Unlike other members of the DVD Verdict staff, Judge Cynthia Boris has no problem keeping the theme songs I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched straight.
"I must have gone further into orbit than I thought."—Major Nelson upon discovering a "Jeannie" in a bottle.
Risqué at the time but tame by today's standards, I Dream of Jeannie is a TV comedy classic. Although it was developed for NBC to compete with ABC's magical hit Bewitched, Jeannie had a style and panache all its own—a style that was probably a bit ahead of its time. I Dream of Jeannie was an innocently sexy version of everyman's fantasy, a bachelor with a gorgeous female bound to fulfill his every wish. It had a hip vibe, a cool, upscale lifestyle, and a soundtrack with a distinctive jazz beat. Pack your bags and head for Cocoa Beach, it's time for I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete First Season
Facts of the Case
Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman, Dallas) is just your average, everyday astronaut. He lives a swinging single's lifestyle in Cocoa Beach, Florida, is engaged to the General's daughter, and he has the respect of everyone in the NASA space program. He's a man on his way up—only on the way up, his spaceship blows a fuse, dropping him down on a desert island. While waiting for rescue, Tony finds an ornate bottle. He gives it a rub and voila, a gorgeous blonde and very female Jeannie (Barbara Eden, Harper Valley P.T.A.) appears. Once they get past the initial communication problems, Tony finds out that he is now the proud owner of said genie and there's no way he's going to cut her loose.
From day one throughout much of the series, Jeannie lives in Tony's hip, bachelor pad, performing often unwanted feats of magic while keeping well hidden from Tony's friends. Eventually, her secret is revealed to Tony's best friend, Roger Healey (Bill Daily, The Bob Newhart Show) but always kept under wraps from their nemesis, Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke).
Five seasons, two reunion movies, and dozens of guest star shots recreating their memorable roles—I Dream of Jeannie is a true sitcom icon.
Usually I save my packaging and technical comments until the end, but this one is so wonderful I just can't wait. The DVD slipcase makes great use of black and white cast shots along with the more familiar color animation art that would become the signature of the series. The mix of color and black and white really works well here and on the two snapcases. Now pop in any one of the four discs and wait for the magic. The navigation menu opens with that glorious Jeannie theme song (not the first season theme, but the one that is more familiar to viewers). A colorful and animated Jeannie dances across your screen before being sucked into her bottle and in the background, Tony's capsule touches down. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see them using a variation of the show's clever animated opening credits, not to mention the music. Why can't all DVD packaging be this smart?
Talking about smart—let's look at the show itself. You have to remember that this was written in an era where a NASA launch was cause for the world to stop and watch. Making Tony Nelson an astronaut was a clever bit of scripting, as it gave us characters and settings that we'd rarely ever seen on TV. What's even more amazing was that the show was able to get away with a premise that could have been the basis for a softcore porno film. Over the years, much has been said about the censors not allowing Barbara Eden to show off her belly button, but wow, what they did allow. Here's a single guy living alone with a barely dressed woman who calls him master and tries to fulfill his every wish. There's kissing and hugging and snuggling and a groovy vibe that is somehow innocent and lusty all at the same time.
Barbara Eden is nothing but delightful and wins hands down against Samantha Stephens in my book! Larry Hagman is underrated as the perpetual fall guy, and Bill Daily steals the show with his how-the-heck-did-this-guy-become-an-astronaut foolery. Round out the show with some of the stodgiest character actors as NASA brass, and brilliant guest stars like Michael Ansara, and you've got a force to be reckoned with.
There are thirty episodes in this season and they include some of the longest titles in TV history:
• "The Lady in the Bottle"
• "The Moving Finger"
• "The Richest Astronaut in the Whole Wide World"
• "Bigger Than a Bread Box and Better Than a Genie"
The extras on this set are nice but nothing to write to Mecca about. The commentary track on the pilot is 90% Bill Dailey saying that he's never seen the pilot, and it's great. There are a few inside jokes and well, it's just nice to hear the three of them together again. The featurette is enjoyable if only to see the lovely Barbara Eden still smiling and sweet.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Back when I was young and I only watched I Dream of Jeannie once a week, I was quite enamored with the silly plots and wild bits of Jeannie magic. Watching ten episodes back to back, however, and I found myself in a different place. The show is clever and fun and the special effects are terrific for the time period, but it is a bit of a one trick pony.
Tony aimlessly wishes for a vacation. Suddenly he's in Paris. How will he get back in time for an important meeting before Dr. Bellows realizes he's not in the country?
Tony dreams of being a doctor and wham! He's a doctor and getting charged with a crime for practicing without a license. How will he get out of this before Dr. Bellows finds out?
Jeannie can't let Tony suffer on his desert survival mission so she provides him with the comforts of home. How will he explain it to Dr. Bellows when he returns without a sunburn or dehydration, and having gained three pounds?
You get the point. The majority of the plots are made up of Tony trying desperately to work his way out of outlandish situations caused by Jeannie's best intentions. Too much of a good thing is…well…too much.
In addition, I've got to grumble about black and white. Normally, I don't mind this at all. I'm not a fan of colorization and I believe certain shows actually benefit from the sharp contrast of nothing but shades of gray. This show isn't one of them. The later color episodes have so much sparkle to them that it makes these episodes look very bland.
Nitpicking aside, there's no debate when it comes to calling I Dream of Jeannie a classic. The series made household names out of the stars and has been celebrated, parodied, and copied without end for more than forty years. What I find most delightful about the series is that it is such a product of its time. It's the start of the sexual revolution on television and even though Jeannie calls Tony "Master," it's girl power to the nth degree. Don't come in with expectations, just sit back and enjoy the sexual tension, the visual comedy, the magic that is I Dream of Jeannie.
The court was going to render a verdict, but the judge's gavel has mysteriously turned into a woodpecker and the jury box is full of monkeys. Jeannie!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary on Pilot Episode
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