The best use of TV, for me, is as a sleep aid. But I never thought I'd revisit comedies from my early childhood.
I've watched a bit of comedy in bed, while ready for sleep, for my entire adult life, and quite a few years before that. Tuning in to something funny has always helped me tune out the pressures of the day. Like many people who have struggled with insomnia, I have strict rules about what I can and can't read, see, or talk about before sleep. TV comedy is the perfect sleep prep.
But only certain comedies work, and there are so many that I don't like. Depending on what re-runs are available or what cable package we had, I sometimes had to schedule my bedtime around TV schedules! Kind of crazy.
Streaming Netflix via Roku has been the perfect solution. I'm guaranteed something funny to watch every night, whenever I want, and in order
: insomnia meets OCD. Plus I can watch 10 minutes and conk out - taking three nights to finish one episode - or watch three episodes if that's what it takes. I've burned through so many comedies on Netflix - I'll fill in the history below - that I had to get creative about what might qualify. When I saw Bewitched was available, I gave it a try.
It's funnier than I remembered, and not as offensively sexist as I expected. Sure, Samantha is referred to as "just a housewife" - not a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom, but a woman married to a house - and she spends all her time cooking, cleaning, or shopping. And sure, her only desires are to love and please her man, and to support him in all his manly endeavours.
But she's not the only woman in the show. There are the secretaries, of course, respectfully referred to as Miss So-and-so. And there are female executives, too, and they're not always played for laughs. Gladys Kravitz is a harebrained gossip, but her husband isn't much better. And of course, there's Endora
Agnes Moorehead's most famous role, as the foil to Darrin Stephens, turns out to be funnier - and more complex - than I remembered it, too. Endora loves to flaunt her power, and only her love for Samantha keeps her in check (and Darrin in human form). There's sexism in the stereotype of the meddling mother-in-law, but more often than not, Darrin is getting his comeuppance for his weaknesses: for not trusting Sam, for jumping to conclusions, or for his own hubris, in thinking he might be stronger than Endora. In a feminist reading of Bewitched, Endora is a woman at the height of her power, and although she has to exist outside the normal sphere, she is free and nearly unstoppable.
Samantha herself, try as she might, cannot shoehorn herself into the housewife role. This is not portrayed as her own failing, but as the silliness of a husband who is too uptight or insecure or conservative to enjoy his mate's talents. I expected Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha to be another version of Barbara Eden's Jeannie: a powerful woman trapped in a gilded cage, always trying to please her Master. I was wrong. Samantha Stephens is intelligent, confident, dignified, and playful. She might have promised Darrin not to use her witchly powers, but when she gives in, she's right, and he looks ridiculous.
Perhaps the most fun thing about watching Bewitched is a parade of guest appearances
by people who would later become famous. Paul Lynde was famously Uncle Albert, but I didn't know that he appeared first as a nervous driving instructor
, so flamboyantly Lynde that he was actually toned down by half as the uncle. So far, in addition to Lynde, I've seen Maureen McCormick, who would later be Marcia Brady, Eve Arden, Raquel Welch, Vic Tayback, Arte Johnson, June Lockhart, James Doohan, and the biggest future star so far, Richard Dreyfuss
, who didn't even rate special guest billing. Scrolling through Bewitched's IMDb entry
, I see several to come, including an uncredited turn by my favourite voice, June Foray
as baby Darrin.
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I am always looking for more comedy. So if you've got a hidden gem to recommend, please do! Just don't be offended if I try it and don't like it. Comedy is funny that way.
Past pre-sleep-comedy has included The Simpsons (completely random and out of order), Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad (first two seasons only), and King of the Hill. Eons before that were Seinfeld, Mad About You (shout-out to Murray, my favourite TV dog), The Honeymooners (one of the funniest comedies of all time, and I've seen every episode a dozen times or more), The Dick van Dyke Show (Nick at Night), and the occasional Frasier.
So far on Netflix I've burned through The Office (US), Malcolm in the Middle (greatest sitcom ever), Community (Netflix ends in the middle of a season!), Parks & Recreation (until it stopped being funny for me), and Brooklyn 9-9. I'm loving Shameless (UK only) but it's not pure comedy, and often not right for bedtime. Allan and I watched Episodes together, and are now watching BoJack Horseman. So those don't count.
I am waiting and hoping for Netflix to get: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H, and Barney Miller.