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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Tabitha - The Entire Series

 

Tabitha

The Entire Series (1977-1978) (Sony-2005)

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Copyright ©2006.   PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 4, 2006.

File this under what were they thinking, or more accurately, why weren’t they thinking enough? Tabitha is undercooked through and through, with a half-assed premise and an ever-weakening attempt to recapture old magic.  

The idea itself is brimming with promise: take Samantha and Darren’s children from Bewitched, move them to ‘70s LA, and see what they can conjure up. Even better, give it a Mary-Tyler-Moore-Show vibe, with Tabitha toiling like a mortal as a production assistant at a local TV station. She even gets put to the test, having to tolerate the Ted-Baxter-like on-air personality and egomaniac (played well by Robert Urich, the only good thing in the series).  

Though in human years, Tabitha should only be a pre-teen by this time, we’ll look the other way and accept the fact that she is a comely young adult, barely out of college, and played the best way she knows how by Lisa Hartman.  Though likable enough, Hartman is no Elizabeth Montgomery; Hartman’s nose twitching looks more like sinus congestion than hocus-pocus.  

Like her mother, Tabitha chooses to live in the workaday world, rather than enjoy the benefits of witchcraft and thinking outside the box. We’re asked to admire this as noble, but we only find it disappointingly boring.

Still, we know she’s a happy camper, because in the opening credits she tosses her graduation cap into the air and also hugs the hood of her Volkswagen.

Her brother, Adam (David Ankrum), does not come into the magical talents of his mother, but does inherit the sour-pussiness of his father(s). He’s uptight in an unfunny way – the polar opposite of the purpose of the Darren role. Ultimately, having a brother reminding his sister of the golden rule of “no witchcraft” makes even less sense than a husband badgering his wife about it. As the brief series lumbers on, Adam has less and less to do, until he himself practically disappears. Some trick.

For pizzazz, we are asked to find the kids’ Aunt Minerva adorable and irrepressible, but she’s ultimately annoying and sure to slow down the already bumbling pace of the series. Although Minerva seems to have unlimited access to a TV station (her only security ID seems to be that she’s Tabitha’s aunt, and nobody ever questions why she’s constantly hanging around her niece’s workplace), she’s not entertainingly intrusive, and we don’t welcome her unwelcome visits.

Admittedly, she has a hard act to follow. Agnes Moorehead, who played the witchy antagonist Endora in the original series, had major acting credits, grand dramatic gestures, makeup and costumes going for her. Here, in the down-to-earth seventies, Karen Morrow plays it like a low-rent Carol Burnett in a pantsuit, but she’s still no cherished memory. 

In one instance, Aunt Minerva “freezes” Adam’s friend, and Adam acts as if he has never seen that trick before. As well, Tabitha seems to be amazed by witchcraft – when magic makes it snow in LA, Tabitha is as genuinely amazed as everyone else, not for a moment suspecting that it could be a result of the dark arts.

“This is incredible,” Tabitha exclaims. “It’s actually snowing!” But shouldn’t we being saying that, not her?

Unfortunately, because Tabitha is working so hard at being normal, the magic in the series is small and low-budget, to say the least. Sudden, trick-photography appearances and disappearances are old hat by this era, and the plots are too lazy to include much more ambitiously magical situations.

“Minerva,” Tabitha asks her aunt with that trademarked seventies delivery, “have you been flying too low over the poppy fields of Turkey again?” The laugh track thrives on this attempt at updatedness, including a girl at “The Dirty Disco” asking Adam, “Wanna boogie?” and an African-American witch (Tracey Reed) named Porsche, who identifies herself, like her car/namesake as “sleek, black and shifty.” In addition, and as some kind of badge of pride at its contemporary handle, we get references to CB radios, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and waterbeds.

In what is meant to be hilarious but actually works against the very fabric of the story, the “witches council” begins pushing “mixed marriages,” after seeing that Samantha and Darren have been successfully married for twenty-five years. Don’t worry – these original characters spare us the humiliation of making an appearance on this short-lived series, but Sandra Gould and George Tobias, as former-neighbors Gladys and Abner Kravitz, make a half-hearted attempt to revive their roles on one episode. And Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) does his usual shtick as the loud-talking, nurse-chasing physician, which successfully stands on its own, even in a show as bad as this one.

In desperately clinging to that easy sitcom shortcut, the bad people are clearly bad (a sassy ski instructor, a conniving weathergirl, a competitive witch). There are absolutely no shades of gray, which would have made the series two-dimensional at least.

The original pilot episode stars Liberty Williams as a brunette Tabitha (which is inherently wrong!), and they don’t even get the title of the series right (they call it Tabatha, with an a; this is odd, considering it was produced by the very people who worked on the original series). Also unforgivable: Adam calls Tabatha his “kid sister,” when she is clearly the older sibling and everyone in the world knows it, except for the people producing the show.

With lots of eye-rolling, and determined to ape that Mary Tyler Moore Show formula, Tabatha works as an editorial assistant at a San Francisco publication, even getting a plain, Rhoda-like girlfriend to comment on the bizarre happenings. In the spirit of the seventies, everybody is coming out of the closet: Tabatha confides in her brand-new boyfriend that she is a witch – unusually casual and careless for a breed of immortals determined to keep their talents a dark secret, especially from a virtual stranger.

In this pilot version, Adam (played by future theatrical producer Bruce Kimmel here) actually has strong magical powers and is not afraid to use them, and yet the plot contrivance still doesn’t work. Again, Tabatha is meant to be the level-headed, “normal” sibling, constantly cleaning up the messes that Adam causes. And Adam just looks insensitive and careless (materializing in a cab and confounding the poor cab driver).  

As we desperately try to understand the yearning of beautiful witches to be normal, we are at least thankful that this lethargic, uninspired attempt at revival did not last longer than it could have.

Ron Sklar

Copyright ©2006.   PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 4, 2006.