Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bewitched season 2

For many of us who grew up in the '60s, Bewitched was a fascination bordering on an obsession. For years after it went off the air, if I was sick with a cold or flu and getting out of bed was a struggle, I would wave my arm to see if I could get the book across the room to fly over to me. I believe that's Einstein's definition of insanity.

The effect of Bewitched on pop-culture sensibilities can't be overstated; when it premiered in September, 1964, it quickly became ABC's biggest hit series to date. I'd be remiss, in discussing the series, if I didn't start by singling out writer-producer Danny Arnold, who (Sol Saks' onscreen credit to the contrary) pretty much created Bewitched and masterminded its first season. Arnold viewed Bewitched as a romantic comedy (its antecedents were clearly the screwballs of the '30s) about a man and a woman from different backgrounds: a "mixed marriage," as it were. He was Darrin Stephens, an up-and-coming advertising executive; she was Samantha -- and she was a witch. Fantasy sitcoms ruled the airwaves in the '60s, but Bewitched, as originally conceived, was no Mister Ed or The Flying Nun-type kiddie show. The witchcraft was used sparingly; mostly it allowed Arnold to imbue a familiar premise (the trials of a young married couple) with fresh details.

For Arnold, the two major themes of the series were the conflict between a powerful woman and a husband who can't handle that power, and the anger of the bride's mother at seeing her daughter marry beneath her. In other words, he was taking up the cause of the women's movement at the precise moment when it had been reignited by a new generation of activists. (Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, released a year earlier, was helping to lead the charge.) And he was tackling that great American taboo, its widening class divide: here, the tensions between the upper class, that 5% born into wealth and privilege, and the middle class, with the house in the suburbs, working dad and stay-at-home mom -- at a time when President Johnson was addressing the inequities at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And if that weren't enough, Arnold used the persecution of so-called "witches" in Salem -- and their unflattering portrayal in modern-day Halloween cards and party favors -- to present them as a race victimized by ignorance and bigotry.

And all this in a sitcom.

It must be noted, there was nothing polemic about Bewitched as Arnold conceived it; the themes were there, gently poking through, but they didn't become dominant or, heaven knows, militant. Let's take a look at two episodes from early in the run.

In the series' fifth episode, written by Arnold himself, Darrin is struggling with a campaign for Caldwell Soups; he's trying to come up with a series of print ads with catchy double meanings. And when Samantha takes a look at the three he's working on, she approaches them with the fresh eyes of a fascinated amateur, and proposes swift and effective solutions. Darrin's delighted -- until he decides that she must have used witchcraft; I mean, she overhauled three ads within seconds -- what else would you call it? "I'd call it imagination," Samantha replies, gently but clearly offended: "I do have some, you know." But Darrin's ego and paranoia get the better of him; at a meeting with the client, he even convinces himself that the voice in his head, pressuring him to present her ideas rather than his own, is more of Samantha's sorcery. And when the two of them have it out over his lack of trust, and she decides the marriage was a mistake and that she's leaving him, only then does she break out the witchcraft: packing up her suitcases with the wave of her arms and the trademark twitch of her nose. And yes, the witchcraft is there for novelty and laughs, but it serves an emotional purpose: it's an expression of her defiance, and her proud sense of self. It's a feminist statement. Ultimately, they reconcile when Darrin admits he was acting out of "stupid male pride," and in the episode's final moments, a few chance words by Samantha prompt Darrin to devise the perfect campaign. But were those "few chance words" really so innocent, or did Samantha calculate them to get the result she wanted, and find a way of doing so without bruising her husband's ego? Arnold is content to leave us in the dark.

In the eighth episode, written by Bernard Slade, who'd become the series most valuable scripter (and script consultant for its second season), Darrin is working long and late hours on a campaign, and Samantha has barely seen him in days. As she sits home alone playing solitaire, her mother Endora comes to her rescue with a proposal to go to lunch. Where? "The left bank." "The left bank of what?" "Of Paris. What did you think -- the left bank of Flushing?" And as much as she's promised Darrin a "normal" life, Samantha clearly misses her jet-setting ways (without the jet, of course), and agrees. So they fly off to Paris. It's fanciful and wonderful when they raise their arms, there's a sting of music, and they're seated at a table along the Left Bank. But it's witchcraft used to represent a luxury that the elite can enjoy, but that a struggling middle-class junior executive like Darrin Stephens can't afford. Samantha, of course, had intended to keep her lunchtime excursion to herself, but she's denied that opportunity when she chances to run into Darrin's boss and his wife in Paris, and word quickly leaks back to a flustered and increasingly apoplectic Darrin that his wife -- whom he kissed goodbye that very morning -- is now lunching in Paris. And when Samantha returns home, fantasy gives way to reality, and the question that plagues Darrin is a decidedly down-to-earth one: "Does she miss her old life, the one she had before she married me?" -- a question that resonates with couples of all ages and backgrounds, and the sort rarely voiced in a TV sitcom.

Arnold's Bewitched was smart, sophisticated television -- and capable of surprising poignancy and punch. He left the show at the end of its first season (with ABC pushing for more magic, more farcical situations, more kid-friendly plots), but he left it, for one season, in the capable hands of producer Jerry Davis, who had overseen Season 1 with him, and writer-turned-script-consultant Bernard Slade. I'd be hard-pressed to claim that any later season comes close to the ambition and accomplishment of Season 1, but there was also a drawback to Arnold's approach: in his quest to keep things grounded, his seriousness of purpose and solemnity could be a bit of a drag. In its look at a mixed marriage, where the witchcraft was mostly a metaphor for other issues, Bewitched Season 1 at its best is unmatched; at its worst, though, when Samantha is fighting to get a traffic light installed on Morning Glory Circle, or campaigning to get a city councilman elected, or grappling with the overprotective mother next door, or trying to instill some confidence in an aging local magician, the emphasis on the suburban over the supernatural gets a little tiresome. You pray for the occasional witch's twitch to enliven the action.

So I have to say my favorite Bewitched season is Season 2; Arnold's themes are still in play -- Davis and Slade schooled with him, after all -- but the touch is lighter, and the constraints looser. Throughout Season 2, quiet episodes are enlivened by narrative sleights-of-hand, and sillier episodes are grounded by smart exposition. Some episodes are downright creepy, others rather heartwarming. The characterizations remain sharp and complex, largely free of the one-note one-liners that marred later seasons. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York, as Samantha and Darrin, shine every bit as brightly as they did in Season 1, while Agnes Moorehead (as Samantha's mother Endora) enjoys an even better showcase; the lighter touch permits her to be not merely formidable, but sly, stylish and deeply funny, registering her opposition to her daughter's marriage with wit and irony rather than mere distaste.

And here's the problem with Bewitched Season 2: it's maddeningly hard to watch as audiences did in 1965-66, in glorious black-and-white. The only DVD of Season 2 that's readily available is a colorized version, and it's dismally done. It has the look of a coloring book filled in by an eager preschooler armed with just three or four crayons; every room, every outfit is reimagined in primary colors, and every item within that room or outfit is a different shade: a yellow sofa with red drapes behind and blue armchairs to the fore. It's hideous and distracting, and perilously hard to look past, to get to the themes in play. And even if it were done well, colorization is all wrong for Bewitched -- or at least, all wrong for Seasons 1 and 2. During the series' first few years, Montgomery and York called to mind some of the great seriocomic screen pairings of Hollywood's golden age; they were emblematic of the second wave of screwball, less concerned with slapstick and more with the character humor that resulted when social classes came into conflict, or career paths collided. They were Ginger Rogers and Tim Holt in Fifth Avenue Girl, Carole Lombard and Fredric March in Nothing Sacred, Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in Arise, My Love, and Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Remember the Night. Audiences at the time certainly understood the influences; even if they're no longer as familiar, the garishness of the new design undercuts any efforts to pin a fantastic situation to a realistic setting. It's hard to absorb issues of prejudice or equal rights when you're too busy staring at the canary-yellow couch. Fortunately, there's a DVD set still available of both Seasons 1 and 2, "proudly presented in classic black & white" -- grab it before someone second-guesses their justifiable pride.

It's tough to extol the virtues of Bewitched to folks raised even a decade after the series originally aired. For a long time -- until the late '80s, to be specific -- Seasons 1 and 2, the two black-and-white seasons (and easily the best), were omitted from the syndication cycle. Audiences were treated to endless reruns of Seasons 3 through 8, which featured such a striking erosion in quality that, by midway through Season 6, the series bore little resemblance to its pilot. The acting style got broader, the laugh track louder; all warmth was drained from the series, as mugging became the order of the day. And those plots! By the second half of the series' run, the most common story-line -- the only one some folks (rightfully) remember -- was "Endora casts a spell on Darrin." Here's an example. Endora insists that Darrin is vain; Samantha counters, no, he's not -- so Endora casts a spell that makes him vain. How is that even a story-line? She doesn't prove a point by turning him into the very thing she insists he is; it's the abandonment of realistic story-telling in favor of the farcical mayhem that witchcraft can provide: a sophomoric approach that runs counter to the series' premise. But season after season, in the second half of the run, Endora would insist that Darrin was cheap or vain or arrogant or indecisive or snobbish, and cast a spell to make him so. Or -- just as bad -- she'd complain he wasn't funny or polite or agreeable enough, and again, solve it with sorcery. It was plotting that pretty much played like Mad Libs: insert adjective, then read back the story from the top.

There's precious little of that in Season 2; it boasts as varied a set of story-lines as the show ever managed, some of them prompted by real-life events. Elizabeth Montgomery had learned she was pregnant during the filming of Season 1, and -- as with I Love Lucy, which her husband William Asher had also directed -- her pregnancy was written into Season 2. It doesn't, by itself, generate more than a half-dozen story-lines, but it provides a through-line for the first eighteen episodes, as she's visibly showing, and continuity to the remainder of the season, once the Stephenses have a newborn at home, and the themes common to a young married couple can be expanded. Marion Lorne, whose trio of appearances as Samantha's dithering Aunt Clara had charmed the producers and audiences in Season 1, was upped to recurring for Season 2 -- then the actress suffered a heart attack early on that kept her off the screen for the final two-thirds of the season; ironically, though, her absence keeps the show from falling prey to the "Aunt Clara messes up the magic" sort of story-line that would become prominent by Season 3. And late in Season 2, Alice Pearce, who originated the role of neighbor Gladys Kravitz, and played it magnificently, died of cancer. (She was, notably, not the one-note villainess that Sandra Gould portrayed when she assumed the role in Season 3, but a genuinely warm, welcoming neighbor, forever mystified and occasionally traumatized by the goings on across the street: the madwoman always armed with an empty cup of sugar.) Her absence near the end of the season, as with Marion Lorne's heart attack, forces Slade to think fast on his feet, and the solutions feel clever and fresh. In discussing the wonders of Season 2, let's zero in on four representative -- and sensational -- episodes.

"Speak the Truth" is the antecedent of all the "Endora casts a spell on Darrin" episodes, but done right. Done so right. As Darrin rushes off to the office, he fibs to Samantha (whose pregnancy has prompted her to oversleep and who awakes bleary-eyed) by insisting that even at her early-morning worst, she's beautiful. Endora sees the exchange and cautions her daughter that she's growing more gullible and "human" every day. Samantha insists that if Darrin says she's beautiful, it's because that's how he feels -- but Endora counters that he's no different from other mortals. Their lives are built on a foundation of lies, deceptions and unspoken thoughts: if they were forced to speak their mind 24/7, their worlds would dissolve into chaos. And to prove her point, she installs a "truth statue" in Darrin's proximity, that prompts any human within a certain radius to say what's on their mind. In other words, Endora doesn't just make Darrin helplessly honest for the fun that will provide her; she does it to show Samantha the kind of people she's married into, and to prove a point about the difference between witches and mortals -- and by extension, between those whose status and privilege place them above that sort of deception, and those whose working-class lives make them dependent on a certain level of half-truth and hypocrisy. The set up is done delicately: no "instant spell" -- Endora reaches out to Samantha's Aunt Hagatha for the statue, then carefully leaves it in Darrin's office as a gift from his Uncle Herbert, who's a bit of a world traveler. And the games begin -- for starters, it prompts the following exchange between Darrin and his secretary that was clearly not what ABC had in mind when they asked for more kid-friendly plotting:

Darrin: Miss Thatcher, how did this package get on my desk?
Miss Thatcher: I don't know, sir. I hadn't noticed it before.
Darrin: My Uncle Herbert is full of surprises. You know, he always says... (coming within range of the statue) ...that certainly is a tight dress you're wearing.
Miss Thatcher: Your uncle says that?
Darrin: And I second the thought. Wow, that dress looks like it was sprayed on.
Miss Thatcher: I beg your pardon?
Darrin: Yes, sir, that is a tight dress is what that is.
Miss Thatcher: Well, I'm sorry if I'm wearing something inappropriate.
Darrin (leaving the range of the statue): Inappropriate? Oh no, no, not at all, Miss Thatcher. That's a very charming dress. I shouldn't have been so personal.
Miss Thatcher (walking within range of the statue): Well, I don't mind your being personal, Mr. Stephens. To tell you the truth, I wore this dress especially for you. I hoped it would get to you. It's two sizes too small, and I thought it would be nice for you to notice that I was a woman, just once.

Dick York and Sharon DeBord (as Miss Thatcher) don't underplay the sexual tension; if the scene went on any longer, you suspect, it would make Mad Men look like Mayberry. And the revelations continue from there. On his way home, Darrin is issued a speeding ticket -- until the cop, under the statue's influence, admits that his home life is so miserable, he's handing out unwarranted fines to make others feel worse about their lives. Preparing for a dinner party, Samantha gets a taste of how Darrin really feels about her when she's not looking her best, when she emerges from the bedroom with her hair in curlers, and he's only too happy to tell her how ridiculous she looks. (It prompts one of my favorite exchanges, when he asks, "How would you feel if I came tripping down the stairs with shaving cream all over my face, and offered you my forehead to kiss? I wouldn't be at my most attractive, would I?" And she responds, "No. And you're not right now.") And that night at the Stephens home, where Samantha and Darrin are entertaining his boss, a client, and their wives, the breakdown of social structure -- admen no longer stroking their client's ego, wives no longer kowtowing to their husbands' whims -- results in the adults squabbling like children. It's a satirical look at the false faces we put on to get along and get ahead; it's adult, insightful and marvelous. David V. Robison and John L. Greene were among Bewitched's most haphazard scripters, but their "Speak the Truth" is a bullseye.

In "Aunt Clara's Old Flame," Slade returns to the theme that underscored Aunt Clara's appearances in Season 1: her supernatural short-circuiting as a metaphor for the challenges of growing old. When Clara learns that her old beau Hedley Partridge is coming to town, she seeks shelter with the Stephenses; she doesn't want him to see how her powers have faded. But Endora -- recognizing that Hedley could be someone to look after Clara in her dotage -- invites him to the Stephens house for dinner. Aunt Clara's reunion with an old beau would no doubt have made for a sweet episode, but Slade energizes it by bringing to a boil the continuing story-line of Gladys Kravitz, super-snoop. Since the second episode of the series, Gladys has been witnessing strange goings-on at the Stephens home, but she could never get her husband to take her seriously. And indeed, that dynamic seems unlikely to change when she witnesses Aunt Clara trying to enter the Stephens home witch-style (bumping into the brick wall several times before managing to pass through it), and relates what she saw to a disbelieving Abner. Undeterred, she makes her way to the Stephens home and runs into Hedley, who's only too delighted to show off one of his favorite spells: making flowers dance. And a crazed Gladys rushes home and into her own brick wall with Abner, who's lying on the sofa reading the paper:

Gladys: Abner, there's a wizard at the Stephens house!
Abner: Good for the lawn -- it eats the mosquitoes.
Gladys: Not lizard. Wizard!
Abner: Wizard, lizard: as long as it eats the mosquitoes.

During the dinner-date that follows, Samantha secretly covers for Clara -- lighting Hedley's cigar and sending an ashtray flying his way -- while letting her aunt think she's regained her magic touch. But Clara gets overconfident and tries to cast a spell on her own, accidentally turning Hedley into an elephant. And it's then, of course, that Gladys returns -- this time with Abner in tow. Once Samantha and Darrin manage to explain away the elephant, and Clara manages to restore Hedley to human form, Aunt Clara tries to bid a hasty retreat, once more bumping into the wall in an effort to pass through it. Samantha and Darrin are quick to cover, insisting that Aunt Clara is nearsighted and always forgets to wear her glasses -- prompting Abner to turn on Gladys: "See, I told you, there's a logical explanation for everything." She counters, "I suppose there's also a logical explanation for dancing flowers," and turns to Hedley, "Mr. Partridge, did you make those flowers dance or not?" And when he admits that indeed he did, it's the first time since the series began that we truly fear Samantha's secret might be exposed. But when a triumphant Gladys announces to Abner, "Now, I suppose you have a logical explanation for that," Slade slyly inverts both story-lines, as Hedley responds, "I think he might if he examined the flowers." Because the flowers, as it turns out, are rigged (Abner lifts them and finds a string attached); Hedley's powers too are waning, so he fell back on an old parlor trick -- leaving Gladys deflated and Clara relieved. And as Abner drags Gladys home, Hedley and Clara reflect on the sad realities of growing old, but also -- implied but unstated -- the comfort of potentially growing old together.

"Aunt Clara's Old Flame" expertly combines sentimentality and suspense. In "And Then There Were Three," which chronicles the arrival of the Stephens' daughter Tabitha, Slade manages another cunning mix: the sense of wonder that accompanies the birth of a child and a character-driven farce worthy of Feydeau. (It's a blend unique in the series' history.) The waiting-room scene is pretty much a master class in character comedy, as Endora pops in with news for Darrin:

Endora: I just came from the delivery room.
Darrin: You were in there with Sam?
Endora: I thought it was a mother's place. They couldn't see me, of course.
Darrin: How is she?
Endora: Oh! Samantha just presented me with the most beautiful granddaughter.
Darrin: You mean -- you mean, I'm the father of a girl?
Endora: That too.
Darrin: And Sam? How's Sam?
Endora (patting him): She's fine. She's fine.
Darrin: Endora, I don't know what to do first: hug you or offer you a cigar.
Endora: There's no other choice?
Darrin: I have a daughter! (And he hugs her, as they both start to cry.)
Endora: Are you a good swimmer?
Darrin: Can't swim a stroke. (He hugs her again.)
Endora: Then we'd better use these. (She conjures up two handkerchiefs.)
Darrin: How does she look?
Endora: Absolutely adorable. Talented too.
Darrin: Talented...
Endora: With the most marvelous sense of humor.
Darrin: Humor... The baby?
Endora: Well, I thought it was just too funny when the doctor slapped her to make her cry, and she turned around and slapped him right back.
Darrin: Really?
Endora: No. No, I was just teasing.
Darrin (relieved): You know, Endora, sometimes you can be almost human.
Endora: This is no time to be insulting.

If you came expecting the acrimony between Darrin and Endora that became the show's stock-in-trade in later years, you won't find it here. Oh, Endora wishes her daughter had married someone of her own station, but that regret certainly isn't going to rear its head on the day her first grandchild is born. And following that exchange, Slade creates beautiful chaos out of one misunderstanding and one coincidence. Endora offers to turn Tabitha briefly into an adult, to show Darrin how much she'll come to resemble her mother; when Darrin encounters Samantha's lookalike cousin Serena (her first appearance, sophisticated rather than scatterbrained, as she'll eventually become), who's dropped in to offer congratulations, he thinks she's Tabitha, aged by witchcraft. That's all Slade needs to create a half-hour of inspired lunacy. By episode's end, Darrin is in Samantha's hospital room, dressed as an Indian, tied up in a straight jacket. You have to see it to believe it, but it's so meticulously plotted that believe it you do.

But laced through the mayhem -- and crucial to the episode's success -- are the tenderest of exchanges: between Darrin and Samantha, between Samantha and Endora, and between Darrin and Endora -- all of them blessed with the kind of witty, literate dialogue that was a staple of Bewitched's first two seasons. And as with "Speak the Truth," the episode feels free to poke fun at the banalities of mortal behavior. When Endora offers to age Tabitha, Darrin warns her, "Endora, if you lay one hand on my daughter," and she interrupts, fully aware of who wields the power, "Oh, I wish I could break you of the habit of making empty threats." When Serena, who's turned the attending nurse into a toad, restores her to human form, and her first words are the well-trod "Where am I?", Serena is left to sigh, "Might have known she'd say something cliché." At the end of the episode, as in several Season 2 offerings, it's Darrin who apologizes to Endora, for making presumptions based on ignorance and suspicion.

"The Dancing Bear," the last of the four I'll discuss in detail, gives us dysfunctional family humor at its best. It's the first Bewitched episode by James Henerson, who showed an instant understanding of the show's sensibility, and who, in the couple of years following Slade's departure, was the scripter who most clung to the series' premise. Here Henerson expands upon two themes explored a year earlier in Slade's "A Nice Little Dinner Party," which had chronicled the first meeting between Endora and Darrin's parents, Phyllis and Frank: Frank's unease at being recently retired, and Endora and Phyllis's mutual mistrust. (In the case of "Dinner Party," Phyllis, seeing Frank rejuvenated by Endora's charm, had become convinced that the two were having an affair.) "Dancing Bear," the in-laws' next encounter, makes it clear that Frank is still infatuated with Endora, a flame she delights in fanning. He's searching for a new project to engage him, and tells her about his latest idea, a vending machine for cocktails:

Frank: You see, all you do is press this button, and zip! -- out comes a Tom Collins. Zap! -- an Old-Fashioned. What do you think of it?
Endora: It's a little primitive -- but interesting. I'm all for labor-saving devices.
Frank (Sitting beside her): Tell me your candid opinion. If you were me, would you get mixed up in this vending machine deal?
Endora: You know, I'm on sort of a sabbatical, but I see no reason an energetic man like you shouldn't get involved in... whatever he wants.

But that's just the lead-in to the episode. The thrust of it is Endora and Phyllis's rivalry: this time, not for Frank, but for Tabitha's affections. When Endora shows up with a baby gift, a stuffed teddy bear, Darrin is immediately suspicious: "All right, what does he do? Suddenly turn into a real bear? Sing the second act from La Traviata?" But when she assures him that it's store bought, he relaxes, until his own mother turns up with an identical gift. And this triggers the grandmothers' competitive spirits: Phyllis goes shopping and returns with a different toy, twice as large, while Endora meets the challenge in the way she knows best: by enchanting the bear, and making it dance. (The sight of this stuffed bear prancing along the railing of Tabitha's crib is captivating -- one of director William Asher's most effortless feats of magic. He received the Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for Bewitched Season 2; the Academy fully understood the challenges of maintaining the human factor while making the witchcraft work.)

When Darrin is forced to take credit for the bear's mobility and feign a knowledge of engineering ("it's the old Mexican jumping bean principle"), Frank sees a get-rich-quick scheme that could rescue him from the tedium of early retirement. As with so many Bewitched plots, it's a story-line where one simple incident spirals out of control -- here, to the point of Frank summoning a toy manufacturer to the Stephens home, who's eager to bid for the rights to Darrin's "dancing bear." Just as the episode has successfully interwoven the grandmothers' rivalry and the grandfather's restlessness, it now adds a layer of corporate satire in its depiction of a man who loves manufacturing toys, but has no affection for children. (The great character actor Arthur Julian gives it precisely the right tone of braggadocio: "I've got a research department in my plant that would knock your eye out. The Air Force develops a new missile, and the next week, we've got it in plastic.") And as in the best episodes from the first two seasons, order is restored without the need of witchcraft: here, as Samantha reminds the two grandmothers that once the toy is mass-produced (as if that could ever happen), Tabitha's won't be unique anymore, and -- for all their differences -- neither Endora nor Phyllis is willing to deny their granddaughter ownership of the world's only dancing bear.

Those are just four of the season's highlights, and a good sampling of the varied tones and topics Season 2 manages to master, without losing track of its origins. But the season is so chock-full of goodies, I'll briefly mention a half-dozen more episodes that I love. "Take Two Aspirin and Half a Pint of Porpoise Milk," also Slade's, is the first of dozens of episodes where Samantha or one of her relatives has a "power outage," but with a freshness that most of the others lack, and enlivened by some wonderful scene work between Alice Pearce and George Tobias. (When Gladys brings chicken soup to an ailing Samantha, and witnesses her face break out in square green spots, she rushes home to Abner and bemoans his lack of concern: "How can you be so calm? Nobody ever had square green spots before." His ready-made reply: "Nobody ever had your chicken soup before.") Fred Freeman and Lawrence Cohen's "Trick or Treat" finds Darrin and Endora both falling prey to prejudice. When Darrin refuses to let Endora take Samantha away on Halloween, so she's not forced to confront a holiday that, for her, is hurtful in its portrayal of witches, Endora turns herself into a trick-or-treating preteen and plants a curse on him. (This episode, in which Darrin slowly transforms into a werewolf, claw by claw, fang by fang, gave me nightmares as a kid. York doesn't go purely for comedy; he goes for comic horror.) "Magic Cabin," written by Paul Wayne (one of Season 2's most reliable scripters) is as charming as anything the series ever turned out. When overwork has stifled Darrin's creativity, his boss Larry offers him a few days at his cabin in the Catskills, which proves so dilapidated that Darrin allows Samantha, then in her final weeks of pregnancy, to twitch it into shape. But when a young couple turns up unexpectedly, looking to purchase the property, Samantha and Darrin are forced to decide: do they let them buy it as it truly looks, or as redecorated by witchcraft? In Wayne's "Double Tate,” Endora secretly grants Darrin three wishes for his birthday, one of which he inadvertently uses to turn into his own boss, Larry Tate. (It's arguably David White's best performance, playing both Larry and Darrin-as-Larry.) Slade's two-parter "Follow That Witch" finds a potential client of McMann and Tate's hiring a private investigator to check up on Darrin, to make sure he's as squeaky-clean as their company image -- and when the P.I. discovers the truth about Samantha, he threatens blackmail. And in Wayne's “Divided He Falls,” Endora, frustrated that the demands of Darrin's job are denying her daughter the vacation she deserves, splits an unwitting Darrin into his "fun side" and his "work side," so that he can attend to his needy client and take his wife to Florida. (Samantha: "Darrin will be furious!" Endora: "I admit that made it irresistible." Samantha: "I only want one Darrin." Endora: "I know exactly what you mean: it's humiliating to look as if you've made the same mistake twice.") The result is a tour-de-force for Dick York; TV Guide, which later honored Bewitched as one of the greatest of all television series, singled out "Divided He Falls" as one of the 100 best TV episodes of all time.

Although there's one dud tacked onto the end of the season -- a leftover from Season 1 -- the real season finale comes with a magnificent pair of penultimate episodes. In Robison and Greene's fanciful “What Every Young Man Should Know,” Darrin comes home to find Samantha cleaning up some broken bric-a-brac with witchcraft, and launches into one of his chauvinistic tirades -- prompting Samantha to wonder if Darrin would have married her if he'd known she was a witch. A conversation with her mother only stokes her uncertainty: "There always will be a doubt, won't there? And when you look across the breakfast table at him, you'll wonder, what would've happened?" Ultimately, Endora convinces Samantha to let her send her back in time, so she can learn the answer -- and once returned to the past, when Samantha (on one of her final dates with Darrin) confesses that she's a witch, he seems to take it well. But then she takes a step towards him, and he flees the room in terror: "Don't touch me!!" His ignorance gives way to fear. (Endora is quick to brand his behavior as "narrow-minded, intolerant, middle-class and superstitious": pretty much ticking off the series' themes.) But of course Darrin ultimately comes around -- his love for Samantha trumps his prejudices. At one point, he vows that he'll never use her powers for personal gain -- and that sets the scene for the following episode, Paul Wayne and Sydney Zelinka's "The Girl With the Golden Nose."

In "Golden Nose," Darrin -- handed an account he didn't expect to get -- comes to suspect that Samantha has used witchcraft to boost his career. (He learns Samantha spoke with his boss, Larry Tate, shortly before Larry made his decision. Any man in Darrin's position would be dismayed to think his wife had used her influence to help him get ahead -- but with Samantha, her "influence" extends to the supernatural. It's very much in line with Season 1's minimalist use of witchcraft to freshen familiar story-lines.) But Darrin doesn't grow resentful, as he had back in the series' fifth episode, when he presumed Samantha had improved his slogans with sorcery. Darrin and Samantha are no longer newlyweds; they're two years married, with a five-month-old daughter, and Darrin has grown less driven by his "stupid male pride." Now he's more concerned with his wife's needs, and seated at his local bar, he drowns his doubts and self-pity, much as he did when Samantha flew off to Paris for lunch back in episode 8: "I'm married to a girl who can have anything in the whole world, yet she chose me. She must love me -- she gave up everything for me. But obviously she misses all those luxuries -- who could blame her?" Darrin is fully prepared to let Samantha help him into a higher income bracket, if it'll make her happier. But, of course, Samantha hasn't been helping him at all -- all his success has been achieved through talent and hard work. And what's more, through the course of two seasons, she's learned that she prefers to earn things rather than "inherit" them. She's no longer eschewing witchcraft because that's what her husband wants; she's discovered the joy in accomplishing things "the hard way," mortal-style. And reading her husband as well as she does, she's able to treat Darrin's condition with some old-fashioned common sense, a bit of reverse psychology, and just a touch of supernatural shock therapy.

As they close out Season 2, script consultant Bernard Slade and producer Jerry Davis -- no doubt knowing they're moving on, and perhaps sensing that the series will never again be the same -- see to it that the themes Danny Arnold developed (Darrin's discomfort with the power Samantha wields; her mother's regret at seeing her daughter marry beneath her; and the plight of the disenfranchised, witch-style) come into play once more. And having managed -- through the course of Season 2 -- to expertly goose the witchcraft, lighten the mood and vary the plotting (without undermining the series' premise), they firmly reassert the love story at its core. At the top of Season 3, Samantha will learn that Tabitha is a witch, and as her nascent powers create one mishap after another (and as Aunt Clara returns to mess up the magic, and Endora casts spell after spell on Darrin), Bewitched will become -- over time -- a more traditional '60s sitcom: its gimmick no longer serving to freshen familiar story-lines, but becoming a plot device in and of itself. The "point" of Bewitched will become the witchcraft, and the topical issues that challenge Samantha and Darrin's marriage -- and the tenderness and trust that sustain it -- will be diminished and ultimately forgotten. Bewitched Season 2 is the end of an era -- a brief era, but an extraordinary one. Grab the DVD while you still can.

Do you enjoy these in-depth looks at hit shows? If so, I delve into Rhoda Season 3 and WKRP in Cincinnati Season 4, pen an appreciation of the underrated Mike & Molly, and offer up some thoughts as to why The New Adventures of Old Christine took such a tumble in quality over its five seasons. Or if you have a preference for dramas, check out my write-ups of Judging Amy Season 6, Gilmore Girls Season 7 (and the subsequent Netflix miniseries), Cold Case Season 4, and countless essays devoted to seasons of the great nighttime soap Knots Landing. I also look back at Murder, She Wrote and pick out The 10 Best "Murder She Wrote" Mysteries -- not (necessarily) my top episodes, but the best whodunnits.


  1. You've convinced me, Tommy (I was only an occasional Bewitched watcher at the time, though I do remember the dancing bear episode from its first run), and I just ordered that DVD set. But I see in the Amazon comments that it's missing a number of the Season 2 episodes -- is that true?

    1. I'm glad my essay proved persuasive, but man, that would be so disheartening if indeed Amazon is selling incomplete seasons. I went to Amazon, and saw a review (perhaps the one you saw, or perhaps there are more) saying that ten episodes from Season 2 were missing in the B&W set. But when you check the Product Description, it lists every Season 2 episode, and specifically notes what discs they're on, so perhaps that customer's set was simply missing the last disc. Let me know what you end up with when it arrives; if indeed it's incomplete, I'll have to scour the internet to see if I can find links to the complete B&W Season 2.

      And I hope you enjoy watching. It's funny, when I finish these essays, and comments start to appear, the things I realize I forgot to mention. Somewhere in an earlier draft (and I think it was during the quick acknowledgement of Robison and Greene as Bewitched's most haphazard scripters), I noted that the season is not perfect, that there are a handful of episodes I don't much care for: "A Strange Little Visitor," "The Leprechaun" (both of those by Robison & Greene) and "Fastest Gun on Madison Avenue." Somehow that point got lost in the final draft. But that said, a handful of subpar stories in a season of 36 episodes is still pretty impressive!

    2. And I'm sure this is not the proper place to go into this, but what the hell -- I've been sick this week, and I'm still heavily medicated. Bewitched actually nailed me one of my earliest jobs, when I was living in NYC in my 20's. I was working part-time for the Gershwin Estate as an archivist, when I got word that conductor Michael Tilson Thomas was going to call me to interview me for a position; he needed an assistant for a series of Gershwin concerts that he was doing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (This was 1988, the 50th anniversary of George's death.) The call for the interview ended up coming around 8 PM on a weeknight; MTT reached me at home, and asked me to come to his apartment. He and his partner (now husband) Joshua were having dinner, and we could do the interview over dinner. I took a cab down to their apartment and met them -- and the interview was a disaster. MTT was asking about classical repertoire I didn't know, and his own recorded works (which I *also* didn't know), and I looked like the biggest dunce. An utter embarrassment, and it got so bad that Joshua ultimately excused himself from the room. And I was left there with MTT, and he kept trying to find common ground, but we honestly didn't have any. He muttered something like "Well, we haven't made any decisions about the job," and it was clear I wasn't getting it. But all this time, we're still finishing dinner, so I couldn't just get up and leave. At one point, there was an endless lull, so MTT asked something bland just to keep the conversation going, in almost a monotone -- "So, what do you like to do in your spare time?" -- and because I knew I had nothing left to lose, I just went with the truth: "Well, mostly, I just sit around and watch Bewitched reruns." And he said, "What??" And I said, sort of deadpan and defeated, "Bewitched. It's a TV series -- " and he interrupted and said, "Yes, I know, Joshua's father wrote it." And I said, springing to life, "What's Joshua's last name?" And he said "Robison," and I said, "His father was David V. Robison??" And he called to Joshua in the next room: "Joshua, this guy's heard of your father!" And Joshua came in and said, "You know my father's work?" And I said, "Yah, he wrote Bewitched with John L. Greene." And we talked excitedly about Bewitched for thirty minutes, and all of my favorite episodes that David Robison wrote -- and they must have been charmed by my enthusiasm and impressed by my knowledge of trivia, because at the end of those thirty minutes, they offered me the job. In some shorthand reduction of my life, I owe at least part of my career to Bewitched.

    3. Tommy, I think that's one of the greatest stories I've ever heard. I love it: Bewitched magically snatching victory from defeat.

    4. Tommy, that is a fab story! And your essay makes me want to search out those first two seasons. Sadly, my only experience with Bewitched was from way back in the day when WGN would air a rerun before that afternoon's Cubs game. I'd turn on the television and impatiently wait twenty minutes for The Lead-Off Man pregame show to start. Perhaps if they had broadcast these stories I would not have been so impatient...

    5. I'm not sure a Bewitched rerun leading into a Cubs game is what they call "good flow" -- doesn't really seem like they're targeting quite the same audience. :) It's funny: I have my own Bewitched/sports story. The B&W seasons were pulled from syndication sometime in the '70s. (I'm sure the rationale was "no one wants to watch black-and-white TV anymore.") But in the late '80s, the cable network Nick at Nite announced they'd be airing the black-and-white Bewitched episodes, "unseen in decades." I was so excited to see them again -- except in NYC, where I was living, Nick at Nite shared a channel with a local sports network. If there was no sporting event, Nick at Nite had the airwaves; if there was a ballgame, that aired instead. I was frantic I might miss all these episodes I hadn't seen in decades -- who knew if they'd ever air again? So I imposed on a friend in Los Angeles. On the nights I tuned in to Bewitched, only to discover a ballgame was airing instead, I'd call my friend in LA (where, of course, the episode wouldn't be airing for three hours), and *he'd* tape it. And once he'd recorded a dozen episodes, he'd send me the VHS tape, and I'd binge. Man, even in my early years, I really was a TV junkie...

  2. The DVD box arrived today. Haven't had a chance to watch anything yet, but unless the detailed labels on all the discs are lying, all the episodes are indeed there.