Embracing Your Inconsistencies: I Dream of Jeannie (TV Showcase #50)

Well, I made it. I had another show in mind for number fifty, but it was really long and it’s hard to find episodes, so this is what I’ve got instead. It’s hard to believe that I’ve watched fifty complete series’, but here we are. And I’m not planning to stop either. But even though this wasn’t the ideal show for the big five-o (but not Hawaii), it is a really good show, and one that I genuinely enjoyed. But like many sitcoms, it had many inconsistencies. However, unlike alot of sitcoms, it dealt with them head-on. Let’s look at how with “I Dream of Jeannie”. 

“I Dream of Jeannie” (IDJ for short) was a sitcom that began in 1965, airing 139 half-hour episodes over five seasons, ending in 1970. There was later a reunion movie made in 1985, and another one in 1991. The show begins when astronaut Tony Nelson strays off-course during a space flight mission and lands on an uncharted island. There, he accidentally discovers a bottle and sets a genie inside free. The genie, whose name is Jeannie, falls in love with Tony after he sets her free, and decides to make him her master anyway. When Jeannie moves back with Tony to Cocoa Beach, Florida, she has no idea how to live in America or the twentieth century, and due to her magic, Tony’s coworkers at NASA often find themselves unable to explain certain things about Tony, as he keeps Jeannie a secret.

The show was a huge success, rivaling the other popular fantasy sitcom of the time, “Bewitched”. What made IDJ unique from “Bewitched”, however, was the fact that although the crux of the humour came from the fantasy, there was a large amount of science fiction and even science fact mixed in, and military humour as well, being that all of the NASA employees were members of the armed forces (Tony was a major for the majority of the show). So all three of these elements combined in a unique formula that offered many different avenues for structuring the comedy, which was combined with a dynamic cast of actors who played their roles vastly differently from any other cast member, which offered not only individual character likability but also a unique presentation of the already unique blend of comedy. And because of these things, IDJ was able to pull off what I’m about to talk about.

Most sitcoms, particularly cartoons and classic shows, have inconsistencies. Crazy things happen in every episode, but in the next episode, all of the characters have forgotten about it, and the whole universe in which the show is set has essentially been reset. From time to time you’ll see a recurring character or a continuation to a story from a long time ago, or a reference to a previous episode. But even those only offer slight consistency, because those only offer links between a few episodes while leaving the majority of the series inconsistent. But IDJ didn’t do that, at least not at first. There was much consistency, not only in the form of continuing plotlines in the beginning like Tony’s engagement and his best friend Roger finding out the secret about Jeannie, but also in other things, the the NASA psychiatrist Dr. Bellows always trying to figure out what was “wrong” with Tony and changing the way he treated Tony every time he witnessed a result of Jeannie’s magic that he couldn’t explain. Many times, Dr. Bellows referenced specific episodes in which events occurred, and his relationship with Tony was defined and shaped by each new event. So while it’s totally unrealistic to think that Dr. Bellows could see a tree or an elephant in Tony’s house and be back to focusing on his boring job in the next episode, the truth is that Dr. Bellows himself didn’t want to be seen as crazy, so he wouldn’t bring it up all the time only to have Tony deny it, but all the time he was keeping careful track of Tony, and treating him differently based on the different occurrences.

Though Dr. Bellows is the biggest example of this, Roger is also a good one, especially in season one, in which he met Jeannie and fell in love with her, not knowing who she was or where she lived, only coming to find out later that she was Tony’s genie. That changed the way he treated Jeannie, Tony, and Dr. Bellows, since Roger was helping Tony to keep Jeannie secret. And the introduction of Jeannie’s sister, who was an antagonist, also affected Roger’s character.

With all of these deep relational developments between Tony, Roger, and Dr. Bellows, it’s hard to imagine how the show could be mostly focused on magic and fantasy. But that’s the brilliant part of the whole thing: while Tony, Roger, and Dr. Bellows were shaped by the show’s inconsistencies, Jeannie was the only consistent character in the entire show. She never changed, and since she was in control of the magic, which caused the inconsistencies, she was never forced to change because of the inconsistencies that the magic caused. All she ever did was be naive and try to help Tony (often messing things up) because she loved him. So Jeannie was a constant that made the show itself lovable and fun to watch every week, and it kept the fantasy humour fresh while throwing in scifi and military comedy to round out the show.

So, while a truly enjoyable show that genuinely made me laugh, “I Dream of Jeannie” also had quite an ingenious structure that made it as fantastic as it is, even after fifty years. What do you think?

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