The secret to aging artfully as a long-running sitcom? Be animated. The Simpsons just keeps going and going because, like comic book heroes who were born decades earlier, the characters barely age yet can be tweaked to accomodate changing times.
Not so with live-action sitcoms such as The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, which spanned 14 seasons from 1952-1966, and I Dream of Jeannie, which first captured charm in a bottle in 1965, then wound down after five seasons in 1970.
Jeannie’s fifth and final season reaches DVD Tuesday from Sony, along with Shout Factory’s second box-set compilation of Ozzie & Harriet episodes, Best of Ricky and Dave. And in each case, you see where an ageless and time-stuck Simpsons bent might have helped.
Jeannie in year five is still a spry fantasy comedy, and Barbara Eden is as gorgeous as ever in the title role of a bottled genie who was released by Tony Nelson, a dutiful astronaut smartly played by Larry Hagman before his Dallas devilry. As his secret live-in companion, she still plays magical havoc with his ordered domestic and professional life — in Florida, not in Houston (part of the fantasy) — and he’s resisted her charms until, finally, something had to give, and it does, in Season Five, with a wedding in the 11th episode. Unfortunately, there’s scant romance as the story’s focus goes to the sitcom “sit” of Jeannie’s image not showing up on wedding photographs. With national magazine photogs hovering, what will they do? Sounds like vampires not showing up in mirrors, but no pictures is a genie rule, it seems.
As with Moonlighting, which also spanned five seasons, once the “will they or won’t they?” went “poof!,” there was no place left to go. Jeannie ended after its marrying season, having amassed 139 episodes. Happily, all are on DVD. Astronaut Nelson, your mission is accomplished.
Over on Ozzie & Harriet, things were able to evolve more slowly and naturally, since this Nelson family — also including sons Dave and Ricky — basically played themselves and grew up and grew older before America’s eyes, with the real-world people gradually evolving as the scripted characters.
Younger brother Ricky, or Rick, turned out to be the teen idol of the siblings, and he launched his singing career on the show with help from his dad, who also often wrote, directed and produced. In fact, Ozzie has been credited by some with creating the first rock videos.
The new box set highlights many of Ricky’s music performances, which are part of the episodes but also can be viewed separately. Like the show itself — one of the most white-bread series you’ll find — the songs were tame by pop and even early rock ‘n’ roll standards, yet they did include such tuneful hits as Fools Rush In, Hello Mary Lou and That’s All.
But after 14 years, even mid-’60s color episodes (two are in this set) couldn’t keep the family going forever, and Ozzie and Harriet bowed out after 435 episodes.
In case you’re wondering, that’s still more shows than The Simpsons, which is now up to 420 episodes. But it won’t be long before the adventures of Homer and Marge eclipse those of Ozzie and Harriet, at least in sheer numbers.
Still, the latter two had an incredible run, so give them credit. But if they’d been animated — well, Ricky probably would still be singing — though in a fresher style — and Ozzie would still be flummoxed by lost keys and missed appointments. Of course, new voice actors would have been needed eventually, since David Nelson is now the family’s only surviving member. But on DVD — and that’s a beauty of the medium — Ozzie, Harriet, Tony and Jeannie, just like Homer and Marge, are eternal.