When are they coming for I Dream of Jeannie? I mean…the word “master” is thrown out at least ten times an episode by that scantily-clad genie slave Jeannie. Hasn’t this by now aroused the ire of some pajama-clad soy latte-drinking non-binary “pop culture author” who needs their “they/them” tantrum to be noticed today on Twitter? Isn’t a reckoning coming for this racist/sexist sitcom, and for all those who participated in it and who watch it today? Can’t someone please cancel 90-year-old Barbara Eden before it’s goddamn too late?
By Paul Mavis
I sure hope so. Because every single time these gelatinous humanoid blobs throw a high-horse social media snit about something they don’t understand (such as…“life”), sweating and trembling with self-righteous rage at their keyboards and phones as they liken decades-old entertainments to genocidal atrocities, their targeted classic TV show or movie or performer enjoys a massive upswing in public interest, and a corresponding outpouring of love from the vast majority of sensible, normal people out there. Every. Single. Time. So keep it up, clueless assholes!
Not that I Dream of Jeannie needs any additional help staying popular. I would imagine it’s still in syndication somewhere in the world right now, while the release of this Mill Creek Blu-ray boxed set, I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series, is a fairly good indication that someone out there is betting there’s still a market for the show. I don’t have little kids at home anymore, but I grabbed my teen daughter for an episode, and, as I expected, she laughed throughout it (she who started life on cable but has rejected “regular” TV-watching completely, getting her entertainment from binge streaming reality shows and Tik Tok videos). If that largely noxious pop culture background can’t kill an appreciation for Jeannie’s antics, I can’t think of a better argument for the continued appeal of the series (oh…and I asked her if she was offended by the show’s content. She rolled her eyes and blew a perfect “Bronx cheer.” She’s a Mavis, that’s for sure).
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Do you really need a premise synopsis for I Dream of Jeannie? Alright…. USAF astronaut Captain Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman), aboard the one-man space capsule Stardust One, is unexpectedly brought down on a deserted South Pacific island. There on the beach, he discovers an elaborately decorated bottle that appears to be rolling in the sand by itself.
Uncorking the bottle, a plume of white smoke emerges that then transforms into Jeannie (the entirely luscious Barbara Eden), a genie who has been stuck in her bottle for over 2,000 years. Without so much as a, “May I?” the Persian-speaking sexpot lands a lingering smacker right on startled Tony’s mouth, and so begins their protracted romance. Tony eventually figures out that his wish to have her speak English—which she suddenly does—proves that she’s a genie, and he promptly wishes for his own rescue by helicopter.
In gratitude, Tony “frees” Jeannie to do as she wishes (more about this below). However, she wishes to stay with Tony forever: it’s love at first sight for Jeannie. Rolling her bottle into his duffel bag, Jeannie stows away in Tony’s rescue copter, only to reveal herself to a shocked—and clearly delighted—Tony, back at his home in Cocoa Beach, Florida, right outside of the Cape Canaveral space center.
While Tony is clearly smitten with Jeannie, he’s not in love with her as she is with him…probably because he already has a fiance, pretty Melissa Stone (Karen Sharpe), the daughter of Brigadier General Wingard Stone (Philip Ober). With Melissa and her father quickly ditched by the show’s producers after just one more episode, Jeannie’s main obstacle to marriage with Tony is her constant need to please her reluctant master.
As Tony warns her daily, if anyone found out she existed, he’d be drummed right out of the Air Force. Tony’s best friend, Captain Roger Healey (Bill Daily), eventually learns of Jeannie’s existence—and powers—and does his best to steal her away. But eventually, he accepts she only has one master. So that just leaves USAF Colonel Dr. Alfred Bellows (Hayden Rorke), a NASA psychiatrist who is convinced that something is seriously wrong with Captain Nelson’s mental faculties…when, that is, Dr. Bellows himself isn’t “seeing things” associated with Jeannie’s antics.
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Had it come even close to the ratings of its hated rival, Bewitched, over on ABC, NBC’s I Dream of Jeannie wouldn’t forever have been labeled the declasse pretender to the throne of the magical upper middle-class adventures of 1164 Morning Glory Circle’s tony, glamorous—and fully-clothed—Elizabeth Montgomery (don’t think for a moment that elitist critics didn’t look down on Jeannie—eyes up here, mister—because of Eden’s rather remarkable décolletage). Bowing only one short year after Montgomery’s sitcom debuted at a shocking number 2 in the Nielsen’s (a remarkable feat considering ABC’s smaller station clearance), I Dream of Jeannie’s entirely respectable first showing as the 27th most popular series on TV unfortunately didn’t build and break out over the years, helping to cement then-current critics’ and later TV historians’ opinions that I Dream of Jeannie was just a crude, inferior knock-off of the longer-running, more popular Bewitched.
Certainly, the suits at Screen Gems, the Columbia Pictures TV-producing arm, didn’t shy away from Jeannie’s similar-to-Bewitched fantasy elements. After all: Bewitched was also a Screen Gems production, so, in the great tradition of network TV, why not rubber stamp a similar show on another network? Jeannie’s origins began in early 1964, when Screen Gems recruited, among others, Hollywood screenwriter Sidney Sheldon to come up with new series ideas.
Screen Gems was riding high at this particular moment in their corporate history, having produced big ratings hits like Art Linkletter’s House Party, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Father Knows Best, Playhouse 90, The Donna Reed Show, Naked City, Dennis the Menace, Route 66, Hazel, and all those re-edited Three Stooges theatrical shorts from Columbia’s vaults that were cleaning up in syndication. Well…you gotta spend money to make (more) money, with Screen Gems paying for higher profile talents like writer/producer Sheldon (movies like The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Easter Parade, Martin & Lewis movies You’re Never Too Young and Pardners, along with the TV sitcom hit, The Patty Duke Show) to come up with new show ideas.
So…what new idea did Sheldon invent (by his own account in one short, frantic weekend)? One of the hoariest around, of course: the old “genie in the lamp” bit. “Inspired” by Universal’s 1964 programmer, The Brass Bottle, Sheldon tweaked the formula by switching the genie’s gender (Bottle’s genie was burly Burl Ives), and then turned the “master/slave” relationship into a fantasy romantic comedy. Instant audience appeal. Male viewers could drift off into lurid reveries about what they’d have buxom, completely obliging Jeannie do for them (Sheldon also got his genie, Barbara Eden, from her supporting role in Bottle), while the wives out there—the ones who really controlled the TV dials—could smirk in communal sisterhood satisfaction as they watched Jeannie not only blink away her domestic duties…but also totally run the show when it came to her fumbling, blustering man, Tony. The kid audience was easy; they’d love all the slapstick magic while identifying with naughty, innocent Jeannie.
Those kids, though, might have missed what was really going on with Jeannie. In the pilot, The Lady in the Bottle, the series’ thematic fulcrum is made concretely clear: Jeannie is instantly sexually attracted to her new master, astronaut Tony Nelson, and all future efforts will be aimed at getting him…married or not. She’s released from the bottle; she kneels to her new master; and the second she sees him (check out Eden’s openly erotic stare), she exclaims, “Ohhhh…” in a low, sexy tone and goes right in for a kiss from the astonished (and almost frightened-looking) Tony.
This character focus never changes for Jeannie throughout the series (although of course it’s fatally compromised in the fifth and last season when the two actually marry), providing an unaltered line running through all the visual slapstick, all the bedroom farce door slamming, and all the one-liners. Remember: in the pilot, Tony expressly tells Jeannie she’s free. Genie rules would allow her to leave and pursue her own life after that, and with her powers, she could choose any kind of independent life she wanted, free of any effort.
She refuses. She chooses to use her freedom to “please” Tony and stay in the master/slave relationship (pissed-off reviewers of this show always miss this crucial detail). No matter how much the NBC censors forbade (Eden’s belly button, or Jeannie’s “smoke” not permitted to remain in Tony’s room at an episode’s fade-out), the underlying structure is clear as a bell: Jeannie is a delightfully sexual creature who is tireless in pursuing her goal: to bed/wed Tony…even if it means staying as his genie when she doesn’t really have to.
Now how the hell is that offensive to modern women viewers today? Isn’t that what we’re told women crave in entertainment projects aimed at them: a strong female who’s completely in charge, who knows what she wants, and (eventually) gets it? Oh I know, I know: you’re gonna come back with the old standby: the “oppressive” nature of their relationship (so you didn’t you read the paragraph above? She’s free like no woman has ever been). Any time Tony wants to clamp down on Jeannie he just corks her up in her bottle…just like all you pigs wish you could do with your women, you p.o.s. Paul Mavis (heehee)!
To all the critics and commentators and lonely Twitter whack jobs who spend their days trolling through old American pop culture looking for targets they neither understand nor appreciate (I swear if I read one more post about The Honeymooners “promoting domestic abuse”), to those who constantly—and rather tiresomely—bring up the fanciful notion that Tony is somehow oppressing Jeannie, first…shouldn’t you be in the kitchen making someone a sandwich?
And second: do you not understand how dramatic conflict works? Particularly in a fantasy setting? You HAVE to have Tony Nelson wanting to curb Jeannie’s enthusiasm, her schemes, her playful desires. You have to have Tony wanting to do things for himself, in real time without magic. Otherwise…the show would immediately fly off into absurd surrealism. If
Paul Mavis Tony totally embraced Jeannie’s constant enticements to abandon the job he loves, to abandon the responsibilities he has towards the space program, to abandon the very fabric of the space/time continuum with her constant interruptions of it, he’d very likely begin with a wish for a 1,000-year-long plowing of Jeannie and we’d never finish the first goddamn episode. No boundaries on Jeannie’s powers, on her desires…then no show.
Besides, I Dream of Jeannie—unlike Bewitched—is always very careful to show Tony enjoying Jeannie’s magic, her enthusiasm, her playfulness. Invariably, Tony laughs at Jeannie’s antics, even when he’s in the middle of an impossible situation created by her. Unlike Durweed Stephens, Tony doesn’t seek to completely eliminate the magical powers of the woman in his life. Tony likes those powers. He likes when Jeannie acts up. And he never holds a grudge, no matter how often Jeannie almost gets him fired/humiliated/killed. I Dream of Jeannie’s true conflict isn’t between Jeannie and Tony; it can’t be. Jeannie’s goal is singular, and in each episode she proves conclusively that she is completely in charge (like so many of the 1950s and 60s TV housewives—that’s another untidy fact these new writers/dolts miss).
I Dream of Jeannie’s true battle is within Tony. The battle to constantly keep in check the delicious possibility of an eternity of Id-driven play with a stacked little blonde who can make every wish of his come true. You can put a “American Puritan work ethic vs. enticement of ‘other’ exotic culture” label on it if you want, but that’s too limited. The conflict in Tony is far more primitive, more elemental than that relatively narrow social conflict construct. I Dream of Jeannie is about that superego holding on while trying to hold back the desire to sensuously “get lost.” To flip out into space—Tony’s not an astronaut here for nothing—with every desire satisfied, courtesy of a totally free, happy, delightfully naughty, exquisitely carnal little piece of ass…until your sensory-overloaded mind is completely blown.
(Yes, exactly. that’s why this place is called “Drunk TV”).
Other highlights from the pilot include Dr. Bellows’ classic head shrinker rationale for Tony’s “hallucination” of Jeannie (“She was your mother,”), Jeannie’s iconic 1960s’ Playboy look in Tony’s shower (wearing his dress shirt…and nothing else), the great practical special effect, used a few more times early this season, where Jeannie moves Tony laterally right over to her, and finally, struggling Tony, after Jeannie starts to swamp him with kisses and hugs, telling her inbetween giggles, “Now stop that, Jeannie! We don’t do that in America!” In My Hero, we get a new credit sequence, using Paul Frees‘ silky, and rather perverse-sounding, narration (“You know how it is when you’ve been cooped up in a bottle for 2,000 years. She wanted to have fun,”) over scenes from the pilot. Jeannie’s whole being is summed up in a short sentence (“Oh…stay and play!” when Tony needs to leave), and we get the first surreal special effects gag of the show: Tony’s head sticking out of the floor. The rest of the episode takes place back in ancient Persia, complete with a slave auction (Tony’s lament: “One shekel? I’m a college graduate!”) and threats of torture, and its weird vibe just doesn’t work. Jeannie in modern America is much funnier than Tony in ancient times (it may be ancient Persia, but the jokes are strictly Borscht Belt; when Jeannie tells her father, Henry Corden, that Tony “flies through space,” Corden kvetches, “From this he makes a living?”).
Guess What Happened on the Way to the Moon? finds Jeannie already the typical bored 1960s suburban housewife, when Tony has to leave for a desert survival mission with Roger. Bill Daily has some good moments here; you can see why the producers decided to expand his role in the series. Major slip-up, though, in the Jeannie mythos: Jeannie, in frustration, tells Tony he’s, “the most difficult master she’s ever served.” Wait…so there have been other “Tonys” in Jeannie’s life? Do tell. Jeannie and the Marriage Caper sees Sidney Sheldon ditching Tony’s fiancee, Melissa, for good. It’s the smart move; I Dream of Jeannie‘s eternal triangle of conflict is Jeannie, Tony and Dr. Bellows. Jeannie actually cooking for her master is amusing (she just puts the frozen food boxes right on the gas burners), and Tony proves again to be genuinely fond and sweet with Jeannie, even after everything she did (so un-Durweed-like). When a smug Tony declares he’s finally free of romantic entanglements, a sneaky Jeannie has the last word: “Oh, Master…you have a lot to learn.”
G.I. Jeannie is the first of many episodes where Jeannie tries to adopt a modern American lifestyle—sans magic—to impress Tony. This time, she joins the WAFs to be Tony’s secretary. Lots of slapstick in this one, with Jeannie’s final disastrous military test evaluation (“Should be ideal for demolition work,”) proving she’d be a natural stationed in ‘Nam. Tony’s insistence on keeping Jeannie at cleavage’s length (“Now remember our bargain—this is purely a platonic relationship,”) of course fails when she lands a long kiss on him (“You’re the best buddy a buddy ever had,” says a subsequently flustered Tony). In The Yacht Murder Case, Tony makes breakfast and offers to Jeannie, “Help yourself to anything you like,” to which playful, carnal Jeannie hugs him and laughs (another scene among countless other ones that illustrates what an essentially happy, sweet vibe I Dream of Jeannie consistently maintained). Jeannie’s bored again (“What shall I do all day?” she wonders…along with 15 million other housewives tuning in that night), while Tony still thinks he’s ultimately in charge (when he says he’ll stop Jeannie’s magic, she just…laughs at him. She knows what’s what). No funny shot of Jeannie covered in dirt, since Tony left her in the vacuum? And future “Gladys Kravitz” Sandra Gould stops by for a one-off as Tony’s housekeeper, scoring with, “You havin’ an orgy?” in that inimitable screech of hers.
Anybody Here Seen Jeannie? has lots of funny practical effects as Jeannie tries to protect her master from being the first American to walk in space. I love Barbara Eden’s enthusiastic reactions to Tony’s various humiliations—she’s such a natural, cheerful comedienne. And remember how Samantha Stephens would set a breakfast table? A grand flourish of the hand (with harps, no less), but only after she had no other choice to do it for real. Jeannie’s way? Laying on the couch and eating candy while her magic works for her. I love lazy, hot little Jeannie. In The Americanization of Jeannie, she finally tries the Samantha Stephens way…to less-than-optimal results (her homemade cake is pretty sad). The funniest aspect of the show is Tony consistently trying to steer her away from being the “emancipated American woman” (it’s great when he snatches away the feminist article Jeannie is reading, later yelling, “I want you to forget this subversive literature!”). Hagman is hilarious laughing at the sped-up bellydancer; he really seems to be having a good time with Eden (which only proves what a good actor he was, considering what a monster Hagman eventually proved to be on the I Dream of Jeannie set, according to Eden and producer Sheldon).
The Moving Finger is a terrific little spoof of Hollywood moviemaking, with Samantha Stephens’ favorite rival, the stacked Nancy Kovack, giving Jeannie a run for her money as a Hollywood star into Tony (the minute Jeannie assumes another classic 60s female pinup guise—the sexy secretary in horn rims—she wins). One of my favorites, Woodrow Parfrey, scores as a producer enamored with Jeannie (working on a Fantastic Voyage spectacle, he states Kovack’s space suit must look like a bikini, because that’s what “the American male eyes expect,”). Watch the other studio exec smirk when Tony’s “secretary” Jeannie admits she doesn’t know what “stenography” means (watch the crew smile knowingly, too, when innocent, non-actor Jeannie informs them she’s to have a screen test because Parfrey insists she should be a “star”). Eden does quite well, in an uncommonly serious moment, reading Omar Khayyam.
Jeannie’s conniving, thieving great-grandfather Bilejik (J. Carrol Naish) comes to visit in Djinn and Water, an episode I’ve seen criticism for concerning Arab stereotypes. I could just dismiss such nonsense on the basis that the woke hand-wringers out there can’t even get their preconceived slights right (Persians aren’t Arabs, for starters), but why bother? Due to my skin color, everything I write is racist, so who’s gonna listen? Better to just let sensible people enjoy Naish get big, big yoks when he decides on his terms for helping Tony with his desalination formula: The Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Mint…or Elizabeth Taylor (classic). You think it’s a stereotype to be the kind of visiting relative who says thanks for the hospitality by stealing the host’s coffee pot and electric toaster? Well…I don’t.
One of my favorite moments in season one of I Dream of Jeannie comes in Whatever Became of Baby Custer?. Levitating while sunbathing on the patio (sadly, a one-piece…), Jeannie blinks a complaining Tony out of uniform and into swimwear, with Tony yelling, “Take these trunks off!” which elicits the most delightfully naughty, dirty giggle from Jeannie (Tony shows again he’s a sport by telling Jeannie he enjoys levitating, too…just not out where people can see). Little Billy Mumy shows up as a peeping Tom, while Herb Voland (another USAF neighbor) and Grace Albertson score some laughs as his parents (when Voland stresses “lying” Mumy is her son, she shoots back, “My son? You’re the one who ordered me to have a boy!”).
The season really starts to hit its stride with Where’d You Go-Go?, by scripters Bob Fisher and Arthur Alsberg, a tightly-plotted, well-paced outing that finds Bellows and Roger finally seeing Jeannie for the first time (but they’re still in the dark that she’s a genie). Lots of funny throwaways here (an ignored Jeannie turning herself into a monkey, throwing breakfast at a laughing Tony; Tony swatting Jeannie on that…on that rear, with his golf club), with plenty of funny lines, too (irritated Tony’s “Smoke yourself home, would ya?” is almost as good as his comeback to Jeannie’s native tongue swearing: “Do me a favor: don’t ever translate that,”). Biggest laugh? Tony’s lesson to Roger, on why marrying Jeannie would make the wives of all of Roger’s friends hate her: “Oh, they’ll see her catering to you, treating you with kindness and understanding and compassion. You think they’re gonna sit idly by and let her destroy everything they stand for?” Beautiful. Oh, and here’s another intellectual bone thrown to that reviewer out there who reads my shit and then steals from me: notice all the extensive lattice work on Tony’s home, even visible when someone opens the front door? That’s because Jeannie’s in a cage. A suburban cage of…(you try and fill in the rest, dimwit).
Russian Roulette is the first episode to feature the good gimmick of Jeannie being forced to serve another master (possession of the bottle, apparently, is 9/10ths of the genie law). This lets us see Tony frantically try and get Jeannie back (and shows us how much he loves her…even if he doesn’t say it). Wizard accent pro Arlene Martel does a mean (and very funny) Russian cosmonaut, obsessed with Tony and American slang (“This cat is for me!”). And what does she do with Jeannie? What any sensible Russian in 1965 would have done: change her name to “Betsy Ross” and become a rich capitalist. What House Across the Street? wastes the delightful Lurene Tuttle as Jeannie’s mom with a slight storyline about Bellows buying an empty lot across from Tony. The only element that works is the inclusion of Oliver McGowan and Avis Scott as two TV commercial actor clones of Jeannie’s, who hilariously look at non-existent cue cards to (badly) deliver their terrible lines (“I used to be a ratty brunette!” is one of my new all-time favorites).
Too Many Tonys invites us to ponder what Jeannie might really do with her more romantic clone of Tony (nothing, it turns out), when Tony learns that Bellows wants him married to satisfy the Air Force’s tests concerning emotional stability in astronauts. Not much going on in this episode, but it does have a satisfactory twist ending. Get Me to Mecca on Time is a much more successful outing, with Tony having to return to Mecca with Jeannie to save her from disappearing. Good special effects (that “half a cup of coffee for breakfast” was a hoot), a fast pace from old pro quickie director E.W. Swackhamer, and some very funny one-liners keep this one peppy (Toledo’s own Jamie Farr scores a quick cameo as a Mecca sharpie; spotting Tony as a potential mark, he offers, “Move along, sister; I’ll take this one,”). Oh, and Jeannie? In that slinky, sleeveless strapless gown? The vapors.
Producer Sidney Sheldon takes Roger into new territory in The Richest Astronaut in the Whole Wide World, turning him into a bit of a dick for stealing Jeannie away and refusing to give her back to Tony (this is the first time Roger discovers who she really is). I can’t say I enjoy this turn for the character (Bellows is adversary enough for Tony—he needs a friend and ally), and I’m glad it doesn’t last for too many episodes. The black mesh used on the bikinis (to hide belly buttons, I assume), is hilarious. Roger moves on to Dr. Bellows’ niece, Judy Carne, in Is There an Extra Genie in the House?, but he’s still begging for his own genie (pretty funny to see Tony come out of Jennie’s bottle this time, pulling the cork on Roger’s dreams). Bernard Fox and soon-to-be-cast member Emmaline Henry get laughs as seedy magicians subletting Roger’s pad. On a side note: anyone interested in the morality of Jeannie blinking away some unseen doctor’s chance at running the Medical Department, in favor of Dr. Bellows? I’m not.
Never Try to Outsmart a Jeannie is a real mess, with an already-familiar plotline (Jeannie wanting to go with Tony somewhere and can’t), with Roger again plotting to take Jeannie, a time travel subplot that doesn’t work at all, and Jeannie doing her first plain mean act: turning Tony into a lap dog (is this one of the episodes Eden refers to in her autobiography, where market research audiences reacted negatively to her tougher portrayal of Jeannie?). By the way, if you haven’t heard by now, the U.S. government was highly involved in television production since its inception (script reading approvals were routine for every show, some historians report). This episode is a good case in point. Jeannie can blink her way out of anything in any other episode, but here, she’s absolutely forbidden to blink up a fake U.S. passport. Wonder why….
My Master, the Doctor starts off in one direction (Tony having to pretend to be a doctor brought in to operate on Roger’s appendix), and then shifts sideways for some choppy scenes of Jeannie pretending to be a nurse at the hospital. Marica Brady shows up, along with a gangster putting the moves on our genie (do you blame him? Did you see that old timey nurse’s uniform she’s wearing? With the stockings? No wonder they got rid of those—they were giving guys heart attacks). And just why was Dr. Bellows, a shrink, needed in the O.R.? Overall, it’s a great set-up the producers fail to deliver on.
Even worse is Jeannie and the Kidnap Caper, where Chi-Com spies kidnap Tony and torture him for his secrets. In a different kind of series, this might have been amusing black comedy, but here, it’s just strangely inept, with a laugh track popping up whenever Tony’s about to get zapped. Weird. At least Sheldon finally made Roger see the light about Jeannie and Tony. Much better is How Lucky Can You Get?, where Bill Daily really gets to shine as he’s revealed to be a compulsive gambler, when he and Tony visit Reno…with Jeannie stowed away, naturally. Pretty standard gambling spoof, but energetic.
Watch the Birdie is a by-the-numbers golf gag outing, when Jeannie makes Tony hit some remarkable shots (the special effects are at least funny). The Permanent House Guest plays better with the tension of Bellows staying over at Tony’s to indulge his own paranoia about seeing an elephant in Tony’s house. It’s not hard to see at this point, though, after 24 episodes (with 6 more in the season), that a break is needed for the production, because Bigger Than a Bread Box and Better Than a Genie, a tired seance/fortune teller outing, is just more of the same. Not nearly enough laughs, a totally random cameo from Chuck Yeager, and all too conventional, with floating objects during a cornball seance (if anything, it just seems like an excuse to give producer Sheldon’s wife, who plays the trickster, a week’s worth of work).
Rebounding, My Master, the Great Rembrandt keeps the chuckles coming fairly steady with a fun story finding Tony “painting” (via Jeannie) a genuine Rembrandt painting for a charity auction. The jokes are pretty good (Bellows says Roger’s “neo-primitive” abstract is a “triumph of matter over mind,”), while the supporting cast is top-notch (that old pro Jonathan Hole is a scream when he almost faints and sputters, “Take it!” when releasing the Rembrandt. Cute fade-out, too, when Rembrandt himself breaks the fourth wall and paints the camera lens (call me crazy, but I actually like Roger’s abstract). My Master, the Thief finds a very naughty, disobedient Jeannie who absolutely refuses to do what Tony says—return her long-stolen slippers to a museum—even if it means the U.S. will go to war. Tony admits, though, that she is free to do what she wants…even if it’s against his wishes. Hayden Rorke delivers one of my favorite season one lines with a completely straight face: “The man is a psychopath with a fetish for women’s shoes.” Amusing Raffi slapstick finale that could have been longer.
Two steps back, though, with This is Murder, where we get the double mistake of having Jeannie swearing to kill a visiting royal, Gina Golan, whose family insulted Jeannie’s family thousand of years ago (we don’t want to see Jeannie ever say she’s going to kill someone…and really believe she means it), and then not seeing Jeannie do all the bizarre chores Tony orders her to do to get Jeannie out of his hair until Gina’s gone. If you’re going to have a dating montage of Tony and Gina, break it up with Jeannie creating that lake in the Gobi desert, or that ski chalet in Bermuda. My Master, the Magician was fairly good right up to the end, when scripter Sheldon couldn’t really figure out how to get Tony off the hook for hovering in midair in front of Bellows and General Peterson. The resolution just doesn’t fly. And ending the season on a solid note, I’ll Never Forget What’s Her Name, Tony suffers network television’s favorite comedic neurological malady, “TV amnesia,” where a blow to the head doesn’t kill you—it just makes you forget people. A cute episode (with some funny throwaways for Daily), where Jeannie gets to date Tony, with hopes of marrying him. Too bad Jeannie didn’t watch more TV; she’d know that “TV amnesia” always goes away with another blow to the head before the final fade-out.
For I Dream of Jeannie‘s debut season, NBC picked a primo spot to highlight this fantasy family show: Saturdays at 8:00pm, sandwiched inbetween Flipper (which was the 29th-most popular show in the country) and the network’s new smash-hit spy spoof, Get Smart (12th in the Nielsen’s). I Dream of Jeannie came in 27th in the Nielsen’s—a significant achievement considering its main competition was the heavy-hitting The Jackie Gleason Show over on CBS (ABC’s Shindig! and The King Family Show were no threat).
The mid-sixties and specifically the 1965 TV season gets a bad rap from many “TV critics and historians” (blech) for being a year filled with fantasy and sci-fi offerings, like Jeannie, that were geared strictly for escapist entertainment purposes: The Addams Family, Bewitched, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Amos Burke—Secret Agent, The Avengers, Honey West, Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, The Wild Wild West, Flipper, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the notorious My Mother the Car, and the biggest fantasy smash of that year, Batman. Of course what always cracks me up is the belief of these TV-hating critics (yes—most people who write “seriously” about television actually hate the reality of TV) that escapist entertainment is not only to be considered lesser than “serious” drama, but downright insidious for somehow pleasing its audience. It’s an elitist attitude that still infects pop culture and the examination of it today (“How dare these crass businessmen aim to merely entertain the lowest common denominator?” they squeal). But just look at that list, just from 1965. How many of those shows are still showing somewhere? Still coming out in new DVD or Blu-ray versions? Still streaming to new audiences that embrace them?
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.
Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.
4 thoughts on “‘I Dream of Jeannie’ (Season 1): Classic sitcom will always please its Master – the audience”
Love these in-depth reviews! Was surprised to read that Eden thought Hagman was a “monster.” Always thought the two of them got along very well during the run of the show. I believe he did invite her to appear on Dallas many years later.
Hey, thanks! She’s very polite–and very diplomatic–in her auto, but she makes it clear his behavior was a nightmare.
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Excellent review of a classic TV series. Loved watching reruns of it.
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Thanks! Good to see you back!
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