"I DARRIN, TAKE THIS WITCH, SAMANTHA"
The ultimate, the original, the DEFINITIVE "Bewitched" episode! Millions of years from now when we're all gone and other life forms are digging up time capsules left by Nick @ Nite, let's hope they can't find the "Joanie Loves Chachi" or "Full House" tapes and instead go directly to this, one of television's most perfectly executed episodes ever.
It's a funny thing watching this pilot. With 254 "Bewitched" episodes so much a part of American pop culture, recognized and loved all over the world for over 30 years now it's kind of a funny reminder that it all actually had to start from somewhere. Unlike today where sitcoms are sold on a name, a one joke premise or because it's a copycat of another hit and then people go "Oh, I guess we better write something" or where shows will start tinkering with the format/characters even after a season or two(!), "Bewitched" in it's entire eight year run stays true to the "rules" it sets from this premiere episode. In fact, so firmly fleshed out are the main characters, their relationships with each other and the basic premise of the show so firmly set that it doesn't even look like a pilot at all but more like it's been on the air for years already.
ASSIGNMENT (should you choose to accept it): Introduce a new situation comedy about a beautiful witch who marries a mortal and she can't use her powers because her husband doesn't want her to. Make it funny. Make it touching. Make it romantic. Make it sexy. Make it BELIEVABLE. Make it fit into a 25 minute time slot with commercials! Okey-dokey...!!! Sound hard? Better believe it. That's why William Asher deserves a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award for this alone.
More like a mini-movie than a TV show, the entire episode is cram-packed with information and literally dozens of scenes but it moves so effortlessly and entertainingly that you're never hit over the head with it. There is so much action in the first half of the episode that by the time we get to Darrin telling us, "So I married a witch. Every married man has to make some minor adjustments!" the episode could easily end there and everyone would be thoroughly entertained. But no, there's more...LOTS more. With the introduction of Sheila, the episode tops itself by getting even better as it gets longer. Amazing.
Writing, direction, sets, musical underscoring, costumes, hair, make-up, lighting are all handled by obviously seasoned MOVIE professionals for everything about this episode has that classy filmed look of an old movie (unlike many other famous T.V. pilots which wreak of "we're not sure if this is gonna sell so let's make it cheap!") In lesser hands, the premise could easily have been filmed as nothing more than a gimmicky kiddie magic show but as it's presented here, it's instantly respected as classy, sophisticated and intelligent.
Besides writing, the most major ingredient, to making a hit sitcom is in its cast. Viewers must want to invite you into their home on a weekly basis or else you're cancelled. Nancy Kovack as Sheila (looking more than coincidentally like Jacqueline Kennedy) is deliciously wicked here with every deliberate expression and line reading just screaming "Meow!" In fact her performance is so wonderful that she could easily have been written in as a series regular. Agnes Moorehead (in a departure role), Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery are so at ease and familiar with their roles that once again you have to slap yourself to be reminded that it's only their FIRST episode! All are brilliant here (as expected) but of course it's Liz that shines -- transferring that elusive, intangible and unexplainable presence that goes straight through the camera and envelops an audience -- the so-called "star quality" -- that which makes a star a star. Back in the winter of 1963 when the cast and crew filmed this pilot, little did they know what they had. Or maybe they did. They certainly got it right the first time.
FAVE QUOTE: Samantha: "Even witchcraft can't keep him out there all night. It's our honeymoon!"
GUEST STARS: The narration in the opening was supplied by Oscar winner Jose Ferrer (after Liz's own father, Robert Montgomery, turned it down.)
Nancy Kovack had just starred in the popular adventure movie, "Jason and the Argonauts."
LOOK FOR: Both the scene on the TV set in the opening and Darrin's apartment look like an awfully familiar living room set!
In the funny "moving ashtray" scene, watch Liz on the couch -- she seems to break character for a moment as something from beyond the camera catches her eye briefly and she stifles a laugh.
OOPS!: When Darrin's lighter lights, Samantha TWITCHED but there's no sound effect. (Because she's not in close-up the music editor didn't know to look for it yet.)
© Review Copyright 1997 by SCOTT VIETS
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