn’t produce the same exploitable drama, because Tony’s suppression of Jeannie and her powers isn’t really suppression. Go figure: he doesn’t mind having a woman in a harem suit calling him master and catering to his every whim. He enjoys her being a genie, and, unlike Darrin, he’s not trying to stop her from being who she is or could be. Sure, there’s occasional resistance — particularly when it comes to his career as an astronaut for NASA — but that’s mostly a function of his secret-keeping goal, which, some could say, is also driven by a possessiveness that stems from his developed feelings for her, existing somewhere between lust and love. To that point, while Jeannie’s goal of making Tony love her results in her interfering in weekly plots where Tony is put in either danger or an uncomfortable spot that often forces him to scramble to avoid having her be discovered, he’s actually not fighting her motivation, her feelings. This is because he either wants to have sex with her, is already having sex with her, and/or is in love with her too — depending on how you read the subtext — and so he subconsciously (or consciously) doesn’t mind her intrusion and doesn’t fight it.

Accordingly, there’s no clash here; Jeannie’s goal creates weekly dramas where she may be discovered, but her motivating feelings are encouraged by both parties. All the tension that comes from what each one wants is the situational agita of inconvenient scenarios, some of which may expose her, some of which won’t even do that. No conflict between them. Contrast this against Bewitched and all its personal tensions, and it’s clear how narratively confining and emotionally limited Jeannie is — it doesn’t have the depth or complexity, and it shows. Take Tony’s feelings for Jeannie — there’s some ambiguity, and I wish I could believe the series’ sexual tension, ingrained in the premise of a half-naked woman “serving” an eligible bachelor, is fueled by her objective colliding with his in conflict. But no matter what theory you accept regarding Tony’s interest in Jeannie — is it purely physical or is it love? — the series does not have believable obstacles to motivate an additional sustaining drama. Let’s go through it. For one, if you believe Tony’s favor for Jeannie — why he keeps her around, despite her getting him into all these scrapes — is purely physical, then you either believe he’s trying to bed her throughout the course of the show, is already bedding her throughout the course of the show, or is fighting the urge to bed her throughout the course of the show. With regard to him trying to bed her, even with the era’s Standards & Practices forcing only innuendo and subtext about such matters, there’s no implication of her not satisfying his desires. So, I’m skeptical that this is a believable reading. What’s more, even if he was after sex, there would be no problem — Jeannie wants Tony to love her, so if he requests a roll in the hay, even if she would prefer to wait until marriage (which she also wants from him), she’d probably give it to him, either as his genie or as a woman seeking his affection. (See what she tells him in the pilot: “I am going to please thee!”) No new conflict. Similarly, if he’s quietly been with her the whole time — and there’s a whole school of thought that says keeping her powers a secret is really a metaphor for hiding a sexual out-of-wedlock relationship — then his drive is the same, and not any more complicated: they have to keep her hidden, and if he can hide her and her powers, then he can hide an affair just as easily. There’s perhaps more emotional subtext in this kind of reading, but no new conflict.

If he’s fighting the urge to bed her, then he would presumably hope to mitigate his chances, which is to say, he’d seek to get rid of her. But outside of Sheldon’s sexy and sophisticated pilot — which depicts Tony as trying to shake his hot genie as a result of his engagement to the boss’ daughter — dumping Jeannie is not something he wants. On the contrary, by the second aired outing, he wants her to stay, meaning his feelings don’t support this take on his intentions, and once more, there’s no new conflict. But I want to remain on this notion that the pilot might have been poised differently — and for more success. Certainly, a love triangle with another woman would have been an obstacle for both Jeannie’s desire to be with Tony and his desire to be with her — so, that’s good. And, per the well-written premiere, this would make for an overtly sexual dilemma — Tony’s got two in the hand now. However, I don’t think Sheldon’s decision to axe the fiancée (and her father) in the next filmed episode actually handicapped a winning format, for her continued involvement in story would have still kept Tony’s objective the same: hiding Jeannie and/or, shall we say, “her powers.” That’s more secret-keeping — only from two extra people. It’s true the fiancée could supply a clearer inner dilemma for Tony — he’s caught between love and sex — but this would still be far less personal than Samantha’s inner dilemma, because her oppositional object (identity as a witch) is immutable, no matter how strong her desire is to be a wife as well, while Tony’s oppositional object (his fiancée), is mutable if his desire for Jeannie is great enough. Additionally, the risk of losing his fiancée is framed as being chiefly a threat to his career — she’s the boss’ daughter, not an old childhood sweetheart he’s adored forever. So, this love vs. sex idea isn’t even durable or legitimate, and regardless of how explicit scripts could have been about Tony’s desire for Jeannie, or how another woman could be used, or how this could translate into whether or not we’re supposed to believe Tony and Jeannie want to be having sex (or already are), their two objectives never would be able to yield further, more personal conflict. The drama would always remain surface — Jeannie gets Tony into a predicament that threatens his existence, at NASA specifically.

The same goes for the possibility of Tony loving Jeannie, which makes sense based on how he acts whenever the rare threat arises of someone taking her away, and also because, if Darrin puts up with his in-laws’ abuse but never leaves, then Tony enduring all of Jeannie’s meddling and still wanting her around should be analogous. Indeed, by the second episode, Tony is going to ancient Persia to defend Jeannie’s honor, and while he won’t marry her (yet), he’s visibly sad at the thought of losing her because she’s “the greatest thing that ever happened” to him. For reasons like this — his interest in her is sincere and unshaken by weekly hijinks — I subscribe to the idea that Tony loves Jeannie, which then puts them in agreement: they both love each other. Now why won’t he commit to some kind of romantic arrangement? Sheldon tries to suggest that Tony’s objection is thus: “I would be with her… if only she wasn’t a genie.” But this is a flimsy excuse that’s not supported by his depiction, for Tony doesn’t seriously want Jeannie to not be a genie — he asks her not to use her powers occasionally, yes, but he’s never taken Darrin’s hard line about it, never encouraged her to ignore who she is or expected her to lead a “normal life.” For this to be a legitimate concern, he’d have to be more like Darrin, with a strict anti-magic stance that makes loving Jeannie a conflict — a clash of values. But he’s wishy-washy, and enjoys her powers, so this convenient opposition rings half-motivated (at best). Also, the two could easily become involved without a change to their status quo; when married, they’d only have to hide her powers, not her physical being — that’s easier. Why doesn’t he get with her then? It’s not a fear of commitment — he was engaged. It’s not a lack of awareness — otherwise the genie thing wouldn’t be his proclaimed hurdle. Maybe he doesn’t want to love her, and that’s his inner battle. But then his goal in plot should be trying to shake her… and it isn’t. You see, none of it adds up — sans obvious, believable motivation, everything is nebulous and slight, and once more, no matter how Tony feels about Jeannie, there’s no truly plausible sustaining conflict beyond the simple and shallow “let’s keep her powers a secret,” only made difficult by the situations her magic creates. Bewitched has that — and so much more.

Now, Jeannie’s objective is easier to understand because it’s stated, but it’s just as limiting. Her goal is to make Tony love her, but she does things that complicate his life — sometimes to please, sometimes to agitate. So, most of the drama, especially in early years, comes from Jeannie doing something to Tony that puts him in a bad spot, intentionally or not, which then sparks the conflict of him struggling to hide/contain her. This essentially makes her the main antagonist in story — the threat to his goal and well-being — or the Endora, if you will. In contrast, whether the producer is Arnold or Asher (or Jerry Davis or William Froug), Bewitched‘s weekly drama stems from the premise’s core conflicts, all of which seldom, if ever, have Sam causing Darrin harm. No, it’s usually a family member who casts a spell that jeopardizes “Durwood,” and Sam has to rescue him. This is more logical — she loves Darrin, so she’s not going to willingly antagonize him. The fact that Jeannie, who once vowed to “please” her beloved, now antagonizes him, even in light of the subtextual arousal he might secretly derive, means that her actions are inconsistent with her goal. (At least when Lucy trounces Ricky, her methods are led by her freedom-seeking want, and she’s not acting against her own purpose.) I’d be willing to label this a character flaw and then a conflict — that is, Jeannie is childish and doesn’t know how to love correctly, so Tony pays the price — but the show contradicts this notion via character: Tony keeps coming back for more with little anger or instruction, and Jeannie never tries to change. Neither views it as a problem — he loves her already, and they have little to no personal drama about it. All their ensuing issues are then situational, keeping the conflict trivial… That said, in spite of everything, the series’ underlying theme ends up being the same as Bewitched’s — even the perfect woman can’t be contained, and men will suffer for trying — and it’s still a loss when, perhaps due to these incongruities, her objective is faded out after the superior first season (which is more of a romantic comedy because of Jeannie’s feelings). After this, she continues helping/hurting Tony, but with less of a direct link to an emotional goal, making all these “keep her a secret” plots even less logical and motivated.

Yet the series eventually seems to recognize this as a concern, for after Sheldon begins delegating more writing chores to James Henerson, a former Bewitched scribe whom Asher fired for doing double duty, there’s a deliberate effort to find weekly problems that Jeannie doesn’t have to cause. So, starting in Season Three, there are a few more stories where the drama is about Jeannie being incapacitated — instead of her doing something, it’s Tony who must act. There’s also the debut of her evil sister, Jeannie II (played by a gleeful Barbara Eden in a dark wig), a recurring character with a clear aim: stealing Tony. She’s a bit of a mustache-twirling villain with only one plot to propel and little dimension (no emotional gravitas like Endora), but at least the series is acknowledging the value of an external antagonist — à la Bewitched — with a set objective that can be mined for conflict and take the burden off Jeannie, who should be Tony’s protector. Jeannie II’s inclusion, however, was controversial — Montgomery saw it as evidence of Jeannie‘s flagrant attempts to mimic Bewitched, which had introduced Serena a year-and-a-half earlier but honestly didn’t start turning her into a recurring troublemaker until the fall of ’67, the same month Jeannie II made her debut. So, both shows got the same idea at the same time — that’s not surprising considering they both operate with a similar construct. I try to be fair about this; neither “owns” it — and heck, the “good twin/bad twin” device had previously been employed on Patty Duke, which Asher and Sheldon both created, so it’s no shock that both would reuse it. And fortunately, variation soon developed; as Jeannie II remained a throaty villain with a pinpointable want, Montgomery pivoted her initially gruff portrayal of Serena into a squeaky-voiced loon, prone to fads and mischief, not for any other reason than kicks and giggles. When she’s a source of conflict then, it’s not unusual to see Serena attached to Endora, who has the guiding objective. But instead of relegating Serena to ill-definition, this less menacing persona provides a color that makes her unique among Sam’s relatives, just like Uncle Arthur and Aunt Clara are distinctive. In fact, I wish there was similar nuance in Jeannie II, who, while amiably straightforward and fun, can do little in story because of her narrow characterization. Although, I can’t say I expect it; limitation is a running theme for Jeannie.

We’ll talk more about the series’ trajectory in our seasonal coverage, but it’s important to note that the show becomes more predicated on episodic ideas after its first year, when it moves away from openly utilizing an obvious objective for Jeannie, and later becomes increasingly silly and story-led with Henerson, whose inclination is to write the show more like Bewitched… even though it lacks its sturdy character apparatus and only has episodic ideas, intrinsically hit-and-miss, to propel comedy. Additionally, Tony and Jeannie’s marriage in 1969 — a network mandate that removed the show’s prized sexual tension and is thus often blamed for both its decline in quality and cancellation — inevitably pushes the series further in this same direction: making it more like Bewitched. Unfortunately, while Jeannie being allowed to meet the Bellowses and interact in Tony’s mortal world provides new stories and happily removes the artificial roadblock in their mutual display of love for one another, the series’ conflict has heretofore revolved around keeping her existence a secret, and now, as anticipated, it’s halved — Tony and Jeannie don’t have to hide her presence, just her powers. That’s sufficient on Bewitched because it’s got all that other character drama, too; Jeannie only has this, and so it’s further constrained when split. Also, even with new plots because of their marriage — not to mention Jeannie’s association with the Bellowses — the figurative well of “Jeannie blinks up X” stories has really run dry by Season Five, and the shakeup isn’t enough of a replenish, for the conflict is still slender and the character objectives are further eroded with Jeannie now having gotten what she wants. As a result, Jeannie uses more and more tired fare, some of it very reminiscent of Bewitched, where there’s less magic, and therefore, based on Jeannie‘s premised standards, less fun… But, again, I’m actually forgiving of all the idea overlap, for Bewitched is just as guilty of using plots previously seen on Jeannie, and I chalk up the crossover not to any hackiness, but their similarities — there’s only so many spells/wishes that can cause a half hour’s conflict… And anyway, the difference in their premises makes it so every story shared is stronger on Bewitched than Jeannie. This is a byproduct of having more developed characters, for trivial episodic notions are funnier when there’s the continuity of established behavior underneath.

Speaking of which, fans who prefer Jeannie often call it funnier — it goes for laughs more often than the sentimental and self-important Bewitched. But that’s not an accurate characterization of Bewitched — even if comedy is subjective, any series that casts Alice Pearce, Marion Lorne, and Mabel Albertson in its first year (when Danny Arnold indeed has it attuned to social subtext) unquestionably intends to make its audience laugh out loud, positing humor as a priority. And as scripts get looser and begin to feature, oh, Paul Lynde, Bernard Fox, and Alice Ghostley, there’s no doubt: this is a broad comedy, just as forceful at seeking yuks. Also, anything sentimental arises out of the characters, and it’s important to them first and foremost; that’s the point… Another argument that pops up is that Jeannie is more creative, while Bewitched relies on the same tired beats — specifically, Endora puts a spell on Darrin, Sam intervenes, happy ending. Okay, it is true that Bewitched develops a few key templates and seldom deviates from them, but all are rooted in legitimate character conflicts, so even as the law of diminishing returns applies and the redundancy feels stifling, there’s a base of quality that’s hard to break. Jeannie, on the other hand, has to be “creative” because it doesn’t have comparably sustaining character goals — instead it must distract with weekly pomp and circumstance. And still, it only has a few templates, too — the most prominent being Jeannie thinks she’s helping Tony, but whatever she does makes his life briefly difficult. That’s just as tiring… except the show only lasted 139 episodes and Bewitched went on to do over 250. To wit, the biggest problem with Bewitched is that it ran too long — by the time it switched Darrins in 1969 (after Season Five), it had fallen from its peak and soon would be so starved for ideas that it’d turn to blatant remakes of earlier scripts. In a comparison of the shows’ first five years though, the difference is staggering; Bewitched had declined, but not yet run out of stories on its premised conflict, while Jeannie, even with a change that created new narrative opportunities, limped to its end. And, frankly, when measuring all eight seasons of Bewitched against Jeannie’s five, I’m still not sure the final years bring down Bewitched’s baseline enough to make the two competitive. As far as I’m concerned, one has to hold the worst of Bewitched up to the best of Jeannie to make them seem evenly matched.

Fans who prefer Jeannie also look to that aforementioned sexual tension as an additional selling point. Yet Bewitched is no slouch in this department. Samantha and Darrin are maybe the kissingest couple in all of ’60s sitcoms and one of the few to sleep in a single bed. (They’re not the first, mind you — Mary Kay and Johnny and a handful of others did so earlier.) Their attraction to each other is palpable, and because of their conflict, it’s actually more talked about than on Jeannie. But I won’t be obtuse about this subject — it’s true: because of the decision to make her a female (at a time when genies were usually male), Jeannie and Tony’s master/genie relationship is a Playboy fantasy that’s undoubtedly tinged with sexual implications; this doesn’t have to show up in story to exist fundamentally in the premise and the subtext. Also, I agree that Jeannie tries to be “sexier” in the sense that it wants to be more alluring to audiences — it’s got a swinging musical score, vibrant colors that accompany the “exotic” locale of Cocoa Beach, Florida, and the thrillingly contemporary NASA hook, which is an exciting and forward-thinking element of its identity that’s truly original and enables some of the freshest and most enjoyable stories of the series, creating a definite appeal in the moon-walking era for its younger viewers. And this should be expected — Jeannie never started past 8:00 at night and was scheduled at 7:30 for its last three seasons, so it was definitely built and tailored for a more youthful crowd than the sophisticated Bewitched, which debuted in a 9:00 slot but settled in at 8:30 for most of its run — a place where it was encouraged to combine adult themes with kid-friendly gimmicks, a balance that would skew more towards the kiddies with each passing year. (It finally played 8:00 in its final season, 1971-’72.) These differing time slots — one never after 8:30, one never before it (until its death bed) — also explain their varying styles, and while I won’t let the younger viewer base excuse shoddy character development or premise concoction on Jeannie, I would suggest that a preference for its perceived easygoing “fun” is really a preference for a show that’s better attuned to the uncomplicated idea-driven interests of the 7:30 crowd: it’s more immediately gratifying because it’s lighter, briefer, and sillier.

And that’s all stuff that makes Jeannie a happy show, so even though I remain more impressed by Bewitched, I come away from this study with a real appreciation. A lot of this has to do, of course, with the cast. Now, I wouldn’t say Jeannie has a better ensemble; there’s strength in numbers and Bewitched has everything Jeannie has and then some, but there is an exception that makes Jeannie unique: Roger, a mortal ally whom the first season wisely lets discover Jeannie’s secret, giving the show another person who can help protect her identity. (It’s important because this conflict has to do more heavy-lifting than it does on Bewitched, which has no comparable helpmate for Darrin.) And Bill Daily, it must be said, is hilarious — he probably gets more of a chance to show it on Bob Newhart, but Jeannie does okay by him too, just as it does okay by Eden, who never has the opportunity to play the same emotional substance that Montgomery gets on early Bewitched, but is nevertheless a much freer and warmer actor, more capable of generating chemistry with any of her scene partners. Meanwhile, Larry Hagman’s a solid straight man — not nearly as comical as Dick York, but he’s not asked to be — and Hayden Rorke is the funniest chump in town, as his frazzled Dr. Bellows has some of the authority of Larry Tate but the mounting exasperation of Gladys Kravitz, creating a memorable blend that’s vital to every primary conflict. Later years feature more of him and his wife — played by Emmaline Henry (I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster) — and deliver increased laughs because of it. And together, this cast creates an environment of joy that does something to elevate Jeannie from its mediocre writing, which otherwise shackles it to Bewitched’s shadow — not because it’s a carbon copy, but because it exists within the same trend but doesn’t honor it as well, due to less thoughtful characterizations and a premise that’s simply single-faceted. (However, it’s all relative — Jeannie is better than The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Nanny And The Professor, and The Girl With Something Extra! As for My Living Doll, stay tuned…) And while I admit my decision to highlight Jeannie here was mostly about revisiting Bewitched within a smarter analysis, I’ve found enough to enjoy that I can gladly choose its finest episodic samples. So, come back tomorrow when we start with the best from the first season of this iconically ’60s supernatural sitcom!

 

 

Stay tuned tomorrow for the best from Season One — and Season Two at this time next week!

28 thoughts on “Get Back in Your Bottle: Comparing I DREAM OF JEANNIE to BEWITCHED

  1. Hi Jackson! Thank you for your very interesting comparison of “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”. I am looking forward to your season by season coverage. There is one metric where “I Dream of Jeannie” surpassed not just “Bewitched” but just about every other 1960s sitcom-it was a pioneer of colorblind casting. During an era where African-Americans were, if seen at all, relegated to extras in crowd scenes or very special episode, a large number of “I Dream of Jeannie” episodes featured African-American actors in small but visible roles as military personnel, policemen, reporters, among others, where the role could have been played by an actor of any race. In that respect, “I Dream of Jeannie” was way ahead of its time.

    • Hi, Raul! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      NBC in the late ‘60s was the home of JULIA and THE BILL COSBY SHOW, following the debut of I SPY in 1965, and it was the first of the three networks to make hiring Black people a stated part of its programming strategy. JEANNIE was in that culture and not unique, although you’re right — it did include a lot of Black actors as extras or in small roles, and that’s notable in comparison to the sitcoms on other networks, specifically top-rated CBS.

      Ultimately though, I’m not sure I could give the series “higher marks” than BEWITCHED for its civil rights bona fides. The latter intentionally infused its writing with a subtext that wasn’t incidental to the premise or the characters, but actually part of the drama in their conflict. BEWITCHED was regularly speaking about these issues, and it has several key episodes — most notably “Sisters At Heart” — that say more about equality, intelligently, than perhaps any other popular sitcom from that era, outside of JULIA and BILL COSBY.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. I’ve had many of these same thoughts but you made me think about the shows differently–mainly how much stuff really is underneath the “Bewitched” premise. Its so complex and that’s why it’s so good. Where do you think it fits in the landscape of 60’s sitcoms , one of the best or middle of the pack?

    I don’t envy you having to spend the next few weeks talking about “I Dream of Jeannie” in more detail. That’s all I’ll say about that. :)

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW is unrivaled as the best sitcom of the ‘60s, but beyond that, the Dick York years of BEWITCHED are stronger than anything else we’ve featured. The show’s combination of low-concept structures with high-concept ideas, and with a premise that has both dramatic weight and very big laughs — from very big characters — renders it one of the leading ambassadors for the decade’s intentions at their most ideal.

      As for JEANNIE, I wouldn’t have covered the series if it wasn’t so requested and if it didn’t afford me the chance to revisit BEWITCHED in a more thoughtful (and deserved) study. But I do have a lot that I enjoy about JEANNIE, and I hope these lists reflect my enjoyment!

  3. I have been looking forward to your coverage of I DREAM OF JEANNIE, which I admit is a longtime guilty pleasure of mine, a sitcom I probably have no right to love as much as I have for generations.

    And I have so much to say about it that I have to parse my topics and spread them out over several weeks so as not to dominate with an overly long single entry. So, for today, I’ll just start with what I have always felt was an ironic conundrum regarding Bill Daily: THE BOB NEWHART SHOW is an all-time favorite of mine, but I greatly prefer Daily as Roger Healy to Daily as Howard Borden.

    Howard Borden was an illogically dumb and implausible character in an otherwise sophisticated and intelligent adult sitcom. Roger Healy was a much more believable and intelligent–albeit very funny–character in a dumbed-down fantasy sitcom. But that’s another aspect of IDOJ I always found appealing in its willingness to go against form: Yes, it’s a silly, magical sitcom that would appeal to a young demographic, but, alas, it is populated almost exclusively by fairly bright characters. Yes, Jeannie is a naive outsider in a new world, but she isn’t DUMB. None of the regular characters are dumb.

    So why is it that some of the smartest, most sophisticated sitcoms of the revolutionary ’70s–ALL IN THE FAMILY, MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, TAXI, ODD COUPLE–all have–in the likes of Edith Bunker, Ted Baxter, Howard Borden, Tony Banta and Murray the cop–a character more implausibly dimwitted than any of the characters on a trifling, cartoonish ’60s sitcom like I DREAM OF JEANNIE?

    (I think the Sidney Sheldon scripts from the first two or three seasons are more clever and well-written, in general, than James Henerson’s later scripts tend to be.)

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I really don’t think this is a fair comparison, but to answer your question, sitcoms in the ‘70s are generally low-concept and they’re more interested in earning laughs from established characterizations than from their premises. This requires more of a focus on the characterizations, and the ways they can contrast against each other for relatable narrative conflict. Easily recognizable distinctions are needed — the fool is a stock type that predates the medium and it efficiently serves this purpose. However, the decade also tries to give nuance to its clichés, and with the possible exception of Murray from THE ODD COUPLE (a Garry Marshall series — I think you know where I stand on those), every example you mentioned is decidedly specific and believable — aided by writing that emphasizes their humanity.

      Yes, that includes Howard. He’s the broadest regular on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW in that he has the most heightened characterization. Yet he’s neutralized by the show itself, which puts him in everyday scenarios and among other characters with whom he contrasts, but who validate him as normal. And I don’t find him a stretch to the series’ realism at all because A) his depiction is consistent, B) he doesn’t do things that are therefore hard to believe given his characterization, and C) being the most heightened character on BOB NEWHART still doesn’t make him that heightened by the genre’s standards. The same goes for almost every broad regular on an MTM (or MTM-adjacent) comedy — Ted, Phyllis, Louie, etc. — they remain “in character” pretty much at all times and on shows that simply won’t let them be a true threat to believability, in story or out of it.

      As for I DREAM OF JEANNIE, I don’t think Roger or any of its leads are as well-defined as those on the other ‘70s comedies you mentioned, because every figure on this series exists to push and play a role in the premise, not to derive comedic conflict simply by having pinpointable personas that clash against each other. I don’t fault Sidney Sheldon for not reinforcing the trends of a later era, though — the ‘60s was more premise-driven, and JEANNIE naturally is as well — and that’s why I’ve depicted the show’s shortcomings with its regulars as thus: the premise fails to provide objectives that allow them to spark conflicts as dynamic as BEWITCHED’s, where the leads are better built for possible story.

      To that point, characters in high-concept ‘60s shows reveal themselves almost exclusively by how they’re used within the narrative. So, while Bill Daily plays Roger with the same wide-eyed space cadet quality as Howard, that’s not highlighted because it’s not used as a contrast to others. Rather, his function in plot is to be a knowing accomplice, so, on JEANNIE, sure, he’s smart. Because of this, I think it’s overly generous to call Jeannie naïve rather than dumb, for in the majority of scripts — particularly in the years written almost exclusively by Sheldon — Jeannie thinks she’s helping Tony by using her powers but inevitably puts him in an awkward position. That’s not from naïveté based on her being unexperienced in the modern American world — she doesn’t have to be an expert on 1965 Cocoa Beach to realize that Tony doesn’t want others knowing about her powers. It’s also not from an uncontrollable genie-based impulse, for the pilot establishes her as having a free will and the series reinforces this free will in every episode thereafter — she makes choices.

      Rather, it’s ignorance — of both likely outcomes and Tony’s fear of her discovery — and this is fundamentally unintelligent, or dumb, because even without the premise’s necessitated repetition of behavior forcing her to make the same choices without learning from them, she is *inherently* lacking the ability to discern what the audience has already discerned; whether we’re in Season One or Season Five, her use of powers is going to create a temporary conflict. I don’t think that’s simple naïveté. Based on her role in story, she’s dumb.

      Now, the first season seeks to marry her actions to a stated objective — making Tony fall in love with her — and we’re grateful for an emotional motivation that could explain the pattern of dumb behavior. Perhaps, then, it’s not so dumb — it’s calculated. But, as discussed, it’s still incongruous with her goal, for even if she means to endear herself to Tony, her magic usually harms him. And at what point does she realize this? Never, it turns out, for even when Sheldon fades out the explicit use of her feelings as a plot-motivator, she’s still doing the same… only now with less substantive justification. So, again, because of how these plots use her, she’s dumb.

      Also, I’ve noticed there’s a tendency to label stupid characters whom we nevertheless like and don’t find ridiculous as “naïve” rather than dumb, because we view the latter as a pejorative. I think the record should be set straight: Gracie Allen is dumb. Jeannie is dumb. Howard Borden is dumb. And you know what? That’s not the problem with JEANNIE. The problem with JEANNIE is the single-dimensionality of its conflict. And since its characters only live to serve the premise, the flaws in their design reveal the flaws in the premise — so, that’s ultimately my concern.

      Stay tuned for more!

      • Would JEANNIE be a little similar to THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES in that she has to remain cartoonish (use powers to create conflict) in order for the premise to work?

        If I remember correctly, the Clampetts seemed to grow a little in the first season (learn city life, modern conveniences, doorbell etc), but the in later years, perhaps as early as season 2, but definitely from 3 onward, they are static, which is why I would term them cartoonish (I think they would be more cartoonish than Jeannie). Essentially, they aren’t really allowed to change or grow, and in the case of Jeannie, if she learns to just not use her powers, then what is there to do? If she decides to win Tony’s love by not using her powers, then there goes the show. I guess this is simply the weakness of the premise: if Jeannie adjusts even a little, there is no conflict.

        I would also say the reason why people might lean toward naivety with Jeannie is that she does not seem totally stupid (her dumbness stems from using her powers). Similarly, she uses her powers quite often to get what she wants (and in these instances, she also creates conflict). Plus, and I could be remembering wrong, but I thought at times it paints her as intelligent.

        However, I can understand simply terming her dumb (I would temper it some because I feel other characters, like Howard (or the later Joey (FRIENDS), who by the end of the show it is a wonder he can even feed himself) are dumb all the time, and not just for one primary reason).

        • Hi, Christopher! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Yes, to maintain their high-concept premises, the Clampetts and Jeannie are both forced to repeat the same patterns of behavior without learning from them. This inevitably makes them dumb. But the Clampetts actually do begin as naïve to their surroundings — that’s how Henning’s comic conflict of the urban vs. the rural is pushed. They only become dumb when they stop learning and their ignorance is no longer confined to knowledge that we don’t expect them to have — it branches out into a fundamental lack of awareness about human behavior and social cues.

          Jeannie, on the other hand, is always dumb because we expect her to have knowledge that she has no excuse not to have or quickly obtain. Whether it’s Season One or Season Five, we expect her to recognize that the use of her powers is going to cause a conflict, especially because Tony’s goal in story is to keep her identity a secret — making her powers an inherent threat to him. This intel should be obvious — it is to us — but she never learns it, even though she apparently loves Tony. Therefore she is dumb, and yes, this is a problem with JEANNIE’s premise.

          Once again, I’d like to point out that ‘60s shows tend to be high concept, so their characters are often defined by how they can be used in premise-related story. ‘70s shows (and onward) are more low concept and they have to develop their characters independent of the premise, with more of an eye towards how they can create conflict against each other’s personalities. And with more of an eye towards his personality, Howard Borden’s stupidity naturally is going to seem more elemental, while Jeannie’s is going to seem confined to her premise-pushing in plot. But I don’t think that’s a distinction that makes Jeannie any less illogical (in fact, I think it makes her more) — it’s merely that her series displays her differently based on its different design and priorities.

          Be sure to check out our BEVERLY HILLBILLIES coverage, if you haven’t already. (I think the issues with its characters show up in Season Three, and the handling of the movie studio arc is the first indication that there’s trouble. See more here.)

  4. Great commentary Jackson. I love both shows but found the comparison of the two shows interesting. Barbara Eden’s personality made Jeannie. I could not imagine anyone else in that role.
    Have you ever seen Barbara’s other series “Harper Valley PTA”? I really enjoyed her in that also. Looking forward to Jeannie.

    • Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I’ve seen a bit of HARPER VALLEY, P.T.A. What I like best about Eden is her knowingness — she’s much smarter and more sophisticated than some of the earlier roles in her career might suggest, Jeannie specifically.

  5. Even as a kid I knew Jeannie had nothing on Bewitched. It was so shallow and I hated that she was the one who made Tony’s life hell instead of Samantha who rescued Darin from Endora. Was Jeannie that hot to be worth the trouble? and if she was worth it why not just marry her and stop the stupid sneaking around crap? and if she loves him why is she so stupid and mean to make life hell for him? Theres no common sense here unlike Bewitchd. It’s like comparing Shakespeare to Full House.

    I saw you’re doing Get Smart next. I like that show. But it’s not a logical one either. I look forward to whatever you have to say though. Don Adams is hysterical.

    I am also wondering if you ever considered doing That Girl which was on after Bewitched. It was not always great but sometimes very cute.

    • Hi, Michael! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, there are logistical problems that are fundamental to the premise, inevitably making JEANNIE a less dramatically satisfying show than BEWITCHED. “Shakespeare to FULL HOUSE” is definitely a bit extreme — I prefer I LOVE LUCY to I MARRIED JOAN, as this acknowledges how consistent and clear character motivations can improve comedic storytelling — but I understand your point: one is on the figurative top shelf, the other is several below it.

      Also, yes I covered THAT GIRL back in 2014! Be sure to check out my coverage, if you haven’t already. And stay tuned next month for GET SMART!

  6. Fascinating overview. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of Samantha being the upper class one marrying down – I always read it as precisely the reverse given the need to keep her ‘real’ background a secret from the wider world and that she represented someone who was Jewish or African American or something other than a middle class white suburbanite passing as a member of the dominant community.

    I have to admit – as much I concede ‘Bewitched’ to be the weightier show – I prefer ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. The pairing feels more modern and equal precisely for the reason you mentioned about there being less tension between Jeannie and Tony and as hilarious as I often find ‘Durwood’ I just it easier to root for the couple that don’t seem like they are making a huge mistake. I’d also say that while Larry Hagman may have garnered fewer big laughs he had a genuine charisma and sense of timing that he’d get to express more fully in ‘Dallas’.

    • Hi, Ross! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      There are layers of intentional subtext on BEWITCHED. Asher and Montgomery originally pitched the studio an adaptation of THE FUN COUPLE, about a debutante who marries a mechanic. When they were brought in on Sol Saks’ pilot script, they were attracted to the material because it allowed them to explore the same idea — she could have everything, but chooses a meager lifestyle because she chooses him. The tension between Sam and Darrin is rooted in their mutual decision to allow him to be the provider (that’s why he’s against her witchcraft), while her family takes issue with — among other things — the fact that he’s unable to give her everything they have at their fingertips, which she by right should have too.

      The racial/religious subtext, meanwhile, goes both ways. The “passing” drama for Samantha invokes the idea of an outsider trying to hide her differences in a conformist society, and Halloween episodes, for instance, talk a lot about negative stereotypes regarding witches, suggesting that they are members of a maligned minority. At the same time, Samantha’s family and other magical beings treat “Durwood” as if — and even sometimes say that — he’s inferior simply because he’s a member of a different race, the human race. Both of these notions exist in almost every weekly plot, so you can derive the same message about prejudice simultaneously from opposite directions, depending on which way you’re looking.

      As for Tony and Jeannie, well, they have no legitimate conflict keeping them apart — he loves her and his objection to being with her is self-imposed, for all the reasons discussed above — so I suppose if it’s easier to “root” for their pairing, it’s because they do have it easier. However, limited conflict means limited story — and limited comic tension too — and I personally wouldn’t posit that design as being conducive to a better written sitcom, or even a more enjoyable one.

      • Thanks for the in-depth reply! :)

        Again I have to concede those are good points but I suppose my main stumbling block with ‘Bewitched’ is essentially one of emotional connection and identification; simply put it is hard for me not to read Samantha’s decision to drop witchcraft as inherently repressing a vital part of herself to fit in and equally it is hard not to read Darrin’s determination to snuff that out in quite a negative light. It feels less like an optimistic show and more like a tragedy.

        To be clear I fully understand that those are uncharitable readings of the show, and certainly not intentional but when my instinctive sympathies are not with the central couple… that’s just a huge difficulty for me to connect with them.

        I suppose my own reading is informed partly by them fact that as a non-American myself there instinctively feels like an uncomfortable ‘burying’ of a foreign culture that feels inconvenient and obtrusive and ill-fitting in a dominant culture (again I recognise this is a very uncharitable reading but it is hard for me not to see it at least a little.)

        Conversely with ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ there feels like a far more accepting tone, one where Tony is perfectly happy with Jeannie’s past and identity, if not with the problems she causes him. It doesn’t feel like anyone is losing something in this relationship. Now I agree that probably does make for a weaker show (‘Dharma & Greg With Magical Powers’) but it also makes it far less bittersweet.

        • You’re seeing the conflict of BEWITCHED like Endora does, which proves there’s weight in the antagonist’s point-of-view. However, the show forcefully counters that perspective in two key ways, and I’ll quote myself from above: “Yet what Endora fails to realize is Sam has chosen to give up witchcraft, not only for love, but also because she believes life has more meaning when it doesn’t come easy. And Darrin, in spite of forbidding witchcraft — because, as he admits, his own ego doesn’t want her to have anything he can’t provide — also makes choices that endear him to Sam and us: he loves her so much that he’ll endure weekly torture just to be with her. So, both leads make sacrifices…”

          Also, keep in mind that, as in the “who provides for whom?” drama, Montgomery and Asher saw witchcraft as synonymous with wealth, so her character’s choice to give up her powers in favor of a mortal life is a subtextual play to the principled rejection of money in favor of love. Sam’s choice extends beyond pleasing Darrin, however, and to counter your concern that her goal is pessimistically self-loathing, I’d urge you to revisit “A Is For Aardvark.” It was Bill Asher’s favorite episode of the series and it’s a primer for why Darrin and Sam each feel the way they do about her powers. I think it, along with a handful of other entries like it (“The Girl With The Golden Nose,” “Charlie Harper, Winner,” “Darrin, The Warlock”), reveals that she’s living the way SHE wants — and for a good reason. That’s why she even *has* an inner conflict and a goal that, actually, maybe is something for which we can root.

          As for Darrin, while Sam has the internal dilemma, his is almost always external: the majority of BEWITCHED’s stories involve a family member who threatens Darrin’s livelihood — and not merely because of his anti-magic stance, but simply because he’s a powerless mortal at the mercy of someone who doesn’t care for mortals. So, Darrin faces the exact same kind of racial opposition that Sam does, and the fact that he’s challenged so frequently but is unwavering in his loyalty to her reveals a strength of character that is meant to compensate for any other perceived shortcomings, especially because it affirms his love as paramount over even his anti-witchcraft stance. I’d like to recommend an episode that proves how the show contextualizes his love for Sam as his dominating and ultimately redeeming characteristic, but uh, pretty much any of the offerings with Endora will suffice. (And, incidentally, there’s only one episode in the entire series where Samantha doesn’t use her powers — out of over 250 — so regarding any forced oppression/suppression of her identity, well, it never actually happens.)

          Together, both characters are pushed to reaffirm their choice to be together and live the way they do every single week, and it’s not only a mutual decision, but one motivated by something that enables the show’s anti-prejudice message: their all-conquering love, which is so powerful that it can triumph over anything — race, class, religion, and even witchcraft. That’s a traditionally optimistic notion, rooted in easily identifiable emotionalism. JEANNIE, on the other hand, doesn’t have that because, while it depicts its two leads as being in love, it forces Jeannie to be her beloved’s antagonist and gives Tony a flimsy excuse as to why they’re not together. Neither character is therefore emotionally identifiable, and it’s less bittersweet because it’s less of every feeling. What’s more, there is no conflict that would give them anything to lose. Again, that’s a weakness, not a strength.

        • I understand that my reading is not what the show creators intended and that it is very much a emotional take on my part.

          Having said that the simple identification of Witches with wealth just doesn’t work for me. The show treats them as both a different culture and even a different species and for me that is where the difficulty arises. Had Samantha simply been rejecting wealth and power – as in the original conception of the debutante marrying ‘down’ I’d have no issue with the characters choices. As it is, it feels like something much more significant is being given up – or in the case of Darrin despised. It doesn’t feel like a union of equal respect.

          As I said before I think a large part of my identification ‘block’ is that as a non-American (Irish) there feels like an implicitly aggressive assimilation subtext where in order to win and be happy the immigrant must abandon everything about themselves that doesn’t fit. I understand that this is not the intended reaction, but that is how it feels.

          Ultimately I want to make it clear I don’t hate ‘Bewitched’ and I’m certainly not angry with the show. I’ve enjoyed many episodes of it. It is just that that collision of unfortunate elements (from my point of view) prevent me from watching the show without some level of discomfort.

        • NOTE: I have combined my several initial comments into one for easier reading.

          I understand — enjoyment is subjective, shaped by our own biases. But I think letting a racial reading of BEWITCHED dominate your conception doesn’t merely ignore what Asher/Montgomery intended, it misses one of the show’s key engines for drama: the conflict between Samantha and Darrin, which is about who’s going to be the provider, and that’s not rooted in race or religion, but specifically gender and class. There are dozens of episodes throughout the run where this kind of “witchcraft as wealth” tension is explicit in story, including the examples I cited above. If you’re interested in evolving your interpretation of the show — you might not be; that’s totally fine! — there are more than a few entries that would at least challenge what you currently think, giving nuance to the choice that Samantha makes.

          As for the racial reading, I have to reiterate a point that keeps being undersold: Darrin is the subject of coded bigotry just as much as Samantha is, and it’s no less explicit in the weekly conflicts. You may not find the sacrifices they individually make in protection of their union equal — one’s more internal, the other external — but I think a perspective that weighs Sam’s victimization as exclusive ignores the most common narrative template, and the one the series has been chided for employing so regularly: Darrin being menaced by Endora. At the very least, he’s punished proportionally for being in this “mixed” marriage, and it extends beyond how he views her witchcraft — it’s simply because he’s not one of them. Maurice, Serena, Arthur, and many more one-off magical beings join Endora in treating Darrin similarly.

          Meanwhile, the series actively counters the idea that Samantha’s “race” is the seminal concern for Darrin and therefore the engine of their interpersonal conflict, for although he’s taken off-guard by the news of her being a witch (which she withheld from him until the honeymoon — not exactly a kind thing to do), he makes the choice to remain with her in the pilot and does so every episode thereafter when he’s threatened by her family. If he fundamentally objected to her on this issue, he could walk away. What’s more, the series uses offerings like “Eye Of The Beholder,” “What Every Young Man Should Know” and “If They Never Met” to prove that his love for her towers above all else — including her powers (race/religion/class) — and he has no regrets. Accordingly, while Darrin does have biases about witches — just as her family has biases about him — being with Samantha inherently challenges them and, per the civil rights messaging, “love wins.”

          As for the external drama about keeping her a secret, this is not something Sam does exclusively for Darrin — again, she chooses to live a mortal life in the pilot and every single episode thereafter (for her own reasons too), and she is equally forceful in wanting to avoid the consequences of her discovery, which entries like the aforementioned “What Every Young Man Should Know,” along with “I Confess” and “Samantha’s Secret Is Discovered” explore. In this conflict, Sam and Darrin are united against the world’s prejudices, and their opposition to her use of witchcraft in their personal lives is both to protect each other from a culture that wouldn’t understand and to maintain his role as the provider. This, again, stems from gender and economic tensions as opposed to race or religion, and propels the actual drama that arises between them exclusively whenever she uses her powers, for they threaten his ability to care for her as the man of the house.

          So, an objection to Darrin’s stance on Samantha’s witchcraft on the grounds of his 1960s-era masculine pride forcing her to shed her individualism in favor of being confined to the home in the role of wife/mother would make more sense based on the text, because that’s what actually motivates his position about the suppression of her powers. I would still counter that his guiding love for her is triumphant over his ego, point out again how he’s punished on a weekly basis and treated like a racial minority in the process, just like Ricky on I LOVE LUCY (an actual racial minority), and once more reiterate that Samantha uses witchcraft in all but one episode out of the entire eight-season-run, so the overall conclusion about this gender drama is the same as LUCY’s and JEANNIE’s: women can’t be contained and men will suffer trying.

          As always, you can choose to view the show any way you wish — I will never try to take that away from you — but there are understandings about its construction that I think are difficult to debate. (Although, I enjoy doing so — thank you for encouraging this kind of discussion!)

        • Thanks for the formidable (slightly terrifying to be honest!) reply.

          I think we might partly be on different tracks when it comes to my view of Samantha’s assimilation into the mainstream. I acknowledge Darrin is tormented by his wife’s relatives but I still feel there is important difference there; Darrin is unlucky with his in-laws but doesn’t have to change himself and his situation wouldn’t be terribly different if Samantha’s family were ‘merely’ sneering bluebloods who used their power and wealth against him. Darrin doesn’t surrender any aspect of his identity. Samantha, in my opinion, genuinely surrenders something.

          I suppose part of my unease is based more on the, for want of a better term, emigrant/immigrant narrative element of the story. Now yes this does have some overlap with the racial reading but the two aren’t quite the same and it is very possible to have non-racial immigrant narrative – ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and ‘Brooklyn’ are good examples of this with their Irish slant (which appeals to me for admittedly chauvinistic reasons). In that sense Samantha isn’t just giving up personal power, she’s dropping her entire cultural background… and I guess coming from a country that historically been a place people left rather than came to that hits closer to home than it might to an American audience. I may not side with Endora’s sociopathic treatment of Darrin but it is hard not find a local resonance in her sense of loss, guilt and shame over Samantha ‘leaving’.

          This also why I simply can’t place Darrin’s ordeal on the same footing as Samantha’s surrender. Darrin operates in his world – middle class 1960s America suburbia – so much of the time. He never has to conceal anything about himself or suppress who he is. However stressful and dangerous his life is it just feels like a sharp difference in a way I’m perhaps having difficulty explaining.

          Now I am well aware this is seeing something in the series that isn’t (intentionally) there, but that cultural and emotional context matters. By making witches seem more like their own culture and society, with history and meaning the show gave them a validity that just wouldn’t be there if they had merely been snobs or eccentrics. That in turn gives sympathy to Endora’s viewpoint, weakens Darrin’s likeability and honestly makes Samantha herself into a more ambiguous figure.

          Which I suppose gets back to my original issue with the show. Samantha and Darrin go through hell because they love each other. Absolutely. The trouble for me is that I find too many problematic reasons to root against them to actually support them, and that is fatal to me loving the show, even if I can find many aspects I enjoy.

        • As you’ve conceded, that’s not a fair reading of the show, based on what was intended or how it would have been viewed in the ‘60s. It’s an interpretation from a personal bias and I can’t argue against it — it’s yours — but I do think the idea of separate “cultural identities” falls under the Civil Rights umbrella and remains applicable to the racial (and religious) subtext that we’ve been discussing. So, you’re right: there’s an identity in being a witch just like there’s an identity in being a mortal — and they both have their own cultures. However, that doesn’t change how the show is built, and I’m always going to challenge what I believe to be a false depiction of it.

          Yours starts with the inability to recognize that BEWITCHED makes Samantha’s position as an outsider in his mortal world analogous to Darrin’s position as an outsider in her witchly world. It is more than subtext — she has family members, including Endora, who disdain him because of his race and then torment him in weekly story, in large part, because of it. Accordingly, Darrin regularly has to “surrender” part of his “cultural identity” like Samantha does — he has hardly the mortal existence he wants and by right should have. Okay, he’s not suppressing his identity to live, but he is being oppressed by others — and he absolutely sheds a large part of his claim to his culture (which his stated desire is to maintain) on a regular basis.

          I know, I know, you still don’t see it as a fair trade-off against Samantha having to “suppress” her “cultural identity” by hiding her existence as a witch while living in the mortal world…

          Never mind that she herself makes the choice to live as a mortal in the pilot and each and every week thereafter — it is her objective, and the thing she personally wants in weekly story. (That’s how an inner conflict for her can even arise in the first place.)

          Never mind that her reasons for wanting to live this way go beyond Darrin or attempted assimilation and are depicted as a noble quest for meaning — all stemming from Asher’s intentional equation of wealth to witchcraft in over a dozen vital episodes.

          Never mind that her decision to give up witchcraft has nothing to do with being self-loathing — she’s an activist for their representation in the mortal society and even reigns as Queen of the Witches, so she’s not bigoted against herself or wishing to drop all ties to her heritage.

          Never mind that Darrin’s reason for not wanting her to use witchcraft is, direct quote, “If I [can’t] give something to you, I [don’t] want you to have it,” which makes his objection to her powers clearly not about her “cultural identity,” but about insecurity over class and gender roles — the turf over which they clash.

          Never mind that neither is hiding her powers because they’re embarrassed by them or who she is because of them — no, it’s because they’re protecting each other from a prejudiced world who wouldn’t understand it. (Just look at how Sam’s family responds!)

          Never mind that she’s not physically or even metaphorically tormented by anyone in Darrin’s sphere because of her “identity” in the same way that he is tormented by people in hers — so, she has control in the situations where she’s an outsider, while he does not.

          And never mind that she never actually sheds the “cultural identity” she seeks to hide, because she uses witchcraft in all but one of the series’ 250+ episodes and surrounds herself in their home with family members who use it constantly — and at the expense of Darrin’s “cultural identity.”

          So, you can keep your perspective, but, as you’re aware, it fights the show’s, and I think you’re actively ignoring or underselling important elements of the series’ construction that work to put Sam and Darrin on an even footing* in this Civil Rights context, specifically how it’s made clear that the dramatic tension between them is not framed as one “cultural identity” being subjugated in favor of another’s, for that’s not how either character arrives at their decision to live a mortal life (and this never should be put solely on Darrin anyway when it’s Sam’s choice too)… nor is it what actually happens on the show every week, for his “cultural identity” ends up just as compromised, if not more, than hers — and without his own approval. And while you can see his as the dominant culture of ’60s America and maybe even instinctively less appealing than the witches’ — so no sympathy for Darrin when it’s challenged — in a house full of witches and warlocks, he absolutely is the minority and the one “surrendering” his heritage to survive, even as he continues to stand up for the parts of it that he and Sam both want to respect.

          In this way, your reading mischaracterizes the source of Sam and Darrin’s interpersonal conflict while ignoring how the premise *parallels* their depictions as “cultural” outsiders in their own home, all because of their shared decision to remain in a “mixed” marriage that they mutually want to preserve. This goes back to our first discourse on the matter, which was about two key points: Asher and Montgomery’s purposeful class-based understanding of witchcraft and how the show’s anti-prejudice stance is simultaneously explored through bigotry towards both Samantha and towards Darrin. If you’re closed off to those aspects of the show’s construction penetrating your emotional perspective, that’s okay, but it’s not possible to pretend they don’t exist or are not significant.

          (*)The gender drama is slightly different — he structurally has power over her because of his ego’s insistence that he be the sole provider, but in practice, she can’t be contained, and like Lucy and Jeannie, it’s clear who has power over whom. I understand the emotional objection to Darrin on these grounds — his motivating pride makes him less sympathetic — but I would again raise points that I made in the previous comment about how the show counteracts that notion and indeed makes him sympathetic, all of which are comparable to what’s done on other sitcoms from the era that have husbands who act the same. Again, the show is built to allay this concern — and every other concern.

          I really enjoy discussing the show like this though — it sharpens my own perspective. Thanks for encouraging such discussion!

        • I always enjoy reading the comments. You really do the kind of deep dives that I love. You always make sense too.

          Also I am really looking forward to a “My Living Doll” peice that I think you mentioned. I just watched it on DVD this year. Julie Newmar was a knockout!!

        • Hi, Ian! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I appreciate your kind words — thank you!

          As for MY LIVING DOLL, it’s an ideal companion to our JEANNIE coverage; stay tuned…

  7. I think I always preferred I Dream of Jeannie to Bewitched. It probably came down to the characters; I like Jeannie, Tony, and Roger more than Samantha, Darren and Endora. The chemistry between Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman made the show work. And even though Bewitched may have had the stronger scripts, Jeannie had characters that I would want to be friends with.

    But it may also have to do with the impression the show made on me as a kid. I would watch I Dream of Jeannie on weekday afternoons after school, alongside of Gilligan’s Island, Batman, and The Brady Bunch. The only time I remember watching Bewitched was when I would stay home from school with a stomach ache or something.

    You brought up another good point too. Even as a kid I wondered why Tony struggled to keep Jeannie a secret when he could’ve just said she was his girlfriend and avoided a lot of the problems that popped-up.

    Thanks for writing another thought provoking article! I really enjoyed it.

    • Hi, JC! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I can’t possibly penetrate the lingering fortress of nostalgia when debating quality and preference — especially when it’s baked in with youth — but I will say that Samantha saves her beloved from antagonistic forces while Jeannie is her beloved’s antagonistic force. I don’t know how that could render the latter more likable or, based on their depictions, a better friend. Also, if we’re crediting the Eden/Hagman chemistry as being the series’ selling point but acknowledging that there are unintentionally unsolved questions in their characters’ relationship… is that really a persuasive argument *in favor* of JEANNIE over BEWITCHED, where we don’t have to make similar concessions?

  8. Loved this piece Jackson. Bewitched was a classic sitcom with believable characters. Jeannie was fun eye candy with a scantily clad babe and NASA porn. I have to laugh whenever I see middle aged men trying to justify liking Jeannie for anything other than Barbara Eden’s hotness or their decades old space obsession. Lets be real, its not a great show.

    • Hi, Eboni! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Well, I agree with you about BEWITCHED’s relative superiority, but I’m not sure that it’s fair to generalize like that about why fans enjoy JEANNIE. Besides, people can like a show for any reason they want — heck, they don’t even need a reason. And while I challenge characterizations of series (or episodes) with which I don’t agree here, I’m not trying to belittle anyone’s reason for taking joy in something. In fact, I want to take joy in everything discussed here myself — while remaining sincere about it. And I assume everyone else is sincere as well.

  9. Excellent piece, Jackson. I agree that Bewitched is the more substantive show, but Jeannie still has its charms. I always thought of the show as the free-spirited kid sister to Bewitched. Looking forward to the season-by-season coverage.

    • Hi, MikeGPA! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, there are definitely things to enjoy in JEANNIE! My effort is to find them, but first be clear-eyed about where the series fits within the ‘60s landscape based on its quality, and specifically in relation to the other show to which it’s often compared. Stay tuned for more…

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