Friday, January 25, 2013

What Might Have Been

Endora (Agnes Moorehead): I was just being a good mother–in–law. I gave him what he wanted.

Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery): What?

Endora: He said he'd be happier if he had never met you.

Samantha: He didn't say it. I said it.

Endora: Well, who cares who said it? I arranged it.

I always had the feeling that the episode of Bewitched that first aired on this night 45 years ago was inspired by "It's a Wonderful Life," the classic Christmas movie.

It isn't my intention to discuss the plot of "It's a Wonderful Life" here — except to note the similarity of the themes.

In "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart was shown that, contrary to what he believed, the people in his life would not have been better off if he had never been born.

On Bewitched 45 years ago tonight, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) showed her mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead), that her mortal husband, Darrin (Dick York), would not have been happier if he had never met her.

The whole thing began with a fight between Darrin and Samantha.

As she so often did — and, frequently, for no other reason than to amuse herself — Endora had cast a spell on Darrin. Several spells, it seemed to me. She caused him to encounter all kinds of problems preparing for and leaving for work, then she put a cobra in his briefcase that cost Darrin's agency an important account — and Darrin his job.

It was all too much for Darrin, who claimed that Endora and Samantha were always ganging up on him. Samantha wondered if perhaps he would have been happier if they'd never met — and Endora decided to give them all the opportunity to find out.

She zapped Darrin into an alternate reality in which he and Samantha had never met.

Samantha insisted on seeing for herself what Darrin's life would have been like without her.

And, initially, it didn't look as if Darrin had suffered from not having met Samantha.

When Samantha and Endora traveled to that alternate time to observe Darrin's Samantha–less life, he seemed to be thriving. His office was filled with trophies he had won in golf tournaments. His career was going so well that it appeared he was about to be made a partner.

And his romance with his pre–Samantha girlfriend seemed to be sizzling. In fact, after a lengthy courtship, they were finally about to be married.

As Huey Lewis put it, the future was so bright he had to wear shades.

Endora thought the point had been made and was in favor of returning to their own time and Samantha making a "clean break" with Darrin — who she believed clearly was happier without Samantha.

But Samantha wasn't ready to concede. She believed this alternate Darrin had been dragging his feet on marriage because deep down he felt that he was meant to be with someone else, and she arranged to "meet" Darrin at a party that was being given for the happy couple.

Samantha concluded that Darrin was not happier without her.

She reached that conclusion after a chance meeting and conversation between the two in which Darrin told Samantha he was about to be married. Samantha replied that he must be thrilled.

"I should be, shouldn't I?" he said.

Samantha knew she was right and returned to her original reality and demanded that her mother bring Darrin back, which she did.

OK, it was a corny story in its way, but it had a lot of sweetness to it. It wasn't a carbon copy of "It's a Wonderful Life," but it didn't need to be. The story worked with the characters.

And, really, anything between Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York was believable. There was a genuine chemistry between the two, a chemistry that audiences really couldn't help seeing.

I always felt that Bewitched began its decline when Dick Sargent took over the role about midway through the series. That may have been because that spark just wasn't there anymore.

Dick York was very natural and believable as Darrin — and perhaps never moreso than when his character was allowed to resume his dialogue with Samantha from the point when Endora sent him to his alternate reality.

York had just told Samantha that sometimes he wished he had never met her, "but there are other times when I realize I couldn't live without you — and that't most of the time."

It had the ring of authenticity to it when it came from York's lips.