"NOTE TO DARRIN: Stop whining about YOUR mother-in-law. Samantha's mother-in-law wins the prize for Bitchiest Witch."

Continuing its episodic journey of newlyweds adjusting to married life, it's only logical that after Darrin meets Endora, it would be time for Samantha to meet his folks. I mean, what could be scarier than having a witch, like Endora, for a mother-in-law? Enter Mabel Albertson as "Mrs. Stephens": the scariest character on television until Martha Stewart came along. Smothering, humorless, and with a penchant for "sick headaches", she's a pineapple upside down cake, dipped in acid and sprinkled with a generous helping of nuts.

Of course, Mabel Albertson is perfection in the role. She's not playing a "bitch", she masterfully taps into a character which is so much like any real-life relative found in any real-life family that one can almost swear they KNOW her! Whether giving a brilliant dead-pan expression (while Clara rattles off a confession that she's a witch) or simply conveying Mrs. Stephens' uncomfortability in her own skin while trying to act confidant, Miss Albertson deserves an Emmy for this role.

While entitled "Samantha Meets the Folks", this episode could also be called "Darrin Meets Aunt Clara", for indeed, it is the first meeting the soon-to-be-chums have. In a perfect balance to the uncomfortable tension between Mrs. Stephens and Samantha, writer Bernard Slade opens the episode with a wonderfully sweet scene between Sam and Clara. He makes very clear here what Clara represents to Samantha -- a safe, comforting presence. Home. And with Mrs. Stephens around, she needs it.

Robert F. Simon (the first and best) as Darrin's dad is splendid here as well. Right away, you know the character of Mr. Stephens is beleaguered, hen-pecked, p-whipped and resigned, but as portrayed by Mr. Simon, he manages (with even just a smile and chuckle alone) to give Frank Stephens a playboy presence -- you know this character has a great sense of humor and would be a hoot at a party.

In this first season, and as written here, the plot, the characters, the situation, the humanity of it all -- grounds "Bewitched" even firmer into a microcosm of real-life, with a splash of fantasy thrown in. There are no mistakes, no switching gears, no reliance on special effects: just good old fashioned writing, representing human (and even not-so-human) characters in every day situations. The writers of "Everybody Loves Raymond" may not even know it, but as evidenced by this episode's writing, they owe something to the writers of "Bewitched" -- they were creating real-life characters the audience could relate to 40 years ago.

GUEST STARS: Mabel Albertson had a tremendous career, appearing in supporting roles in films such as "Barefoot in the Park" and "What's Up Doc?" (with Barbra Streisand). In addition to "Bewitched", she simultaneously portrayed Don Hollinger's mother in "That Girl".

Robert F. Simon appeared in Elizabeth Montgomery's movie debut, "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" prior to "Bewitched".

LOOK FOR: The scene between Darrin and Clara while she's polishing doorknobs in the bedroom. An absolute gem! Both York and Lorne have never been sweeter, or sadder, together.

FAVE QUOTE: SAMANTHA: "...there she was sitting in the fireplace."
DARRIN: "She came down the chimney?!"
SAMANTHA: "Now darling...you can't blame someone for being old. She used to come through the wall just like everybody else!"

*Of Note: Writer Bernard Slade went on to helm "The Partridge Family".

Recut and rebroadcast more than a year later on Jan. 27, 1966 (episode #56) this episode was seen again but with a new opening to include new babe Tabatha. In that revised opening, Samantha is feeding Tabatha as she and Darrin flashback to what is actually a rerun of this episode. Sneaky, but clever!"

© Review Copyright 2005 by SCOTT VIETS

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