March 27, 2015

You'll be "Bewitched" by this book

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you all an interview I did with Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum.  I've been gratified to see that many of your comments, both here and at the Facebook page, have been positive not only about the interview, but about the book, and some of you have even suggested you'd be buying it, which means I'll be contacting Adam-Michael shortly so we can talk about royalties.*

*Just kidding.  Maybe.

Still, I thought that it would probably be proper to do a formal, if brief, review of the book for anyone who might still have questions about it.  This is that review.

James, a veteran columnist, continuity writer and member of the television industry, wrote The Bewitched Continuum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere. His premise is both simple and delightful.  In once sense it appears no different from other books about television series, giving a brief overview of each season and a synopsis of each episode.  Plenty of books like that on the shelves, some of them quite good.  This is no glorified episode guide, though, for in discussing each episode James' purpose is to show us how the show's characters and situations develop and evolve over time - as the book's subtitle says, "A Linear Guide."  The emphasis is less on the technical aspects - the writers, directors, actors - and more on the characters themselves, as we start with Episode One, "I Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha," and looking at how a mortal and a witch start out their lives as a young married couple - and the complications and adjustments that ensue.

Continuity was not a strong suit of early television; the invention of the VCR and DVD was far in the distance, and it was never imagined that shows would have a lifespan other than the one or two times a given episode was seen, and the possibility of future syndication.  Stopping and pausing, binge watching, internet message boards - all those were things that were merely a twinkle in someone's eye.  Therefore, writers were mostly concerned with a given, self-contained episode, not necessarily with how that episode would fit into an overarching puzzle that might take several seasons to complete.  There are, therefore, continuity oddities in each episode that James points out, often humorously, in sections entitled "Well?", as well as some things that just don't make a whole lot of sense, which he chronicles in sections headed "Oh, My Stars!"

On the other hand, there is a surprising amount of consistency in Bewitched, a logical progression of the relationship between Samantha and Darrin as he struggles to accept a wife with supernatural powers while she adjusts to the world of the mortals, one that doesn't always appreciate the wiggle of her nose.  There's also the interplay between Darrin and Samantha's relatives, the evolution of the Stephens' relationship with Darrin's boss and his wife, and of course the never-ending confusion in which the Stephens' neighbors, the Kravitz' - specifically Gladys - find themselves.  Children are born, friends are made, homes are purchased - in other words, we read about the details that make up everyday life.  They may have been plotlines for specific episodes, but they also form individual pieces of the tapestry that makes up the eight seasons of Bewitched.

This is the heart of the book, the thing that James is most interested in, and it's what makes The Bewitched Continuum different from so many other books.  We aren't inundated with backstage gossip or bogged down with various minutia.  The show's characters are treated as real people, and as the series progresses their stories continue to be told.  The "Good" sections of each episode point out where episode-to-episode continuity is particularly striking, and "Son of a Gun!" sections highlight a particularly good line or other point of the episode that deserves highlighting.  It's a charming concept upon which to build a book, and I'm surprised more authors don't do it.  The appendices provide detailed information on everything from how many times various catchphrases were used to lists of the clients of the advertising agency at which Darrin worked.

If you're a fan of Bewitched, this book should be a no-brainer.  But I don't think you even have to be a fan - if you're like me, someone who simply appreciates classic television, you're going to "get" the approach that James uses, and you're going to enjoy reading his chronicle of a much-loved sitcom, the biggest hit that ABC had ever had to that time, and the characters that made it so successful.

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