Why not follow up last month’s double bill of doppelgängers and this month’s Bewitched entry with the episode of I Dream of Jeannie that introduces her lookalike sister? Sounds fun, right?
Yes it does, don’t be difficult.
I Dream of Jeannie is a 1966 sitcom about an astronaut (very chic at the time) finding a genie in a bottle on a remote island in the Pacific. He’s a handsome astronaut played by Larry Hagman, and she’s a warm-blooded young genie played by Barbara Eden, so she’s constantly making moves on him that – for some baffling reason – he turns down. We establish pretty quickly that he’s straight, btw, so that torpedoes the usual theory.
Jeannie uses her powers to try and improve her beloved Major Nelson’s life, but it never goes well. Nine times out of ten, it’s Major Nelson’s fault because he never adequately explains why she shouldn’t just use her cosmic powers to fix things.
(What is your actual deal, Major Nelson? How can you be trying to go to the moon while ignoring the possibilities this type of magic can bring to mankind?)
Rounding out the cast was Bill Daily as Major Nelson’s best bud, the reasonably greedy and excitable Roger Healy. Roger is also an astronaut, and the only person who seems to grasp that Jeannie is a magical super-being. He’s a pretty good guy, but he tends to use Jeannie’s powers for personal financial gain like anybody would, let’s be real. Everyone is a Roger.
Their chief nemesis was Hayden Rorke as NASA psychiatrist Dr. Bellows, an uptight and rigid professional who has no time for everyone bending the laws of physics when there’s a moon to land on. He usually thinks the boys are going insane, or that some kind of Russian sabotage is in play, but he never does anything about it except shout and look confused.
We open things with Major Anthony Nelson talking on the telephone at the breakfast table. Despite having access to a genie, Major Nelson elects to live his life in a one-bedroom bungalow in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It’s a fine little bachelor pad, and it’s close to work, but you can’t help but wonder if she couldn’t whip up something a little bit finer and a little bit closer.
(This is the fault of My Favourite Martian, the show that started all of this “man lives with fantastical person” business, in which Bill Bixby winds up with a Martian for a roommate. The Martian has powers, but they’re more limited than Jeannie’s, so for them, living in a small apartment is logical. Meanwhile, Samantha Stephens, of a more cosmic scope, has her family living in a very comfortable three-to-four bedroom house in the burbs, with a good sized yard and an occasional swimming pool.)
Jeannie brings in the coffee pot, wearing her usual genie costume of pink harem pants, a pink bandeau, and a red vest and fez. Major Nelson hangs up the phone, and Jeannie asks if it was his mother calling. It was. She just wanted to know the usual things, how the weather is in Florida, and why he hasn’t married a nice girl yet.
This is when Jeannie throws her arms around Major Nelson and reminds him that she’s a nice girl.
What this conversation is really about, though, is keeping in touch with family. Jeannie has magical family scattered around, including a brother and a nephew, her parents back in ancient Baghdad (it’s a lot to explain), and her sister.
Turns out, Jeannie hasn’t seen her sister, also named Jeannie, in over two hundred years. Major Nelson wrinkles his nose at the idea of Jeannie having a sister named Jeannie, and asks how people “told them apart.” She tells him it’s not that difficult once you’ve met both of them.
Interestingly, in times of high child mortality rates, giving two children the same name wasn’t uncommon in some parts of the world. Particularly in places with very traditional naming practices. Of course, this would usually happen in the form of a necronym – after the first daughter named Jeannie died, the next daughter named Jeannie would be born – but it looks like Jeannie’s parents were ahead of the game, and got lucky because both girls lived.
For the sake of clarity, Jeannie’s sister will henceforth be identified as Jeannie II, as is the traditional practice of I Dream of Jeannie scholars.
Major Nelson finishes his coffee and suggests that Jeannie phone her sister, ignoring that there might be a reason people don’t talk to each other for two hundred years, and heads off to work. (There’s a good chance I’m going to be extra intolerant of Major Nelson because I re-read The Right Stuff last week, and I’m all: “Those astronauts were heroes, damn it! If they had a genie, they would’ve asked her to save the lives of test pilots!”)
Jeannie decides she likes the idea, though, and tidies the house with a quick blink, then summons her sister who arrives in a puff of deep, ocean blue smoke. Jeannie II, as you’ve probably already surmised, is Barbara Eden in a dark wig.
She. Looks. Amazing.
This episode aired a year after Serena’s first appearance on Bewitched, so the idea of having a sultry brunette version of the blonde lead wasn’t exactly cutting edge. Dual roles in general weren’t new in television comedy, having been used on numerous shows before. Besides which, Jeannie and Bewitched were both produced by Screen Gems, and often swapped ideas on a two-way street, despite airing on competing networks. What I Dream of Jeannie does really well, though, is utilizing more character movement in its split-screens and bluescreen shots. If you’re at all interested in special effects in TV history, this is a must-watch.
Jeannie II is filing her nails, looking dreadfully bored, and she doesn’t even glance up as she asks what her master wants now.
Jeannie surprises her by launching into a bubbly explanation of how she was thinking of family and just wanted a visit from her sister. Jeannie II says that she’s grateful from the break from her current master, who sounds really not cool.
“For starters, he’s 80. And he’s got 36 wives,” she gripes. “So he keeps me in that stuffy old bottle all day long, until the ashtrays in one of his limousines gets filled up. And then it’s zap! Out of the bottle! Poof! A new limousine! And SQUISH! Back in the old jug again!”
This guy is a moron when it comes to utilizing a genie. Like, wish for a bottomless ashtray, dude.
Jeannie says life’s a little different for her, she’s changed somewhat from the malevolent jinn of long ago and has become something much more like a genius loci – the protective domestic spirits of the Roman Empire. Well, okay, she says it like she’s in love with Major Nelson and he hates presents, but it’s implied by the differences between her and Jeannie II.
Jeannie II is actually much more true to traditional stories of the jinn and fire spirits. She seems to be sealed to her bottle, which (like everything about her) is a palette swap of her sister’s. She also owes allegiance to whoever owns the bottle, with no crazy three wish rule, or any potential for freedom without the seal being broken. Also, she’s a little tough to handle and somewhat vindictive.
Jeannie is a rosy pink fire that keeps you warm and roasts apples in the evening. Jeannie II is a cold blue fire that burns down houses while everyone is sleeping.
Anyway, Jeannie II likes the sound of this handsome, easy-to-manipulate Major Nelson, and so she sets a trap for her sister.
It’s not hard.
Somehow, Jeannie has managed to hang on to her youthful sparkle despite being alive for a thousand years, which is my tactful way of saying she’s gullible. Really, really gullible.
All Jeannie II does is suggest that Jeannie’s bottle isn’t very spacious, and if Major Nelson were a stand-up guy, he’d upgrade her to a moonshine jug or something with some room to move around. Jeannie insists that her bottle is the perfect size, and pops inside to prove it. Jeannie II pops the cork inside after her, and that’s how you trap a genie.
With that taken care of, Jeannie II changes herself to look just like Jeannie, except she throws on a pair of gaudy hoop earrings, so that we can easily identify her in her disguise.
Title sequence time!
It’s the best. There’s a cartoon Jeannie dancing around to super catchy music, and it’s just colourful and breezy and fun. Somewhat surprisingly, the theme song (one of the best ever) that we all associate with the show was introduced in season two. For season one, there was a totally different song.
Season two and onward:
When we get back to Major Nelson’s bungalow, it’s time for best bud Roger to make his entrance. He taps on the front door and sticks his head in, and it’s not clear exactly why he’s swinging by, but he does occasionally carpool to work with Major Nelson, so maybe he forgot they weren’t doing that today or something.
Jeannie II has only seen one tiny picture of Major Nelson. She thinks Roger is him, and greets him with one of the biggest, most passionate kisses two people could manage on TV at that time. Roger, understandably, is a little surprised, but he doesn’t object.
“I always knew I had a sneaky charm,” he grins dopily, “it just takes a year or two to sink in.”
I feel bad that this evil genie is about to inconvenience the hell out of him, but at least he got some action?
Jeannie II quickly realizes that this isn’t Major Nelson, just as Jeannie hears Roger’s voice. Jeannie starts jumping up and down and calling for Roger’s help, which is kind of a strange plan, because what’s Roger going to do? He can’t fight Jeannie II’s magic powers.
Regardless, Roger sees that Jeannie is trapped, puts together that the woman who kissed him is not Jeannie, and is in the middle of realizing that this means some serious trouble when Jeannie II blinks him to the Arctic Circle. Without a coat.
Luckily, a dogsled piled with furs passes by, both for some local colour and to let us know he’s not going to freeze to death. Best of luck, Roger! Get home soon!
Plan “Tongue Major Nelson As Soon As He Comes Through The Door” sees its second round that evening, when the real Major Nelson comes home to find an imposter Jeannie waiting to pounce. She grabs him from behind, twists him over backwards, and plants a serious smooch on him. But with all the contorting involved, it’s less like unbridled passion, and more like a good way to throw his back out.
Major Nelson looks like he just nearly drowned or something, and splutters and vaguely enquires about what’s going on, as Jeannie II pushes him into an armchair and sits in his lap. He asks what’s for dinner, because he’s never too disoriented to stop reminding us of his antiquated gender politics.
Jeannie II tells him they can eat wherever he wants, so long as it’s expensive and fancy. He tells her that he’s tired, so anything she wants to make him from the fridge is fine.
I really don’t think the men writing this show understood magic, or how dinner is made. But we’re going to overlook the total weirdness of telling a genie to cook using her powers and ingredients from the fridge. (It’s like Chopped, but instead of a mystery basket you get items selected by a clueless bachelor.)
Jeannie II proves once and for all that Major Nelson doesn’t have half the authority he thinks he does, because just as he’s putting his foot down about staying in, she blinks them to The Sorrento for a delectable four-course meal.
She’s finishing off her cherries jubilee when he tries to make her promise never to do this sort of thing again. What sort of thing? Having fun? Go cram yourself in a capsule, Major Party-Pooper!
Also, Jeannie hates cherries, but Jeannie II loves them. Major Nelson notices her eating them and also that her whole personality has changed as is seriously like: “Pfft, women! I must’ve forgot it was the anniversary of the time the cat sneezed or something. Well, whatever it is, I’m sorry; now go back to normal.”
So, here’s what’s kind of confusing: Jeannie II’s plan is to turn Major Nelson into a swinging jetsetter so that she can do the things she enjoys by pretending to be his genie. But, since Jeannie called her away from her bottle and her awful 80 year-old master, why can’t she go live her own life? Isn’t the seal on her bottle broken now? Why does she need to involve Major Nelson in all of this?
This episode should really be about how sometimes sisters are annoying, but they usually save you from bad relationships. Jeannie can focus the majority of the plot on freeing Jeannie II, who can still be troublesome and mercenary, and the secondary plot can be about how Major Nelson and Roger decide to have a poker game and end up blowing up the kitchen without any magic at all. Nacho cheese all over everything.
Anyway, it’s easy to look back and see what the problems were, it’s harder to come up with scenarios week after week. And, it’s an episode worth watching for Barbara Eden’s performance.
Jeannie II tells Major Nelson to pay the bill for dinner.
You don’t have to pay if you have a genie! The genie conjures money! It’s like, the one thing everyone knows they can do! It’s most people’s first wish!
“Jeannie, I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but I’m the guy who found you on that bottle on the beach. I give the orders around here,” Major Nelson says angrily, pulling out his wallet.
He freed her, by the way. He was dying on a remote island the size of a postage stamp, he let her out of her bottle, she summoned a helicopter to rescue him, and he freed her. She doesn’t have to listen to anything he says or do anything he wants, but she does because – for some baffling reason – she’s in love with him. Even though he’s like this.
Jeannie II isn’t in love with him, though, she’s just after a good time. (Get it, girl!)
The next thing Major Nelson knows, he’s standing around like a square in a go-go club, while Jeannie II gets into the swing of things. She looks like she’s having a great time, even when Major Nelson clears his throat and tells her she could get arrested for swinging her hips like that. He says that he doesn’t like this kind of club, so…
They’re dancing til dawn in in Rio de Janeiro, while an elegant cha-cha plays. Or, at least, Jeannie II is. Major Nelson is literally falling asleep as she pulls him around the dance floor. He complains that he has to be at the base in two hours for a meeting with Dr. Bellows, but Jeannie II doesn’t care, and neither do we. He’s a lousy astronaut who’s only in the program because his face looks good on the news. Everybody knows, nobody says.
Major Nelson manages to make the meeting on time, but hasn’t discovered coffee yet or the fact that all he has to do is say: “Jeannie, I wish I weren’t so tired.”
Dr. Bellows is asking him for details of yesterday’s simulator flight, I guess to gauge his psychological reactions to extreme conditions or something, but Major Nelson is out like a light. And also sitting straight up. It’s weird. It’s like he’s Gandalf or something.
Despite zero effort to stay awake, he keeps falling asleep during the meeting. Dr. Bellows yells at him, deservedly. And it’s not Jeannie II’s fault you’re not smart enough to wish for caffeine pills at the very least, Major. Don’t go shifting the blame around.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Roger has managed to make it back from the Arctic Circle, and he’s been hurrying the whole way, because at no point did he take his fluffy fur coat off, even though he’s in Florida now. And, somehow, it still has snow on it.
Roger, did you find an ice genie to send you home? Now that’s a story!
He knocks on the door, calling for Major Nelson and warning him that there is a Jeannie-related emergency happening, trust no one! But Major Nelson is at work, and Jeannie is trapped in her bottle. Or is she?
Roger hears her calling for help, explaining that her own sister is trying to take her place. Roger tries the door, but it’s locked tight. He tells her he’s on his way, gets a running start and—
The door magically swings open, as he stumbles into the living room on extra momentum.
Jeannie II swivels around in the living room armchair, as realization dawns on him.
“Hi,” he waves nervously.
“Bye,” she smiles, and blinks him away.
With that taken care of, she goes over to Jeannie’s bottle and asks if she’s comfortable. Jeannie is inside, pouting because genies hate being trapped in bottles. It’s part of their whole deal.
Time for a breather, though, because Jeannie II wants a sister-to-sister talk. She pulls the stopper out and makes herself comfy on the couch.
As soon as Jeannie is out, she starts hurrying around the house looking for Major Nelson. Jeannie II tells her to relax, “he’s at his dullsville job.”
“His job is not dullsville!” Jeannie gasps.
She’s right about that, astronauts do fascinating and impressive things. But, let’s be honest, Major Nelson’s role in the space program doesn’t exactly make him Mark Watney. And, apart from his job, he’s totally dullsville.
Jeannie II thinks his personality isn’t living up to the potential of his looks. Jeannie tells her that she likes him just the way he is.
Cool, Jeannie. Agree to disagree.
Jeannie II’s vision is Major Nelson “in a white dinner jacket, with a daiquiri in one hand and an expensive cigar in the other.” Well, that’s a definite look. While she’s daydreaming, she manages to transform Major Nelson’s uniform – while he’s still in his meeting with Dr. Bellows – into the outfit she’s described.
He doesn’t realize it’s happened, and when Dr. Bellows looks up from his papers and asks him what he’s wearing, he balks and says his uniform. Since people can’t change an entire suit of clothes between sentences, or without getting up from their chairs, this answer gives the doctor pause. Luckily, back home, Jeannie is declaring her preference for the uniform, and he’s quickly back in his usual clothes.
This goes on a little bit, with Dr. Bellows thinking he’s losing his mind as he gets a flash of Major Nelson in a polo outfit, and then – for no actual clear reason – himself in a burnoose.
The upshot of the back-and-forth between the Jeannies is that Jeannie II wants to swap masters. Which they shouldn’t be able to technically do without having their masters switch the bottles they’re attached to, and also shouldn’t be possible with Jeannie being a free genie and all. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Jeannie vehemently refuses.
Jeannie II seems to relent, but it’s just another trick to get her sister back in her bottle while she keeps having fun. This time, she disappears, and right after she does, Major Nelson’s voice comes out from the bottle begging Jeannie for help. So, in she pops. In the cork pops. Nobody is surprised.
Back at the space center, Major Nelson is telling Dr. Bellows to calm down and accept the fact that he was hallucinating at work. Good tactic, Major. Don’t go with anything like: “Could you have eaten something that fermented weird?” or “Have you been having problems with eye strain? You know, sometimes we go too long without checking prescriptions, and our eyeballs can play tricks on our brains, and it doesn’t have anything to do with mental health.”
Just once, try something other than: “I’m sorry. You must be going insane.”
But let’s stop talking about how infuriating everything about Major Nelson is, because actual human being Roger Healy is back! Yay, Roger! You got home again!
This time, he’s covered in weird red dirt, and he’s lost his jacket. He’s also exhausted from all of this extreme global travel, but he’s still trying to do the right thing. He gets to the front door, finds it locked, and decides not to knock or call out. Fool him once, and so forth.
So he goes around to the side of the house to climb in through the bedroom window, because this was before people in Florida locked their windows. (I’m kidding. It’s a fantasy show. People in Florida have always locked their windows.) Unfortunately, Jeannie II catches a glimpse of him, and blinks up another trick. She ties herself to the bed with a gag in her mouth, and pretends to be the captured Jeannie.
Roger starts to untie her.
“Your sister’s more powerful than you are, huh?” He asks.
You can see why he thinks that, because if one magical being can trap another, it stands to reason that the one who does the trapping does so in a battle of strength rather than with simple guile. But we don’t really know what would happen if the two sisters went toe-to-toe, because we’ve only seen Jeannie II use her highly successful guile approach.
So is Jeannie II stronger? Roger’s an interesting person to bring this up, because when Jeannie gets mad at him, she does cast spells on him. Can Roger feel a difference between each genie’s spells? Is he so used to this stuff that he’s become a walking power barometer?
Regardless, he has a plan. He hasn’t just been sleeping and eating and recovering from the trauma of being stranded in various isolated wildernesses on his way home, which would’ve been totally acceptable. He’s been coming up with solutions.
Okay, so there are two astronauts on this show. One is handsome, commanding, and tries to control every single detail of everything he encounters, including people. The other has insane survival skills, responds well to stress, has a lame sense of humour, and deals with situations as they come. I know which one I’d trust to handle life on the moon.
Jeannie II doesn’t have time for Roger right now, though. To her, he’s a nuisance.
He starts outlining his plan while he unties Jeannie II, but she quickly and playfully gives herself away by calling him “sugarplum.”
“Send me someplace warm, huh?” He asks with a sigh. “I catch cold easily.”
She chooses a massive desert.
He wanders around the sand dunes for a minute, then decides to try and find a camel.
So, while Roger is coming up with creative solutions, Major Nelson is issuing ultimatums.
Back at home, he’s telling Jeannie II how he could’ve been court-marshalled for the costume switches that morning, though I can’t quite see how. I mean, he went to great lengths to establish they were figments of the cracker-jack mind of one Dr. Alfred Bellows, so who’s going to prove they weren’t? Anyway, he seriously says:
“Now, you’re either going to have to give up this new personality of yours, or we’re through.”
At no point has he tried to find out why Jeannie is acting this way, it’s just his way or the highway.
You know, I get annoyed with Darrin on Bewitched sometimes, but I would save him from slowly being lowered into a vat of acid. Major Nelson… eh… not so much…
Which is why I wouldn’t be too sad if he were trampled by this charging rhino.
Jeanie II is just as annoyed with his little speech as the rest of us, so she thinks it’d be fun to go big game hunting in Africa. Completely with safari outfits and one very angry rhino.
Major Nelson shoots, and hits it. That was lucky! Almost like magic!
Back home, he’s sitting exhausted beneath a mounted rhino head when Jeannie II calls to him that she’ll only be another minute getting ready, and then they’ll hit up Portugal.
Okay, writers of this episode, Jeannie and Jeannie II both do their hair, clothes, accessories and beauty looks with magic. They don’t need a minute to get ready, we’ve seen both of them change in a literal blink of their eyes. Seriously, come on.
It’s a terrible excuse for why Major Nelson is finally alone in his own living room with Jeannie’s bottle. From which is coming a knocking noise that catches his ears. He finally frees Jeannie, who looks pretty grateful to be out and about again.
It takes him a minute, but he figures out that the other Jeannie must be her sister. The one they were discussing at breakfast the other day.
Oh, man! I just noticed! Major Nelson was the one who said to call her sister, and Jeannie gave him all those warnings about how alike but dissimilar they were, and Roger – who knew none of this – figured out more of it faster!
When Jeannie hears Jeannie II coming, she tells Major Nelson to pretend that her sister is her and she’ll get the jump on her. Which was part of Roger’s plan, but Jeannie doesn’t know that because she was trapped and he was telling it to Jeannie II. Great minds think alike.
Major Nelson agrees, then stands there with the open bottle in one hand and the cork in the other. Thus pretty clearly displaying that Jeannie is no longer trapped. Jeannie II, being relatively observant, notices this, but he covers quickly and says that he picked it up so that she could grab the blue dress he likes.
There’s only a few minutes left in the episode, and we have to swap Jeannies back, so, disappointingly, she falls for this and pops into the bottle to look for the dress.
Interestingly, once inside the bottle, she’s back to being a brunette in her green genie costume. Was it because she had to use her smoke form to go inside? Is it a further enchantment of the bottle?
Major Nelson doesn’t care about the mechanics of magic, though. He just wants his housekeeper/girlfriend back to being easy to order around. He corks the bottle, and thinks that’s that.
Except it’s not. Roger is home again, and he doesn’t know that bad Jeannie is in and good Jeannie is out. He bursts through the front door, frantically explaining. He sees the bottle, grabs it out of Major Nelson’s hands, and opens it to let the genie within out.
Oh well, Roger’s still my favourite of the men on this show. Anybody can make a mistake when they’ve been through what he’s been through this week. Also, how is his three day absence going to affect his job at NASA? Why didn’t Major Nelson notice he was missing? They’re supposed to be best friends.
Jeannie II sends him to the top of a palm tree this time.
“She’s all heart,” Roger smiles ruefully, spreading the palms to get a good look at where he is.
Back at the house, Jeannie has challenged her sister to a fight using what genies call “house rules.” That means, basically, that they can’t enter any objects that aren’t in the house into play. So they telekinetically fling appliances at each other and accidentally hit Major Nelson many, many times.
It’s the highlight of the episode.
Especially after Jeannie II realizes how much it freaks her sister out when Major Nelson gets hit, so she just attacks him exclusively for a little while. This causes him to demand where her master is, and it's kind of uncomfortable.
But it gives Jeannie an idea. She summons the 80 year-old sheik to come and collect his magical slave. Because nothing says “sisterhood” like forcing somebody back into the life they hate. The old man declares that Jeannie II is a wicked creature, and promises she’ll be “whipped for this.”
He traps her in her own bottle, and Jeannie blinks him back to wherever it is she got him from.
So, earlier, when we were talking about why there might be a multiple-centuries rift between these two? Turns out it might be more Jeannie’s fault than Jeannie II’s.
Oh, yeah! Before the sheik goes, there’s one more sight gag where Dr. Bellows comes in without knocking or anything, like that’s not extremely rude, and finds the old sheik standing in the middle of the living room with a genie bottle, and Major Nelson hanging from a mounted rhino’s horn from his belt.
Dr. Bellows blinks, just as Jeannie uses her magic to set the room right, and when he opens his eyes again, everything is perfectly normal.
He says that he’ll talk to Major Nelson tomorrow, and worriedly makes his exit.
Now the only thing left to wrap up is poor Roger. A few days later, Major Nelson is heading off to work in the morning, and finds Old Rog hiding behind a fern by his front door. The man looks pretty good for someone who was stuck up a palm tree in god-knows-where not that long ago. Slightly paranoid, Roger says that the two of them have to make a break for it while they can and sort out this two Jeannie business in a safe location.
Major Nelson tells him to come inside and see that things are alright.
“No! I can’t! She’ll send me to the bottom of the ocean next! It’s the only place left!”
Aw, poor Roger. He tried really hard to do the right thing, and look what it got him.
Still, he goes inside, and is treated to Jeannie making a joke of wearing her sister’s dress and calling them “darlings” for dramatic effect. It affects Roger, that’s for sure.
Jeannie can’t convince him that she’s the real Jeannie. And when Major Nelson tries to get her to tell a funny story they all know, she can’t remember it.
Both guys hurry from the house pretty speedily.
That’s funny, but mean.