Thursday, May 05, 2011

Split Decision

The Bewitched TV series had a strange kind of existence.

It lasted eight years, which was (and, frankly, still is) unusual for a scripted series, and it did so in spite of the fact that the male lead was played by two different people (who happened to have the same first name), each for four seasons.

Its premise was a female witch (Samantha, played by Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal and attempted to live a mortal life even though her relatives constantly interfered.

It's been off the air now for nearly 40 years, but it continues to attract a new generation of fans through syndication. I have rarely heard anyone mention the casting change. Maybe it was just so bizarre that it fit right in with the rest of the show.

(And, to put it mildly, Samantha's relatives were a bit looney.)

Then, again, maybe the viewing audience had been kind of conditioned to this sort of thing from the start.

On this night 45 years ago, late in the series' second season, Darrin and Samantha had to cancel their vacation plans because Darrin had to work. Samantha's mother decided to divide Darrin into a Hard–working Darrin, who would stay and tend to his workload, and a Fun–loving Darrin, who would take Samantha on the vacation that Endora believed she so richly deserved.

One of the unforeseen outcomes of Endora's spell was that the Hard–working Darrin came across as being much too serious — he was incapable of striking the healthy balance that Larry and the client sought — and the Fun–loving Darrin was far too frivolous for Samantha's taste.

Turned out they needed each other to make Darrin the person he was — which was the point of the story.

But reuniting them was going to be a bit problematic.

I always enjoyed Bewitched, but this was one of the issues I had with the consistency of the story.

You see, there were spells that could be reversed rather easily. Sometimes, Samantha could reverse a spell simply by looking at someone or something and twitching her nose or waving her arms and uttering some sort of incantation.

That included times when she had to turn something back into what it had been before (i.e., there were episodes when animals were transformed into people and then had to be turned back into their original form, whatever that had been). There might be a puff of smoke, and when the smoke disappeared, voila!

But Hard–working Darrin and Fun–loving Darrin were parts that had to be rejoined, not transformed. Apparently, according to the laws that governed the existence of witches, returning them to a unified state was trickier than changing them from one state to another.

I guess the same point was made more forcefully by Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" — or, to be more specific, his endlessly repeated line in the pages of his "book""All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy ..."

Jack Nicholson's character may have had a split personality, but on Bewitched Darrin was literally a man divided physically, and Samantha concluded (with Endora's help) that the only way to bring the two halves together was through a collision.

It was kind of a simplistic solution — extremely low tech — but this was 1960s TV, you must understand. Special effects (and extraordinarily creative solutions to complex problems) were not very advanced.

Sometimes, it must have been just plain hard to satisfactorily resolve stories within half an hour.

I don't know if the resolution of this particular story was sufficiently satisfactory, but I guess it was adequate 45 years ago.

And that was enough.