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Sunday, March 13, 2011

WEEKEND REWIND: I Dream of Jeannie

I DREAM OF JEANNIE
September 18, 1965 - May 26, 1970
139 episodes
Starring: Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, Bill Daily, Hayden Rorke, Emmaline Henry

I Dream of Jeannie is one of the many 1960s fantasy sitcoms. Alongside Bewitched, The Flying Nun, My Favorite Martian, Mister Ed, The Munsters, The Adaams Family, and many more, I Dream of Jeannie was part of a TV era that required fans to suspend disbelief. Many of these sitcoms are beloved by fans but generally considered somewhat "stupid" by critics. In terms of quality, I Dream of Jeannie is one of the better ones, but it's not in the same class as Bewitched.

The show centered on bachelor astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) who found a magic lamp with a beautiful genie named Jeannie (Barbara Eden) while stranded on a deserted island. A bit unrealistic? Of course, but there was something endearing about this show. The premises can get hokey and repetitive yet the performances have solid and that has allowed the show to age better than others. At the center of the show is of course Eden as the enchanting yet naive Jeannie. Unlike Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha on Bewitched, Jeannie has no desire to adapt to a normal suburban life. She revels in her oddities and, while powerful, she is not the brightest bulb in the box. Barbara Eden made Jeannie lovable and enticing, leaving most viewers wondering why Major Nelson wouldn't just marry her already (though when he finally did, the show's tone changed for the worse). Hagman is solid too as the always exasperated Tony or "Master." He had a manic sense to him that was perfectly for an over-the-top comedy.

The supporting cast was solid as well. Bill Daily created the first of two memorable characters by playing Tony's best friend and fellow astronaut, Roger Healey. The womanizing Healey had all of Daily's mannerisms including the nervous energy that he used successfully again on The Bob Newhart Show. Hayden Rorke was sometimes a one-trick pony as Dr. Bellows but his one trick was good. Like Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched, Dr. Bellows was the suspicious one who was usually correct but often appeared crazy to others as Tony, Roger, and Jeannie tried to cover up the unusual circumstances that Dr. Bellows found them in. Some of the better scenes dealt with Dr. Bellows' suspicious and nosy wife Amanda who became a series regular by the end of the run.

I Dream of Jeannie has developed a loyal following thanks to many successful years in syndication. After a mediocre first season, it hit its stride when it transitioned to glorious color in its second season. It was never a critical hit for good reason but it was also a fan favorite for good reason. It's good and silly comfort TV. The cast elevates so-so material and while it isn't as strong a show as Bewitched, it is simply a fun show. It shouldn't be critiqued too carefully and instead appreciated for what it is as a kitschy sitcom from a bygone era of television.

THE TOP 10 EPISODES OF "I DREAM OF JEANNIE"
As always, this is based on personal opinion.

"Always on Sunday"
10. #32 "Always on Sunday" (first aired September 19, 1966)
Tony is very tired on a Monday so Jeannie decides to give him Sundays over and over again, but not surprisingly, that is too much of a good thing. One of the early color episodes, it was a good premise before some premises got tiring.

9. #66 "My Master the Weakling" (first aired October 10, 1967)
Tony and Roger are forced to go through a strict physical fitness program led by guest star Don Rickles. This episode is strong primarily because of Rickles, who spent most of the 1960s making memorable guest appearances on sitcoms.

8. #129 "The Wedding" (first aired December 2, 1969)
This episode was the beginning of the end for I Dream of Jeannie but the episode itself was a good one. After years of underlying sexual and romantic tension (by 1960s standards), Tony and Jeannie are finally married but the problem is that Jeannie can't appear on film which causes some problems. It was a necessary conclusion to the story but spelled the end of the run.

7. #88 "Jeannie and the Wild Pipchicks" (first aired September 23, 1968)
Jeannie gets some candy "pipchicks" from her mother which has bizarre effects on humans. Any episode that features characters like Dr. Bellows losing their inhibitions is a fresh look on some characters and this one has a memorable guest appearance by Reta Shaw.

6. #75 "Jeannie Goes to Honolulu" (first aired December 26, 1967)
Tony tries to secretly go to Hawaii but Jeannie finds out and goes along. This one has a fun environment and a pretty good storyline. The only downside is an incredibly corny Don Ho music video that gets thrown right in the middle of the episode.

"My Master the Spy"
5. #48 "My Master the Spy" (first aired January 16, 1967)
Thanks to more meddling by Jeannie (surprise, surprise), Dr. Bellows realizes that Tony has been at NASA and Paris at the same time. Like most Jeannie episodes, this isn't a classic but a fun storyline.

4. #61 "The Mod Party" (first aired April 24, 1967)
In an episode that certainly defined the era of this show, Roger throws a wild mod party but they can't let Dr. Bellows find out because they were supposed to have a meeting with him. It's a great glimpse into (possibly idealized) 1960s culture.

3. #31 "Happy Anniversary" (first aired September 12, 1966)
The first color episode celebrated the first anniversary of Tony rescuing Jeannie by returning to the island where she was found. The problem is that they also run into the Blue Djinn who imprisoned Jeannie. After a season in black and white, Jeannie seemed so much better in color starting with this episode.

"Who Needs a Green Eyed Jeannie?"
2. #39 "Who Needs a Green Eyed Jeannie?" (first aired November 7, 1966)
Tony has to lie about a date with an old girlfriend but he ends up needing Jeannie's help when the ex is involved with criminals. This features a good performance by Hagman as Tony tries to be conniving but always ends up being one step behind Jeannie.

1. #65 "My Turned On Master" (first aired October 3, 1967)
Jeannie gives up magic for 24 hours but Tony doesn't realize that the powers were transferred to him and then subsequently transferred to Dr. Bellows. This episode features many sight gags, a hallmark of I Dream of Jeannie, plus a hilarious performance by Hayden Rorke.

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