Aunt Clara doesn't want to reunite with an old boyfriend for fear he'll discover her powers aren't what they once were. But when it turns out the old coot's powers are just as flaccid, all is right again with the world -- and the two end up sippin' Scotch out of a tumbler like a couple of kids at a soda shoppe.

One can almost hear the Gigantic Wheel of Schmaltz creaking its way through this cloyingly sweet episode, more aptly titled "The Little Episode That Wants So Desperately To Be Loved". How can any episode featuring Aunt Clara being cute AND sad AND romantic wind up being so unmoving? By all accounts, it has all the earmarks of A Very Romantic Episode, but unlike other class A tearjerkers put out by the "Bewitched" crew ("A is for Aardvark", "Charlie Harper Winner", "If They Never Met"his giant sized Hallmark card brings out tears alright -- by continuously whacking us over the head with its sentimentality.

No one directs better tear-inducing episodes than William Asher but here he simply tries too hard. As if feeling the need to melt the audience into a soppy state rather than let them discover whatever emotions for themselves, Asher takes the action at a pace so slow it's in danger of rewinding. Add to that a musical soundtrack practically dripping Mrs. Butterworths every time a sweet/romantic/"ah" moment happens (every other frame) and you've got Manipulation with a capital 'M'.

The performers, try as they might, play it straight as if they really did feel all warm and tingly inside. Marion Lorne is, as usual, endearing while even managing to get in a little bitch bite at Endora with her acidic: "Endora, don't you have a house to haunt?" This little edge to Clara is refreshing in these early seasons. Here she is written with richer character conviction and self-assurance, unlike say, later seasons where her befuddlement and confusion become a full-time joke.

Not nearly as bad is it may sound... just not as good as it THINKS it is.

GUEST STARS: Charles Ruggles makes his second (and last) guest appearance on "Bewitched", having appeared previously in episode #5, "Help, Help, Don't Save Me." He also appeared with Elizabeth Montgomery's father, Robert Montgomery, 30 years earlier in the 1935 Joan Crawford feature, "No More Ladies".

© Review Copyright 2001 by SCOTT VIETS

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