Friday, September 17, 2004

The 40th Anniversary of Bewitched

It was forty years ago tonight that the TV show Bewitched debuted. For those few of you who have never seen the series, Bewitched centred on a witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal named Darrin Stevens (originally played by Dick York, later played by Dick Sargent). In the world of Bewitched, witches were exceedingly powerful, able to conjure up nearly anything with a spell and living thousands of years. As such, they tended to look down on mere mortals. Samantha's marriage to Darrin was then not greeted with joy by much of her family, especially not her overbearing mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead). Endora was very unhappy that her daughter would give up her life as a witch and casting spells to be a common homemaker. Fortunately, for Sam (as she was affectionately called by Darrin), not all of her family shared this attitude. Her favourite Aunt, Clara, had no problem accepting Darrin. Unfortunately, due to her advanced age Clara's powers were failing. As a result, her spells would sometimes go haywire and cause all sorts of chaos, from bringing aliens to Earth to summoning Queen Victoria to the present.

Naturally, Darrin and Samantha chose to keep the fact that she was a witch secret from the mortal world. Even Larry Tate, Darrin's boss at the advertising firm of McMann and Tate, did not know Sam's true nature. This was perhaps fortunate, as Larry's mind was always on making money and bringing new clients to his firm; one can guess what he would probably wanted to use Sam's powers for! Darrin and Samantha's, nosey neighbour Gladys Kravitz (originally played by Alice Pierce and later played by Sandra Gould) kept a constant eye on the Stephens household and was always certain that there was something strange taking place there. Fortunately, her husband Abner (George Tobias) always dismissed any wild (and usually true) claims that she made.

In addition to the regular characters, other members of Sam's family and the witch community would appear from time to time. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) was a practical joker who often made Darrin the butt of his jokes. Her cousin Serena (played by Elizabeth Montgomery herself) was Sam's brunette double. She was also the wild child of the family, very much at home in the swinging Sixties. Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) was the witch doctor who had to treat Sam any time she fell ill.

I have always thought that in some ways Bewitched has never quite gotten the respect it deserves. Because of its premise, many dismiss it as a bit of fantastic fluff, but like many of the imaginative comedies of Sixties, Bewitched was actually a complex show. It was very well written and its cast, one of the best in Sixties television, consistently gave good performances. At its heart Bewitched was a romantic comedy that centred on the travails of a married couple, albeit an unusual one. At the same time, however, Bewitched was capable of addressing serious issues that might have been off limits if not for not for its fantastic premise. Bewitched tackled such issues as bigotry, capitalism, feminism, and social oppression. Of course, it can also be pointed out that its premise essentially centred on a "mixed" marriage.

Bewitched lasted 8 seasons on ABC before going on to a very successful syndication run. Indeed, it is still being reran to this day, on cable channels such as TVLand and on local channels all over the world. I think it is safe to say that it will still be running forty years from now as well.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Ramones R. I. P.

Johnny Ramone died Wednesday afternoon after fighting prostate cancer for five years. He was 55 years old. He is the third member of the band to die. Joey Ramone died in 2001 of lymphatic cancer. Dee Dee Ramone died of a drug overdose in 2002. I think it is safe to say that this means the end of The Ramones.

That saddens me a good deal, as I have always been a fan of The Ramones. In the late Seventies, music was dominated by disco and punk. Disco was highly commercialised, highly formulaic dance music, with little depth to it musically or lyrically. In some respects punk was its polar opposite. It was decicedly uncommercial and very primitive. About the only thing the genres had in common were the fact that they were both rather simple. The Ramones belonged to neither genre. Instead they played straight forward, fast paced rock 'n' roll. They essentially returned rock music to its roots. Their songs were fast, guitar oriented, and often angry.

Unfortunately, The Ramones never were successful commercially. They never had a top forty single and they never had a hit album. They survived primarily because of their fiercely loyal following. Despite a lack of commercial success, The Ramones would prove to have a lasting influence on rock music. Green Day, The Offspring, The Donnas, and others were heavily influenced by The Ramones. Among their followers were Eddie Vedder and Rob Zombie.

I am then greatly saddened by Johnny Ramone's death. It is not simply that he is a guitarist whose music I enjoyed. It is also that with his death one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time has come to an end. It is truly the end of an era.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Cold, the Fair, and The Monkees

Well, I spent most of last week with a severe cold. On Wednesday alone I went through one box of Kleenex. I even took a sick day off, which I almost never do unless I have the stomach flu or something similar. Anyhow, I am feeling much better now.

The 116th Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair ended last night. I was a bit disappointed with the turnout Thursday and Friday, but Saturday evening it seemed things picked up. There were a larger than normal crowd there for the parade. And the parade was larger and longer than usual. It seems to me that the past few years, the parades have been over in a little under 10 minutes. This one seemed as if it went on for the better part of an hour. Anyhow, that gives me hope. Maybe the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair won't cease to be.

It was on this date 38 years ago that The Monkees debuted on NBC. It has been my favourite sitcom since childhood. I don't really know if I ever got to see any of the episodes in its first run on NBC, although I know I watched it regularly when it was rerun on Saturday afternoons on CBS and later ABC, starting in 1969. It was a show that would naturally appeal to a boy of six. Following the sometimes far fetched adventures of a struggling rock band, The Monkees played like a live action cartoon. The jokes, sight gags, and non sequiturs all came so swiftly that it was hard to catch them all. And as a child, there were many jokes that went over my head. Regardless, as a child I realised something that repeated vieweings as an adult would confirm--The Monkees was a work of brilliance.

Unfortunately, I don't either the TV show The Monkees or the rock group The Monkees ever got the respect they deserved. When it debuted, The Monkees received good reviews for the most part. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences liked the show as well. In its first season The Monkees won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for the episode "Royal Flush." For its second season it won no Emmys, although it was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement In A Comedy Series for the episode "The Devil and Peter Tork." Despite this, The Monkees performed very poorly in the Nielsen ratings. For its first season it averaged only a 31.4 share. Its second season was even worse--it averaged only a 27.2 share. Despite the show's popularity with much of the youth of America, its ratings doomed it to an all too brief, two year run.

As recording artists, The Monkees performed much better. No less than three of their singles went #1 ("Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer," and "Daydream Believer") amd three more went top ten. In all, The Monkees had six singles go gold (in addition to the aforementioned songs, "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and "Valleri"). Their first four albums went to #1 on the charts and their first five albums went gold. Despite the impressive sales of The Monkees, rock critics to this day despise The Monkees as a group hired for a sitcom rather than coming together by happenstance as most groups do. From my standpoint, these critics ignore the fact that The Monkees' music was every bit as listenable and sophisticated as that of many other groups of their time. And it ignores the fact that The Monkees music grew more sophisticated as the show and the band progressed, particularly after The Monkees took control of their own musical career. Indeed, The Monkees were the frist group to use a Moog synsthesizer on a pop record (the songs "Star Collector" and "Daily Nightly").

As far as I am concerned, The Monkees ranks as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. It was fast paced, imaginative, and innovative. I believe there have been only a few sitcoms before or since which matched The Monkees for sheer inventiveness. And as far as I am concerned, The Monkees were one of the best groups of the Sixties. They were capable of producing listenable pop songs and more sophisticated fare, such as "Daily, Nightly," a song Nesmith wrote about the Sunset Strip Riots of 1966). It is hard for me to understand why neither the show nor the band have ever quite gotten the respect they deserve. At the very least, I think they will be remembered. After all, for every critic they have, there are probably millions of more fans like me.