Step aside, Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer. Step aside, Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy.
Every generation thinks it invented high-concept TV shows and while it’s true the last decade has brought us everything from grad students who are secretly spies to telepathic waitresses who fall in love with vampires, if you want to talk about some of the most high-concept woman-centric TV shows ever (and why wouldn’t you?), we’re going to have to go back.
To a time before Alias, True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To a time before iTunes, PVRs, and DVDs. To a time before color TV, even. (!)
I don’t know what was in the water in the 1960s (unless we’re talking bong water, which I suspect might be implicated in the creation of some of these programs…) but producers seemed to be in a race to one-up each other with shows that tried to make up in gimmicry what they possibly lacked in storytelling.
The best of these was Bewitched, which created characters people could care about and made impressive use of split screens and other relatively new techniques to cast a spell on its audience. But its success must have put pressure on studios to have the next big fantasy hit. What other explanation is there for some of the shows that followed? Shows like the following, which get kudos for revolving around a woman, but little else:
I Dream of Jeannie
Often mentioned in the same breath as Bewitched, it has not lasted the test of time as well. While Bewitched of course contains retrograde gender stereotypes, magic aside, Samantha Stevens is a pretty-typical-for-the-time housewife and mother. Jeannie, on the other hand, is a “slave” to her “master,” and lives in a tiny bottle that Larry Hagman corks whenever he’s had enough of her. Plus, the whole idea of whiter-than-white Barbara Eden being Persian and wearing some vaguely “ethnic” costume (not to mention giving up her homeland and language to live in America) seems racially insensitive, to say the least.
The Flying Nun
When I told my mom about this show, she thought I was kidding. Nope. See for yourself.
This ridiculousness is how Sally Field got her big break. She played a nun whose slight build meant her standard headwear (which looks like nothing any nun has worn, ever) combined with a strong headwind would send her sailing through the skies. I guess she’d problem-solve wherever she landed, in a nunnish kind of way? I’m just not sure how she always ended up back at the convent. Anyway, ’60s audiences loved it and the Catholic church gave it the thumbs-up. However, Sally Field has since described her flying experiences as “painful.” In more ways than one, no doubt.
My Mother the Car
In a clear attempt to play on the popularity of Mr Ed, this show was about a woman who died and was reincarnated as a talking car. Yep. Conveniently, her son found her in a used car lot, so the two of them were reunited and could go on all those trips they’d always wanted to take together! Sure, it was morbid and kind of creepy if you thought about it, but let’s be honest: there wasn’t a lot of thinking going on in the vicinity of this show.
Which high-concept woman-centric TV shows do you love (to laugh at)?