Judge William Lee continues to empty large bottles of liquor in search of beautiful girls.
Jeannie: Major Healey, my master and I are celebrating five years
together as master and genie. This gift must be something special.
Conceived by Sidney Sheldon to compete with rival network ABC's successful Bewitched series, I Dream of Jeannie never achieved the ratings that NBC had hoped for and the network canceled the show after its fifth season aired in 1969-70. In syndication, the show's popularity exploded and the series' 139 episodes lived on as perpetual reruns. The memorable theme music and Jeannie's pink and red costume are just two instantly recognizable elements from the show that have become ingrained in our collective pop culture psyche.
Facts of the Case
I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Fifth and Final Season contains the series' final 26 episodes on four discs.
It's hard to deny the winning charm of I Dream of Jeannie. The premise of a beautiful female genie catering to the needs of a bachelor astronaut sounded risqué but the execution was always more playfully flirtatious than deliberately sexy. The bubbly performance by Barbara Eden (Harper Valley P.T.A.) sold the fantasy aspect with her signature "blink," and the game Larry Hagman (Dallas) was the perfect straight man with his great comic timing and energetic execution of pratfalls.
The fifth season centers on the marriage of Jeannie and Major Tony Nelson. Sheldon and the cast were reluctant to take their characters in this direction but the network insisted upon it as a condition for renewal. The marriage effectively killed the sexual tension that captivated viewers, but it's hard to imagine where else the show would have gone. By now there was a clear formula to the episodes: Jeannie uses her magic with good intentions but it causes problems (Tony's job is usually threatened), Jeannie makes things worse, Dr. Bellows almost catches them, Jeannie sets things right again, Tony makes up a hare-brained explanation for all the craziness that has gone on. There's even a moment in one episode where the script pokes fun at this pattern:
Tony: Would you fix it? Would you fix the General?
After four seasons, what could they do to liven up the storylines? Even the chemistry between Eden and Hagman was showing that familiarity of a long-term couple and their characters' fights were lacking a real threat of Jeannie leaving Tony. So, for better or worse, making them a legitimate couple allowed the writers to generate a few scripts based on their new relationship status. There are the requisite episodes involving in-laws, bachelor parties and wedding gifts. Post-wedding, there are stories about vacations, shopping and Jeannie finding a job.
Regardless of whether or not Jeannie and Tony should have been married in the fifth season, I'm grateful that the writers didn't milk the engagement period. Rather than toying with us for the entire run of the season, the wedding takes place before we're half way through the season. The episodes themselves—the majority written by James Henerson and directed by Claudio Guzman—are quite good. It is predictable light comedy, but I found it very enjoyable and I even laughed out loud more than a few times. Due to the reliably consistent tone throughout the season, there are no real standout episodes. Still, I liked the focus on a supporting character in "Jeannie, the Matchmaker" when the newlyweds try to find a girl for their friend Roger. Tony arranges for him to meet the General's niece on the same night Jeannie has found a match for Roger through a computer dating service.
The regular supporting cast is also uniformly good, creating memorable and likeable characters like Roger Healey (Bill Daily, The Bob Newhart Show), Tony's best friend and a charming schemer, and Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), the NASA psychiatrist. Of the many guest players who appear in Season Five, the most recognizable is Farrah Fawcett (Charlie's Angels) who plays a small part in two episodes. We also see (or don't see) the return of Djinn Djinn, the small dog that turns invisible when he attacks people in uniform.
Season Five is presented in a beautiful transfer that nicely preserves this television classic. The picture is free of defects for the most part and the bright, rich colors work well to show off the costumes and art direction. The production borrowed a lot of stock footage—rockets in flight and establishing shots of the NASA base—that show a lot more dirt and damage. As well, any shots that are used for special effects or simple optical effects (like fades and cross-dissolves) show subtle image degradation. I didn't mind seeing these imperfect shots because it's a nice reminder of what was achieved given the technological tools of the day. The rest of the time, the picture is beautiful and overall the show looks better on these discs than it ever did during its years of syndication reruns. The English audio track is satisfyingly strong and clear. The alternate Spanish and Portuguese tracks are flat.
Sony has included two "minisodes" as the sole extras on this set—unfortunately these have nothing to do with Jeannie and function only as samples of a cynical online service. "Rogues and Riches" and "Junior Executive" are heavily butchered episodes from Fantasy Island and Bewitched, respectively. These minisodes tell their stories in less than five minutes! This format allows no time to set up the premise of each show, introduce characters or develop the plotline. It certainly does not exhibit any of the artistry in the performances, skill in the direction or complexity in the writing. Presumably, these are for viewers already familiar with the series but who haven't the time for anything more than what amounts to a one-sentence summary of each episode. That insulting disregard for the craft that has gone into these shows is reflected in the atrociously poor transfer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It almost feels as though the Jeannie writers were expecting to return for another season. Aside from having the two main characters tie the knot, there isn't a truly distinctive storyline in this final season. All the episodes contain the usual caliber of comedic stories and energetic performances, but they don't build to any bigger moment. Instead of reaching the culmination of the show, the last couple of episodes are as interchangeable as any other episode. The one episode that hints at a possible ending for the story is "Hurricane Jeannie" in which Dr. Bellows clearly witnesses Jeannie's powers and Tony has to come clean. Unfortunately, the writing loses its nerve in the end and explains it all away as "just a dream."
Jeannie and Tony's marriage might not have been the payoff that viewers were hoping for, and the writers never got the chance to bring their story to a worthy finale, but I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Fifth and Final Season is a delightfully satisfying slice of classic television. Barbara Eden in her most memorable role and Larry Hagman at his comedic best are a joy to watch, even when the stories fall into predictable rhythms.
The suits at Sony deserve to have Djinn Djinn set upon them for releasing this final season without any extras to wrap up this charming series. In light of the quality transfer afforded to these shows, we're in a forgiving mood. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Fantasy Island Minisode
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