Bewitched premiered in the fall of 1964, it was so high-concept that
during its first few episodes, it needed a narrator to tell us that Samantha
was a witch. This introduction was written ironically, being that she was
supernatural and yet just like us, using favorite sixties comfort-food
buzzwords such as “typical suburban housewife” and “All-American girl.”
However, it was the powerful charisma of Elizabeth Montgomery that allowed
her to stride the two worlds, and she rode that broom into permanent
pop-culture bewitching belovability.
magic struck an immediate chord: the show was a hit from its very first
episode, and was the second-most-watched program on television (after
Bonanza). Viewers, now tired of the same old living-room comedy, tuned
in as writers – still bound by convention – managed to take it up a notch.
fall, the TV suburbs were dominated by a Martian, a living doll, identical
twin cousins, oil rich hillbillies, two sets of monsters (and a year later,
a genie and a talking car). However, it was Samantha Stevens
who set the
tone for what a supernatural sitcom should be, and the friendly formula is
followed to this day (think Charmed and Sabrina The Teenage Witch).
That recipe is heavy on the normal and the likable, light on the darkness.
Still, the show is both a shining example and a hapless victim of its genre
– every episode ends in a passionate kiss and the swell of a full orchestra,
but it also delivers on much deeper levels. Still, it’s weighed down by
plot, as we all know, is infuriating: man marries witch; same man insists
that wife does not use her natural-born powers. As a result, we are robbed
of some intensely intriguing storylines and amazing possibilities
sake of sitcom shenanigans. Entire theses have been written on Darrin’s fear
of Samantha’s power, and his desire to control it and contain it. This may
be, but had Darrin been more open to play, we would have been left with an
even more interesting premise.
writing is meant to be honorable and given to easy, repeatable conflict:
witch gives up her magical life in order to live humbly with the mortal she
loves. The writers delight in the fact that Samantha uses her brains – not
her nose – to get herself out of sticky situations, some even caused by
magic gone awry. We as a nation, however, are affectionate but not always
amused. We want to see her conjure herself into a tizzy. Instead, though,
what we get is mild trickery: a man gets turned into a dog. George
Washington is sitting on the barcolounger. Been there, etc.
Subversion, however, comes in strange forms. Although its never really
officially noted, Samantha is rather lax in her promise to refrain from
witchcraft. We see her during the day, zapping up a pool in the backyard so
she could take a quick dip; we see her snap clean her dirty dishes,
magically fold her laundry, and have a quickie lunch with her mother in
Paris. This is not the same young wife who takes a vow of non-witchcraft in
front of her husband. “Maybe I can taper off,” she resolves to herself in
the very first episode, but she never truly does, and we realize that she is
ultimately what witches have been accused of for centuries: a deceiver.
fact, she breaks rules quite recklessly, with little or no remorse. When
Darrin pays too much attention to a televised baseball game, Sam creates an
impromptu rainstorm, which causes a postponement of the game. Even in the
opening credits, an animated Samantha changes herself into a cat, and then
back into herself (a trick that would bring intense disapproval from the
says to her mother, “I promised Darrin no witchcraft, and no witchcraft is
what he’s going to get.” This is wholly untrue. Her promise is conditional
Meanwhile, we see Darrin slowly realize that he married into more than he
bargained for. He wonders – more often than not – if he can truly trust his
new bride. If anything good or bad happens to him, he contemplates uneasily
if his good or bad fortune is as a result of witchcraft. He also wonders
about his wife’s true age, and ultimately, his own mortality.
can’t help but feel Darrin’s pain, yet at the same time, we wonder about his
ability to deal with his own trust issues. He drowns them in alcohol, which
in the sixties, was seen as cute and funny. In the beginning, witchcraft is
a scary and incomprehensible thing. He says to his wife nervously, “You’re
telling me you took a live person and turned him into a dog?” However, like
anything else, her powers become ordinary and less shocking as the series
goes on. By the end of the run, we’ve seen it all before (but we never tire
of watching actors get “frozen” in place!).
Still, Darrin can’t help but wonder if he was under a spell when he fell in
love with Samantha – bewitched, to use the correct term. It’s not
entirely unlikely – while Darrin naps, Samantha and Endora literally change
his facial features to see if they can improve upon them. This could be the
ultimate in ego bruising from which an insecure man may never recover.
know next to nothing about Darrin (he’s from Missouri and he served in the
Army), and we know even less than that about Samantha (we can only guess
about her past life, which was long and presumably privileged and colorful).
Darrin covers his blurting out that he’s in a mixed marriage by saying, “I’m
English and she’s Norwegian.”); similarly, Samantha faces bigotry when
contemplating telling the world what she truly is (her aunt advises her:
“You’d better take out lots of fire insurance,” referring to witches being
burned at the stake). In the spirit of this civil-rights era, the witches
contemplate a non-violent march to protest witch-discrimination at
Halloween. Sounds a bit cutesy, but this was powerful stuff in its day.
meant to be adorable that Darrin is so in love with his wife that he will
put up with a mountain slide of crap, including a literal mother-in-law from
Hell. Endora (played with relish by Agnes Moorehead) looks down her nose at
“mortals” (called in this first season “humans” and “animals” and eventually
toned down to “mortals”),
barely shows him a smidgeon of respect by constantly effing up his name:
Daniel, Durwood, Dumbo, Dobbin, Derek, Darwin. This being the golden age of
mother-in-law jokes, the humor was probably more potent during its first
run. “Mortals are their own worst enemies,” mother observes about her
son-in-law’s creed, but that doesn’t stop her from playing with him like a
cat cornering a mouse.
Endora – worldly, bigoted, cranky and potentially dangerous – accuses her
daughter of slumming, marrying beneath her (and in a mixed marriage, no
less), and giving up a life without boundaries, “trading it all for a
quarter-acre of crab grass.” We actually can’t help but see her point, and
wonder how much more interesting the show may have been had the writers not
worked so hard to take the high road.
“Mortals don’t seem to know how to do anything too well,” Endora later
observes, though she never admits that the playing field is not level.
of this first season’s many highlights is a visit from Samantha’s
drama-queen father, played by the Shakespearian actor Maurice Evans. He and
Endora were television’s first separated couple, yet when they get together
you’re watching heavy acting at its finest.
”Maurice, control yourself,” Endora purrs like the first lady of the
American theater, as her estranged (and strange) husband telepathically
shatters glass when he learns that his daughter married a mortal.
original desperate housewife, Gladys Kravitz (played in the first two
seasons by the Don-Knotts-like Alice Pearce), is another tragic figure. We
laugh at her inability to witness Samantha’s witchcraft and
miserably fail in proving it, but she knows, she sees.
“Abner,” Mrs. Kravitz screams after spying a cat transform into a sexy lady,
“there’s a woman in a fur coat lapping up the milk!”
husband, Abner (underplayed brilliantly by George Tobias), is at the ready
with her “medicine,” which must be a form of liquid heroin, and is supposed
to keep her tranquilized. Gladys knows what she sees, but the devil never
gets his due.
Abner longs to spend his retirement reading the newspaper and practicing the
flute (and why does he sit around the house in a shirt and tie?). We wait
for Abner to actually see what he needs to see so that all of us can get
some closure, but instead, like on all sitcoms, we are trained to expect the
“You’re kitchen is so uncluttered and its after six,” Mrs. Kravitz notices
nervously of Samantha’s housewifery, sniffing for clues about this
mysterious new neighbor, and in every single case – with no exception --
getting an eyeful of evil.
series takes place in the heart of sixties suburbia, which, in and of itself
was a new, magical and strange place for many Americans at the time. Sam is
adjusting to Morning Glory Circle
almost the same way millions of housewives were adjusting to their
split-levels. In a supermarket, a demonstrator of an electric garage-door
opener says to Sam, “How’s that for magic?” “Not bad!” Sam replies, truly
an age in which being a hausfrau was status quo, Sam wears the label
like a blue ribbon. Her mother complains, “Samantha, you’re acting like a
typical suburban housewife!” “Thank you,” Sam replies proudly, actually
taking it as a compliment.
Another magical, often-misunderstood aspect of modern life is advertising,
and although we are told that Darrin is an account executive for McMann and
Tate, we also see him writing copy, creating illustrations and generating
quaint ideas that wouldn’t rate as a passable ad for Penny Saver
today. And try to remember the last time you saw TV characters drinking hard
liquor in the office in the middle of the afternoon.
Darrin the creative genius we are constantly being told he is? Take the
Pepsi Challenge: a poster for a dress company goes like this: “He’d Like To
Hold Your Hand When You’re Wearing A Dress From…” (based on the biggest hit
of that year, The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” but how would we really
know that now?). This is a world filled with old white men, but with no CEOs
or marketing directors: all clients are from family-run businesses. For
instance, Castor Soup Company is actually run by Mr. Castor, and so on.
boss Larry Tate about one client: “He goes through ad agencies like women go
through new dresses.” On a second look at Larry, we find that he is
deliciously amoral (anything for the sake of winning a client – “I’ll buy
that,” he says of Darrin’s latest idea, “until you think of something
better.”). At the beginning of the series only, Larry is painted as an
adulterer, making unwholesome moves on women while faithful wife Louise
waits at home. We also get a glimpse into his psyche when he confides in
Darrin about his seven years in analysis: “When the doctor told me not to
come back because I was cured, I felt rejected.”
Before the show was an instant hit and brought in millions of dollars for
its struggling network, execs were at first nervous that the series would
suggest that Samantha and her family were Satanists (at least one reference
to Lucifer and Beelzebub are mentioned in this first season, but never
again). Sam, however, is careful to celebrate Christmas and to perform
mitzvahs (she helps orphans and misunderstood children); everything
Jesus would do. We should probably not pay too much attention when she tells
us that her birthday is 6/6.
series’ first season deals brilliantly with sensitive subjects: mortality,
bigotry, and infidelity. Not bad, considering that the show was essentially
working with network constraints and limited to the most vanilla of
situations. Still, it’s TV Land: men feel free to punch each other in the
face when the spirit moves them, and couples drink like fish (even Louise
Tate, who is pregnant, yearns for and gets a stiff drink).
situations can get surprisingly sexual, although its Morse coded to us. For
a short stay, the house next door is occupied by the stunning Pleasure O’
Riley, who puts Darrin to the fidelity test. Only a few episodes later, her
even-more-stunning sister, Danger O’ Riley, moves in as well, and plays with
Darrin’s resolve, to Endora’s delight. These babes cannot hold a candle up
to Samantha, who says, “Hello, Danger,” to the neighbor as if it means more
than just a mere greeting.
addition to sex, we get politics (but only as far as stumping for a city
councilman, which is safe enough, and tiresome too. Also, she exercises her
civic duty by campaigning for a traffic light on Morning Glory Circle,
thereby letting us know she’s a good witch).
Elizabeth Montgomery owns the role and the series from Scene One. With her
cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, she commands, steers and navigates, totally
in charge. She is not afraid of what is unknown to us, the way everybody
else is, so she puts us at ease.
also get Paul Lynde in a pre-Uncle-Arthur role (he plays a loser driving
instructor), but the seeds are already planted (Sam: “Would you like to join
me in a cup of coffee?” His response: “Do you think we could both fit?”).
Sam’s relatives keep coming – mostly uninvited, and the only one Darrin
seems to have tolerance for is the ancient, bumbling Aunt Clara (played by
Marion Lorne, and you either love her or hate her).
DVD is colorized for your protection and/or your outrage. You are being
pandered to because you are not sophisticated enough to appreciate the art
in its original, black-and-white form. About two decades previous,
colorization was a major sore spot for true video affectionados and
other hopeless nerds. However, the computerized color here is so vibrant and
the lighting is so subtle and amazing, that you can screw the original black
and white. You do get a choice, but watch it this way, for more magic.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: August 11, 2006.