9.19.2014

what i'm watching: sexism, magic, and pre-famous cameos: watching "bewitched" on netflix

The best use of TV, for me, is as a sleep aid. But I never thought I'd revisit comedies from my early childhood.


I've watched a bit of comedy in bed, while ready for sleep, for my entire adult life, and quite a few years before that. Tuning in to something funny has always helped me tune out the pressures of the day. Like many people who have struggled with insomnia, I have strict rules about what I can and can't read, see, or talk about before sleep. TV comedy is the perfect sleep prep.

But only certain comedies work, and there are so many that I don't like. Depending on what re-runs are available or what cable package we had, I sometimes had to schedule my bedtime around TV schedules! Kind of crazy.

Streaming Netflix via Roku has been the perfect solution. I'm guaranteed something funny to watch every night, whenever I want, and in order: insomnia meets OCD. Plus I can watch 10 minutes and conk out - taking three nights to finish one episode - or watch three episodes if that's what it takes. I've burned through so many comedies on Netflix - I'll fill in the history below - that I had to get creative about what might qualify. When I saw Bewitched was available, I gave it a try.

It's funnier than I remembered, and not as offensively sexist as I expected. Sure, Samantha is referred to as "just a housewife" - not a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom, but a woman married to a house - and she spends all her time cooking, cleaning, or shopping. And sure, her only desires are to love and please her man, and to support him in all his manly endeavours.

But she's not the only woman in the show. There are the secretaries, of course, respectfully referred to as Miss So-and-so. And there are female executives, too, and they're not always played for laughs. Gladys Kravitz is a harebrained gossip, but her husband isn't much better. And of course, there's Endora.

Agnes Moorehead's most famous role, as the foil to Darrin Stephens, turns out to be funnier - and more complex - than I remembered it, too. Endora loves to flaunt her power, and only her love for Samantha keeps her in check (and Darrin in human form). There's sexism in the stereotype of the meddling mother-in-law, but more often than not, Darrin is getting his comeuppance for his weaknesses: for not trusting Sam, for jumping to conclusions, or for his own hubris, in thinking he might be stronger than Endora. In a feminist reading of Bewitched, Endora is a woman at the height of her power, and although she has to exist outside the normal sphere, she is free and nearly unstoppable.

Samantha herself, try as she might, cannot shoehorn herself into the housewife role. This is not portrayed as her own failing, but as the silliness of a husband who is too uptight or insecure or conservative to enjoy his mate's talents. I expected Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha to be another version of Barbara Eden's Jeannie: a powerful woman trapped in a gilded cage, always trying to please her Master. I was wrong. Samantha Stephens is intelligent, confident, dignified, and playful. She might have promised Darrin not to use her witchly powers, but when she gives in, she's right, and he looks ridiculous.

Perhaps the most fun thing about watching Bewitched is a parade of guest appearances by people who would later become famous. Paul Lynde was famously Uncle Albert, but I didn't know that he appeared first as a nervous driving instructor, so flamboyantly Lynde that he was actually toned down by half as the uncle. So far, in addition to Lynde, I've seen Maureen McCormick, who would later be Marcia Brady, Eve Arden, Raquel Welch, Vic Tayback, Arte Johnson, June Lockhart, James Doohan, and the biggest future star so far, Richard Dreyfuss, who didn't even rate special guest billing. Scrolling through Bewitched's IMDb entry, I see several to come, including an uncredited turn by my favourite voice, June Foray as baby Darrin.

* * * *

I am always looking for more comedy. So if you've got a hidden gem to recommend, please do! Just don't be offended if I try it and don't like it. Comedy is funny that way.

Past pre-sleep-comedy has included The Simpsons (completely random and out of order), Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad (first two seasons only), and King of the Hill. Eons before that were Seinfeld, Mad About You (shout-out to Murray, my favourite TV dog), The Honeymooners (one of the funniest comedies of all time, and I've seen every episode a dozen times or more), The Dick van Dyke Show (Nick at Night), and the occasional Frasier.

So far on Netflix I've burned through The Office (US), Malcolm in the Middle (greatest sitcom ever), Community (Netflix ends in the middle of a season!), Parks & Recreation (until it stopped being funny for me), and Brooklyn 9-9. I'm loving Shameless (UK only) but it's not pure comedy, and often not right for bedtime. Allan and I watched Episodes together, and are now watching BoJack Horseman. So those don't count.

I am waiting and hoping for Netflix to get: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H, and Barney Miller.

14 comments:

Amy said...

I wonder how That Girl would hold up in 2014. It was so ahead of its time back in the early 70s. A single "girl" living alone in NYC and pursuing a career! Of course, most of the story line was about her relationship with Donald and with her overbearing father, but I'd love to see if I'd still enjoy it.

laura k said...

Amy, I've been wondering the same thing! IIRC, that show reversed the stereotype, with Donald wanting to marry but Ann Marie not wanting to settle down. (Is that right?)

Amy said...

That is my recollection also. In fact, to be honest, I used to sympathize with Donald and could not understand Ann Marie's reluctance! Just shows that I grew up in the 50s and 60s with all the stereotypes of that era. That Girl was one of those shows that helped me question those stereotypes and assumptions.

laura k said...

I think everyone who liked that show wanted them to get married. That was the point of view of the show.

For my generation, that show was Rhoda, the Mary Tyler Moore spinoff. I watched That Girl, but I was too young to relate. I just thought Marlo Thomas was beautiful and wonderful. But by the time Rhoda came around I could imagine being her. And *everyone* rooted for Rhoda and Joe to get married. The wedding episode was one of the most-watched episodes on TV at the time.

laura k said...

Rhoda wedding ep

Valerie Harper talks about Rhoda's wedding

Amy said...

Oh, sure---I loved Rhoda. I did identify with her---a Jewish girl who was insecure, thought no one would ever love her, and then she meets this sexy dreamboat (well, that part hadn't happened to me, but I was hoping it would!). Of course, Rhoda and MTM---that was the 70s, I was in college, and I was already having my consciousness raised, as we used to say. So I was still a romantic who wanted to get married, but I no longer thought that meant staying home and raising kids while my husband worked, made the money, and made the rules!

laura k said...

Right, that's our age or generation difference. Rhoda and MTM were my formative years.

laura k said...

Also, newsflash: when Bewitched went to colour, it also gained an intrusively loud laugh track. It's making it difficult to watch.

John F said...

You could consider House of Cards to be a comedy. A very, very dark comedy...

laura k said...

Definitely not the kind of comedy I'm looking for for this time slot of my life. :)

I'm not overly interested in those types of political dramas in general. I tried the Brit version and couldn't get through one episode. I do like Kevin Spacey so I might try the US version at some point. But generally insider politics are not my thing.

deang said...

I used to like Newsradio in the nineties. Don't know if it's your thing or not.

laura k said...

Oh yeah, Dave Foley! I saw that a bit in passing. I'll see if it's on Netflix. Thanks for the recommend.

karen said...

This is a good idea. I loved some of those: MASH, Barney Miller, Mad About You. I'm not crazy about current comedies and have mostly given up TV. A few years ago I was watching about 9 hours of crime dramas a week. I have no idea why it took me so long to connect that to the nightmares I began having...

laura k said...

Oh yeah, if you have problems sleeping, a sleep regimen is extremely important!

I also love crime dramas, but not before bed. :)