Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Tabitha 01x00: Tabitha

Recently, we watched a kind of follow up to I Dream of Jeannie where Barbara Eden disguised herself as a Middle Eastern princess to trick her neighbours into not reading her mail. (Find it here.) It reminded me of Jeannie’s unofficial sister show Bewitched, and it’s depressingly lackluster sequel, Tabitha.

So that’s what we’re doing today! Put on your witch hats and forget everything you know about the Stephens clan!

And I mean everything

Despite being made in 1977, Tabitha has the daughter of Samantha and Darrin Stephens all grown up and owning a car and wearing bikinis in the title sequence. But wait, you might be thinking, didn’t Bewitched end in 1972 and wasn’t Tabitha like eight years old or something? How is this possible?

It’s not. You can’t even use the excuse of magic, because we all know that Darrin was big on doing stuff the most difficult ways possible, and I’m pretty sure that would include growing up. Besides, they’re witches, not Klingons. They live a long time, but – if anything – it takes them longer to age than normal people.

Anyway, every episode we’re treated to a scrapbook title sequence that reminds us that this is supposed to be Tabitha Stephens, and she’s got magic powers. It uses a few clips from the original show, but is very careful to not show Sam or Darrin, since they’re not going to be in this. Neither is Endora, or Aunt Clara, or Uncle Arthur, or anyone else that you might expect to show up.

(We’re just getting started on why you need to forsake your prior knowledge, by the way.)

Thanks to Mary Tyler Moore, single girls working in broadcasting were all the rage on sitcoms for a very long time, so Tabitha works at an L.A. TV station. Why L.A. and not New York which is closer to where her family lives? Stop remembering the content of Bewitched.

It’s a bright, sunny morning when Tabitha and her beloved yellow VW bug pull into the parking lot at KXLA, only to find that somebody has taken her assigned parking spot. A twitch of the nose clears that right up, and the car drives itself to a nearby vacant space. Unfortunately, Tabitha is terrible at checking her surroundings before performing magic at a news station, and it turns out that her older brother Adam was pulling in at around the same time and saw the whole space-switcheroo.

You might be thinking that Adam was Tabitha’s younger brother in the original series. He was. You’re right.

You might also recall that Adam was a warlock, and that is also correct. He’s not anymore. Now he’s just a limp echo of Darrin’s mistrust of magic, only it seems bitter and irrational since he’s the son of a benevolent witch. He gets out of his car and yells at his sister for using her powers.

She says that she didn’t have a choice, this is the third time in a week Paul’s parked in her spot.

Paul is both a major bright spot and a huge disappointment, we’ll get to him in a minute.

For now, all you need to know is that he’s the host of the show Tabitha works on, and he routinely parks in other people’s spaces.

As Adam and Tabitha head into the building, Adam treats us to some exposition. Apparently, he got Tabitha the job at the station, and he’s petrified that she’ll use magic and blow everything. Tabitha thinks it’s more likely he’s jealous that she “got all Mom’s powers, and all you got was Dad’s chocolate allergy.”

(I know you’ve seen Darrin eat chocolate like a million times. Let it go.)

Lisa Hartman is playing Tabitha, and it takes her a few episodes to even out and shake off a habit of trying to copy Elizabeth Montgomery a little too much. The show was cancelled right around the time she really started to come into her own.

Also, it’s not at all clear what Adam thinks magic is going to do. Darrin was a mortal, totally uninitiated into the concept of the supernatural until his honeymoon. Adam’s grandmother is ENDORA. There is no way, mortal or not, this kid doesn’t have some grasp of the scope and limitations of witchcraft. His nerves are never sufficiently explained.

Time to meet Tabitha’s bosses!

Marvin Decker, played by Mel Stewart, is the executive producer of The Paul Thurston Show. Paul Thurston is what would happen if Ted Baxter had Mike Wallace’s old job and was played by Robert Urich. Now, before you get excited, imagine if somehow that turned into a romantic foil for Tabitha.
For everything that kind of works on this show, there’s something that seriously doesn’t.

It balances out to Paul being one of the better elements, though.

When first we see Marvin and Paul, they’re choosing between two promotional images of Paul’s face that look pretty much the same. They ask for Tabitha’s input, and she says it’s too hard to choose between them, so Paul says to use them both.

Marvin then mentions that they still don’t have a guest for tomorrow’s show, which is really sloppy of them since their show is apparently a live interview format. I’m sure, though, that this will be easily sorted out without resorting to the arcane arts.

Tabitha says she thought they booked Henry Kissinger.

For a local L.A. news magazine?! That was probably witchcraft…

“The ungrateful clown cancelled on me,” Paul grumbles.

It’s not all bad, because Marvin thinks they can move up the Billy Carter interview they have scheduled for next week. Billy Carter, for those of us who didn’t live through the 70’s and don’t have American parents, was the president’s colourful brother. There is no way that The Paul Thurston Show is landing these guests through non-twitching means.

Tabitha has a different solution, though. She’s doing the pre-interview with some dude called Andrew Collins that afternoon, and if it goes well, she’ll see if he’s available for tomorrow. Paul asks what an Andrew Collins is.

It’s gin, carbonated water, sugar, lime and orange juice, Paul. You serve it in a tall glass.

Oh. No, wait. Tabitha is saying that Andrew Collins just wrote a fascinating and controversial book on fuel conservation. He’s an environmentalist, not a cocktail.

You guys want to hear some weird innuendo? It goes like this:

“Whop-dee-do, another lecture about saving this and recycling that,” Paul yawns.

“You should pay attention,” Tabitha snipes, “I’m sure you have a few items that… need recycling.”

“I haven’t had any complaints lately,” Paul replies, leaning across the desk and waggling his eyebrows.

Thankfully, Marvin stops them now.

He says that Andrew Collins is going to be their solution if he agrees to the scheduling change and orders everybody to get to work.

And they will, just as soon as Paul gives Tabitha a non-apology for parking in her space. Tabitha pretends to be confused and says he wasn’t in her space when she got there this morning, to which Paul replies that he totally parked in her space, because he remembered thinking she’d be pissed off at him.

Then he heads into his office, presumably to work on his Big Book of Tricky Mazes. Gotta keep the mind sharp when you’re the top interviewer in the country somehow.

Professor Collins arrives pretty promptly, and looks every bit like a 70’s academic environmentalist should. He only wears various shades of brown.

Tabitha says that “Power Poor” is probably one of the most important books of the year, and he replies that it’s the most important book of the year. Which is nice that he thinks so, but he’s the one who wrote it. That’s like if I shook your hand and introduced myself as the author of the most important online resources for Witch-based sitcoms, which I would never be able to do without apologizing.

The balls on this guy, huh?

Anyway, he gives an impassioned speech about conservationism, and then hits on Tabitha. She seems to not be repulsed by his vanity and creepy moustache. Strange.


The next scene has Tabitha pitching the Andrew Collins show to Marvin as they hurry into the break room. She describes Collins as a full professor who doesn’t seem like a full professor because he’s young, good-looking, and passionate.

Well, he’s passionate. That part was accurate.

Paul, hanging out unnoticed on the break room couch, chimes in that this Collins guy sounds boring. More skeevy than dull, Paul, but you’d better shut your cake hole or you’re going to get a face full of magic.

“Who wants to hear some dude explain to us how to squeeze toothpaste out of the bottom of the tube?” Paul rolls his eyes.

Tabitha says it’ll be more interesting that watching Paul sit across from an empty chair for an hour, and she obviously hasn’t seen the YouTube comments on Robert Urich videos, because there are people who will watch him do anything for an hour. But Marvin takes her side and tells Paul that it’ll probably be really interesting once he gets into it, maybe he can find the cracks in Collins’s argument, make the hip young professor look like a moron.

Paul likes that idea, especially when Tabitha reminds him of the great job he did exposing the corruption of a union leader during an interview-turned-interrogation. But then he remembers that the union interview ended with him being punched in the face, says no to Professor Collins, and sulks off.

Going off of what we’ve heard, Paul is an amazing newsman. I’m deeply amused by this.
Adam rushes in, having just heard about losing the Kissinger interview. Marvin assures him everything is alright thanks to Tabitha, and he heads off to convince Paul to have Collins on the show.

“You did it all yourself?” Adam asks, “No… hocus pocus?”

Does it matter, Adam?! Does it really matter?!

Tabitha remains calm and simply tells him that she didn’t use anything but good old fashioned ingenuity.

Meanwhile, Marvin has been successful in getting Paul on board, he reappears briefly to tell Tabitha to arrange everything, then he high fives the young people.

Stay weird, Marvin.

Scene change!

Okay, you remember how on Mary Tyler Moore, Mary had that fern on a plant stand right by her door? Tabitha has one just like it. And remember how Mary had a big M on her wall? Tabitha has a big T. And remember how one of Mary’s gags was how early she went to bed, so whenever somebody came over at night, she had to rush to the door in her bathrobe? Well, this scene is Tabitha rushing to answer the doorbell in her robe, but in her case it’s because Adam caught her while she was getting ready for a date.

Adam’s dropping off Tabitha’s complimentary copy of “Power Poor” which she hasn’t actually read. (How are these people prepping for an interview with this man? None of them have read his book...)

Tabitha admits she should probably stay in and read it instead of going out with Roger. Apparently, Roger is an old school chum of Adam’s, so Adam decides to stick around and say hi. He asks Tabitha if she’s settling into the relationship, getting serious about it now that she’s two whole dates into it. She says no. She’s the new single girl, she’s not going to marry a mortal and move to Connecticut and spend all day deciding whether to use magic to speed up the vacuum. She’s going to have a life.

“But you do like old Rog?” Adam calls, as Tabitha makes her way through the bedroom to the ensuite.

“Oh, sure, Old Rog is fine!” She calls back.

A familiar twinkle of magic sounds, and Aunt Minerva is sitting at Tabitha’s makeup table.

“I hear he’s the pits!” Aunt Minerva quips.

Who the hell is Aunt Minerva, you ask? Well, despite having many, many relatives played by reliable character actors like Alice Ghostly and Ysabel MacCloskey, Tabitha wound up with a quirky aunt (who literally cannot fit in her family tree) played by Karen Morrow.

Minerva is like if Cousin Serena merged with one of the aggressively lonely women on The Love Boat and decided to be as loud as possible, both figuratively and literally.

For her part, Tabitha is happy to see this narrative misfire, though god knows why. They hug and Tabitha tells Minerva to stick around so they can catch up.

As our eponymous heroine goes to get dressed, Adam discovers for himself that Aunt Minerva has arrived. Bearing in mind that hating your aunt is a lot less funny or relatable than hating your mother-in-law, Adam groans: “Oh no, Minerva!

Even though this is a terrible callback, I have to agree with the sentiment. And that’s a serious problem, because back in the good old days, Darrin didn’t like it when Endora showed up, but the audience loved it.

Minerva tells Adam she’s going to ignore his open dislike of her, because she knows how he feels about his “mother’s side of the family.” So there goes any fairy godmother theories we could have drummed up. And then she announces that she’s here because of the way Adam is ruining his sister’s life.

Apparently, securing her a job she loves and setting her up with a boring but inoffensive guy to date is morally reprehensible. And, on top of which, Minerva objects to the fact that Adam has yet to take Tabitha to “a really kinky Hollywood party.”

Gross, Minerva. This is supposed to be Bewitched, not Game of Thrones.

The doorbell rings, and Minerva reveals that her reason for showing up is to check out the kinds of guys Adam has been introducing Tabitha to. Adam quickly tries to stop Minerva from answering the door, and explains that Roger is his nice, normal, fraternity brother.

Turns out that Roger is Barry Van Dyke, and he’s wearing a Trojans jacket from his glory days. Sad, Roger. Also, Adam does not seem like the kind of guy who could get into a sports fraternity. But whatever, we have so many bigger fish to fry, I’m starting to feel like I work at a Long John Silver’s.
He and Adam do the world’s lamest secret handshake, and Roger seems surprised that Tabitha – or Tab, as he calls her – isn’t ready yet. Well, Rog, a bunch of relatives all popped over at the same time to remind her of the fractious in-fighting about magical powers in her family. Plus she has a book to read for work.

Roger gets all pedantic about the time because he’s a mortal and they get hung up about that crap.

“Tab, better hustle! The basketball game starts in thirty-six minutes!”

Yeah… about that book she has to read for work… is it cool if they skip the game so that they can hang out in her apartment while she reads the whole thing and her aunt scrutinizes him? Roger declines. Apparently, they need him at the basketball game for some reason, so he has to scoot.

He tells Tabitha not to bring home any extra work for tomorrow because they’ve got tickets to A Chorus Line.

At the door, he checks his watch one last time, only to find that it doesn’t give him the time, it gives him a message from Minerva:

Geeze, Minerva, he was clearly leaving, what more do you want?

The next morning, over at KXLA, Marvin is pleased with Tabitha’s notes on the forthcoming interview and steps out of his office to tell her so. She’s deep in discussion with the allegedly magnetic Andrew Collins, and everyone seems pumped about the show.

Even Paul, because he turns up with a buxom blonde named Sherry and declares that he’s arranged to have her for that evening’s guest. No doubt he means both on and off the air. Sherry was almost Miss Free World, so she can give the audience a serious look at the grueling international pageant circuit, or some baloney like that. Paul doesn’t really care, he’s more of an ideas man. The nuts and bolts are Tabitha’s job.

Professor Collins is disgusted that a man of his ego could be replaced with a D-list bombshell.

Tabitha is outraged for numerous reasons, some of them valid.

Paul threatens to quit if Sherry’s not the guest, and Marvin caves in faster than a sandcastle at high tide.

(Don’t they have obligations once they book guests? Shouldn’t the publishing company be threatening legal action here?)

“Sorry sugar!” Marvin shrugs and shakes his head at Tabitha, because it was the 70’s and Marvin is what would happen if Shaft went undercover as Lou Grant.

That evening, at Tabitha’s, Adam tries to talk his sister out of going over to Paul’s. I don’t know why everyone is home in the evening if they have a nightly broadcast, but they are.

Adam says that Tabitha has a bad habit of turning people into stuffed animals when she gets angry, which is pretty tame considering their matrilineal track record on temper tantrum transformations. Samantha once turned a lady into a cat for hitting on her man, and Endora turned Darrin into a jackass for a pun, then left him like that.

But Tabitha is determined to go settle things with Paul, and Aunt Minerva blinks in and offers to help.

“I’ve got a new spell that’ll calcify his cookies!” Minerva grins.

“Oh no you don’t!” Adam warns, “You leave his cookies alone!”

Quick question, if you were going to copy a Darrin’s mannerisms in order to play his son on a TV show, would you pick Dick York or Dick Sargent? Because the guy playing Adam has selected Dick Sargent.

Anyway, do you remember how Roger said he had tickets to A Chorus Line? Tabitha totally blanked on that, and she was just storming out to give Paul what-for, when who should she find on her doorstep but a very pleasantly surprised Roger. He’s thrilled that Tabitha is ready on time.

Tabitha remembers that he said the show started at 9:30 – because nothing in this episode is normal or correct – and Roger reminds her that they were supposed to grab drinks and dinner with “the gang.”

Minerva has a solution to this non-problem, and you can bet your boots it’s needlessly silly!

She freezes Roger in time.

He loves time so much, might as well let the poor bastard enjoy it, I guess.

Adam is horrified, but Tabitha decides to take advantage of the situation and skips off to drive Paul insane with her dark sorcery.

Leaving Adam and Minerva to bicker over Roger’s frozen husk.

 Awkwardly, they decide to chase Tabitha all the way to Paul’s apartment, and reiterate their views on witchcraft in front of the elevator. There’s literally no need for this, it accomplishes nothing and feels crowded and weird.

Aunt Minerva finally goes to leave, and says: “Ciao!”

A Chow Chow dog appears beside her looking all fluffy and confused.

“Not that kind of Chow!” She rolls her eyes at whatever force guides her power, “I meant Bye Bye!”

All the combativeness of Endora with the magical aptitude of Aunt Clara. Great.

Aunt Minerva disappears. Let’s hope it’s forever.

Tabitha steps into the elevator and tells her brother that she’s got everything under control, and it would probably be a good idea if he made sure that Andrew Collins was at the studio in time for the broadcast.

Adam looks apprehensive as she waves him off.

Once upstairs, Tabitha knocks on Paul’s door, and Paul immediately decides that it’s a booty call.
Oh, Paul. Never change.

Tabitha decides to play along to a degree, and he gives her a guided tour of his hilarious apartment. It’s so great. He has a leather king sized water bed with a tiger skin hanging on the wall above it, a sunken living room with a vibrating suede sectional, orange and brown tie-dye barstools, and all the art is of his face. I wish the whole show took place in this set. They could call it “Swinger and the Witch” and it would be about Tabitha wrecking his love life at the most inopportune moments. Like he gets a bunch of Playboy Bunnies to come over, and just when it looks like his fantasy is about to be fulfilled, a twitch of the nose causes him to swell up like he’s having a massive allergic reaction, and through the process of giving him first aid, one of the Bunnies decides she’s going back to nursing school. Though Paul’s night is ruined, everyone’s lives are changed for the better. Except Paul’s.

(You know a show isn’t going well when the audience starts writing alternate scenarios to stay entertained.)

Tabitha explains that the reason she’s there is to try and convince Paul to have Andrew Collins on the show. Paul says he’ll totally do that, and then starts to put the moves on her, claiming that he’s “spellbound” by her.

Thinking that this isn’t just a tacky turn of phrase, Tabitha curses Minerva and fights Paul off.

He takes it in stride, and suggests that he make a couple of daiquiris while Tabitha tries to convince him through her debating skills.

Now, obviously, he has to concede power conservation is important, but he feels that Tabitha has to concede that talking about power conservation is boring.

Paul is using his blender to make daiquiris, like a heathen, and Tabitha spies an opportunity. She wiggles her ear and the blender shuts off. Puzzled, Paul fiddles with the switches and gets no results. He shrugs it off and says that “it’s fizzed enough anyway.”

He pours his abomination into two martini glasses, because nobody cares about anything anymore, and toasts Tabitha romantically. He asks if she likes music, and puts on his… electric record player stereo thing. It was very cutting edge for 1977, I’m sure.

As the sexy saxophone music fills the air, so does a kind of magic Paul wasn’t expecting. A tip of the finger, and the stereo begins to blip and warble.

Paul insists that he just had it installed and it cost him a fortune, so it should be working great.

But no electrical flukes are going to stop sweet unrequited amour in its tracks, and Paul gets nice and close to Tabitha right as she twitches her nose.

All the lights go out.

Tabitha suggests it’s a brownout. (That’s when in order to prevent the damage caused by a full blackout, the power company purposefully reduces system voltage on a grid.) Paul says he shouldn’t get those in a building with such high rent. Tabitha reminds him that money doesn’t guarantee power, which is kind of philosophical, but she’s talking about electricity so not really.

A little nervous now, Paul trips over a table in the dark, and decides that they should head for the studio. He’s relieved to find the power in the hallway working, but Tabitha soon blinks it out, and he screams nervously.

He quickly ushers her into the elevator, which is working fine. Until, of course, Tabitha decides it shouldn’t just as the doors are closed half way.

“Just like The Towering Inferno!” Paul shrieks.

I think Tabitha may have accidentally uncovered one of Paul Thurston’s deepest secret fears.

“Steve McQueen climbed down the side of the building,” Tabitha suggests.

“Paul Newman took the stairs!” Paul replies defiantly, winning best joke of the episode.

By the time the two of them make it to the studio, Marvin is starting to sweat.

Paul burst in and relates that his car ran out of gas, then two cabs ran out of gas, then the bus ran out of gas, and they are witnessing the beginning of a crisis! He wants to discuss this, on air, right now, with Professor Collins!

Marvin says that it’s too late, Sherry’s already in makeup.

Luckily, though not in makeup, Professor Collins is here because Adam went and got him.

Naturally, Marvin caves in like an abandoned mineshaft during a heroic rescue, and everybody wins apart from Sherry. Sherry is upset, but nobody cares.

Adam tells Tabitha that it looks like everything worked out for the best, but he just has one question. Where’s Roger?

Tabitha gasps as she suddenly remembers that Roger has been frozen in time for like an hour and a half.

The siblings rush back to Tabitha’s apartment, where she says that Roger is fine and will probably “thaw right out.” Then she banishes Adam from the apartment, saying that explaining his presence will be tricky. But…


Roger was frozen while both Minerva and Adam were in the apartment. Won’t explaining their absence be harder than explaining their presence? And how can she undo this? Minerva has to undo it, because a witch cannot reverse another witch’s spell. It’s a thing.

Damn it, Tabitha, I have tried to cut you so much slack, but you can’t just change the fundamental nature of magic in the franchise! That’s too much!

Tabitha rewinds the clocks to 7:30 and unfreezes Roger. He’s colder than ice when he comes out of it, and he worries that it’ll turn into some serious illness if he doesn’t get home and climb in the tub. He’s going to have to skip the theater, he hopes she understands.

She says she does, and gives him a quick goodnight kiss.

“You know, Tab, you’re something special.”

“Nice of you to notice,” she replies coyly and sends him on his way.

I have so many questions about Roger’s internal temperature, and whether his watch stopped running or kept running while he was frozen, but I’m not going to bother.

I lasted through twenty-four minutes of broken Bewitched lore and then I just snapped and now I do not care.

Congratulations, Tabitha.

You won.

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