There are (probably) thousands of sitcoms which have Christmas themed episodes, and many a word has been written about the mainstream network Christmas specials and just how great they are. So rather than add yet another collection of reviews of them, this year we here at Comedy To Watch decided to celebrate the festive season by taking a look at some of the odder Christmas Specials, including those which are either just plain weird or simply misjudged, and this episode of Bewitched definitely falls in to the latter two categories.
It begins with a short speech from star Elizabeth Montgomery who explains how the episode was written by several students of a tenth grade high school English class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, and that it was “Conceived in the image of innocence, and filled with truth”. Which is great and all, and commendable for certain, but it also suggests that the producers realised they had something on their hands which was a little dodgy even back then.
The set up is that Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin’s daughter Tabitha is having a friend over for her first ever sleep over, and that’s Lisa Wilson (Venetta T. Rowles) the young black daughter of Keith (Don Marshall), one of the guys who works with Darrin (Dick Sargent) who is buggering off with his wife to land a contract for their boss Larry. Tabitha and Lisa wish they were sisters but after a cruel girl told them that “They can’t be sisters if they’re different colours” Tabitha does a bit of magic, and after some rather dodgy blacking up, and then some whiting up, they settle on what can only be described as “Polka-dotting up” as both girls’ faces are suddenly a mixture of black and white circles.
This could have just led to some ridiculous hijinks as the world around them reacts to such a thing, but instead it becomes a far bleaker affair as after Darrin’s new client Mr Brockway thinks that Darrin is married to a black woman after meeting Lisa at his house he gets him dropped from working for his company. Fortunately Darrin’s boss Larry supports him, and by the end everything is resolved, but not without Samantha doing a bit of magic which involves the entire cast blacking up in one scene.
Now it may seem a bit unfair to criticise a piece of comedy which is trying to do good, and not only that but which was written by school children with positive intentions at heart (though it could be suggested that they got the school kids involved to make it critic proof). And given that while I won’t go in to depth as to how the majority of the gags are a bit rubbish, that some have aged badly (like Darrin wishing to spank Tabitha for her magical hijinks) and that it’s an episode which feels oddly flat throughout. But the way it mishandles the blacking up aspect is something which should be discussed.
Surprisingly it’s not initially an enormous problem either, as when Tabitha and Lisa swap colours it’s making a point about the absurdity of how people react to colour, and treat others differently, but at the end of the episode after Samantha performs a spell so that Mr Brockway only sees everyone as black too much of the humour revolves around the idea of “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny to see what Samantha, Darrin and co would look like if they were a different colour”. It lets Mr Brockway off the hook way too easily too, with his miraculous transformation over night supposedly amounting to “Twenty years of therapy”.
A couple of the other jokes made me wince as well, including Samantha’s line “But I think Mr Brockway is dreaming of a black Christmas”, and though it deserves kudos for tackling racism all too often it’s done in a “Hey, racism is a bit off, isn’t it?” kind of way rather than commenting on the abjectly horrific issue that it obviously is. Okay, this is a sitcom from 1970 so perhaps it was a bit optimistic to expect more from it, but it’s a shame they didn’t take the opportunity to really attack racists rather than just making very, very slight fun of them.