[24 February 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The seventh season of Bewitched begins with a multi-episode arc, in which Samantha has been commanded to attend The Witches’ Convention in Salem, Massachusetts. Dick Sargent returns for his second season as Sam’s mortal husband, Darrin Stephens and he has settled nicely into the role at this point. He plays the put-upon husband a little more dryly than his predecessor Dick York, but that’s OK, because he essentially becomes the pawn with which all of the show’s other main characters play. Darrin serves as the excuse for all of the outlandish plots and magical gags, but for the most part he’s not a participant so much as a prop. So Sargent’s portrayal is actually quite well-suited to his purpose.
In the first few episodes of Bewitched: The Complete Seventh Season, Sam is adamant that Darrin be allowed to accompany her to Salem, despite the disapproval of the Witches’ Council. Darrin uses it as a mortal vacation, so of course, boss Larry Tate (David White) keeps flying clients in, because he doesn’t know the meaning of boundaries. Not that any of the witches care about boundaries either, always popping in and wreaking havoc. It’s just like every other season of Bewitched that way.
What is different this time, though, is that several episodes were filmed on locations outside of Hollywood. The Salem episodes were actually filmed in Salem, with the Stephens visiting landmarks such as The House of the Seven Gables and the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne. They even stay at the historic Hawthorne Hotel (interesting trivia note: in addition to the obvious allusions to the Salem witch trials, many Hawthorne-related references are made throughout the series, including naming the Empress of the Witches Council, “Hephzibah”. Hephzibah was the principal protagonist in Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables.)
The change of scenery, as it were, briefly invigorated Bewitched, but season seven eventually reverted to its stale setups. Characters encounter the same situations: Darrin is rude to a witch, witch enchants Darrin during important client meeting, Samantha scrambles to work the enchantment into increasingly implausible ad campaigns, client is magically convinced and Darrin is saved without anyone the wiser and apparently without learning any lessons, either. They also speak the same dialogue, annoyingly often from episode to episode.
That’s not to say that Bewitched: The Complete Seventh Season doesn’t have its moments. It’s still the wacky, weird, escapist sort of guilty pleasure that has made it such a perennial re-run favorite. But with just a little more effort, the seventh season could have risen above the confines of a staid sitcom. Unfortunately by this point it’s obvious that the many people involved in the show—both writers and cast—were simply going through the motions. That said, even with a noticeable decline in inspiration and enthusiasm behind the scenes, this is still a good set, especially for collectors of classic TV sitcoms.
The packaging is aesthetically pleasing and efficient with the 28 episodes divided over four discs collected in two slim-line plastic cases that slip inside a standard cardboard cover. Like the DVD sets for earlier seasons, each plastic case displays the twinkling skyline background from the familiar title sequence, pictures of cast members on the front and episode information on the back. The only non-episodic features are the previews accessible from the main menu of the last disc.
The discs do have stills of the different versions of the animated kitchen sequence on the main menu, but neither these animations, nor the individual episode credits include the original cartoon sponsor spots. The Christmas episode, however, does include the original opening and closing holiday greeting from Elizabeth Montgomery, sponsored by Oscar Mayer.
The topic of the Christmas show is racial prejudice, and it’s handled a little clumsily—but then the episode was written by a class of 10th graders, and it was 1970, so it’s still rather sweet. Some of the story lines that carry over two or more episodes have the original voice-over announcements (“Don’t miss “Mary the Good Fairy Strikes Again,” next week on Bewitched” before the end credits, but that’s nothing to get excited about, especially as the announcer couldn’t sound less excited if he were reading a grocery list. I suppose it was a bit much to expect the man to sound animated about a show that gives away its whole plot in the title.
And I know it’s the formula of the show to have some magical mishap threaten “the big account” so that Larry can worry, Darrin can grumble and scramble and Samantha can save the day, but the more I watch this set up show after increasingly predictable show, the more I wonder why, in all those years, Samantha didn’t just turn Larry Tate into a toad and have done with it. Surely the writers could have come up with a few more inventive mortal obstacles for Darrin besides the greedy, intrusive, manipulative, one-note Tate. At least on the witching side, he was up against Sam’s dotty aunts and crazy uncles, her wacky cousins and witchy traditions, a parade of her past paramours and, of course, Endora.
The credits announce “Elizabeth Montgomery in…” above the title, but they really should trumpet Agnes Moorehead as Endora. As ever, she steals every scene she’s in. Moorehead trained at New York’s Academy of Dramatic Arts and was an Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actress. She was nominated for six Emmys for her work on Bewitched, including one for this season, and it’s difficult to believe she never won, because she certainly deserved to. It’s also difficult to believe that she initially turned down the role, taking it only after a chance meeting with Elizabeth Montgomery, and that she reportedly detested filming on Bewitched because her outlandish makeup required her to put in 15 hour days. It’s possible these difficulties are what helped to make her role as the mother-in-law from hell so enduring. However, it’s more likely that Moorehead, like Endora, was simply a force of nature not to be ignored (or insulted, as Durwood often discovered).
Endora was the henbane in Darrin’s morning coffee, but she wasn’t his only adversary in season seven. Esmerelda (Alice Ghostley) returns as the magically inept, nattering nanny/housekeeper, with a terrible case of anxiety-induced invisibility and fits of magic-on-the-fritz. Mary the Good Fairy, played by Imogene Coca, makes a couple of tipsy appearances this season as well. Montgomery gets to step into kooky cousin Serena’s kicky frocks quite a lot during this time out, although she doesn’t seem to express Serena’s joie de vivre as heartily as in earlier seasons.
Tabitha (Erin Murphy), though cute as can be, is mainly used in the seventh season as a vehicle for exiting, with her younger brother Adam (David Lawrence) in tow. The exceptions are the aforementioned Christmas episode, in which Tabitha wishes to be sisters with her playmate and is told by a spiteful child in the park that you can’t be sisters if you have different skin colors (sparking the accidental polka dotting of the two girls when Tabitha tries a spell to make them the same), and the episode where Serena turns Tabitha’s toys into life-sized creatures for a game hide-and-seek, but they fail to return them all to their original states before Larry barges in bringing yet another unwelcome client, uninvited, to dinner.
It’s clear viewing Bewitched: The Complete Seventh Season that the magic had begun to fade and falter like one of Esmerelda’s spells gone awry. But, like Esmerelda, it’s endearing, it means well, and there’s still enough entertainment value in this DVD set to enchant most mere mortals.