Like most other baby boomers, I grew up with sitcoms. I also didn’t have very discriminating taste. While I watched reruns of The Honeymooners, and MASH at various times, I loved the really indefensible stuff as well. I knew the time, day, and channel for F-Troop, My Mother the Car, OK Crackerby, the Beverly Hillbillies, and It’s About Time . I even watched Petticoat Junction.
Magical thinking sitcoms that combined the wonders of videotape and the laugh track, we’re a particular favorite. I grew up wanting to be able to blink (I Dream of Jeannie), telescope my antennae (My Favorite Martian), and especially just wiggle my nose (Bewitched) to make things appear and reappear at will. I did, however, draw the line at being Hazel, a housekeeper with mysterious but undefined powers.
Bewitched was a favorite because it combined several childhood fantasies. First, the witchcraft thing embodied America’s future. Material goods were changing so fast and in so many ways that it seemed that anything was possible. In that time, television sprouted color, radios shrank to the size of batteries, machines answered the phone, restaurants could produce food in under three minutes, cars had electric seats and landau tops, there were even devices that let you turn lights on and off with a clap of the hands. Second, Bewitched held out the ultimate dream for any ordinary American male. It was, after all, a show where a totally charmless and not particularly attractive guy held a great looking woman in thrall. How stupid yet hopeful can a premise for a show get? Like witchcraft was somehow any worse than being an advertising executive in those days.
This means that despite its mediocre reviews, I was determined to eventually rent and make it all the way through Nora Ephron/Penny Marshall take on Bewitched. There’s been a long run of movie versions of sixties TV shows over the last decade for some reason. I suspect it’s some combination of a dearth of imagination in Hollywood, the prospect of a ready market through Nickelodeon (Baby Boomers taking their own kids to see the sitcoms they loved when they were kids), or just growing cultural vacuousness. As a group, they’ve fared from abysmal- Dragnet, Starsky and Hutch, Leave it to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, an all black version of Car 54, My Favorite Martian, to funny but generally forgettable, the Brady Bunch and maybe the first Flintstones. You have to wonder, why they keep making or remaking the things.
Remaking the sitcom for the Tivo generation remains one of those unsolved artistic problems. Each time they try it, the directors get caught between loving tribute and self-conscious post-modern commentary on the campiness of the original. This mixture happened to work in the Brady Bunchlargely because the Bradys were an anachronism in their own time, so the movie version’s schtick of transporting them to the 1990’s allowed the movie makers to have it both ways,let the Bradys play it straight while Asian carjackers, sexually challenged best friends, and punk boyfriends collided into the family station wagon and paisley.It may have helped that the Brady Bunch remake started as a stage play where they could get the mix right. Dragnet went heavy on the campiness and turned Joe Friday into a sitcom character. The result was one of Tom Hanks’s least memorable movies. In general, this attempt to turn TV nostalgia into a Bond like movie franchise has been more or less Mission Impossible, which they pulled off by giving up almost all pretense to paying homage to the original TV series.