‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined
“We’re married. We don’t need the bottle anymore.”
Created as a sitcom meant to directly rival ABC’s Bewitched, Sidney Sheldon’s I Dream of Jeannie, certainly proved to be its own entity, rising out of the other supernatural sitcom’s shadow to become the second most watched program in the US during its premiere season, for a time. Sheldon’s quick-paced, outlandish series saw astronaut Tony Nelson’s (Larry Hagman) spacecraft having a somewhat unsuccessful landing on a deserted beach where he comes across a bottle. As the title of the series might suggest, Tony rubs the lamp and ends up inheriting his very own genie, Jeannie (Barbara Eden), with the series exploring their unconventional relationship that is fraught with mystic whimsy (mymsy).
The episode being looked at here, “Hurricane Jeannie”, comes from the show’s fifth and final season, which also mixed things up for the series considerably by seeing Jeannie and Tony getting married (in a decision forced down by network tampering). Suddenly Jeannie and Tony’s big secret that they were trying to hide from Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke) all series long was placed much more in the spotlight.
In spite of its fantastical premise, solid writing, and performances, I Dream of Jeannie was not necessarily one to stir the pot or attempt the most ambitious episodes of television, even if they were still all very comforting installments. Jeannie’s biggest creative bursts came in the form of stunt episodes that involved having contests with the audience, requiring them to tune in to find out the answer or who the winner was. Situations that saw Jeannie locked in an exploding safe or Tony exiled to a mystery location usually felt more manipulative than inspired. Bottle episodes have just become so indoctrinated into television’s makeup that it’s not that surprising to see the series try to reinvigorate itself through one (even if some gaping shortcuts are taken).
The craziest thing about “Hurricane Jeannie” is that it was designed to be the final episode of the series (more on that later), so to choose to turn your last story into a bottle episode is a considerable decision to make. Obviously it’s one that chooses to focus on the series’ characters and its core premise, forcing it to interact with itself and build to a conclusion that hasn’t been able to happen over the show’s five seasons. This in itself – the idea of using your finale as a boiled down comedic game of cat-and-mouse – is brilliant, and honestly more eloquent of an idea for a finale than I thought I Dream of Jeannie was capable of. That being said, this very strong premise is heavily diluted by the fact that this is also a clip show. Imagine having a moment as heavy as Walter White being discovered by his greatest enemy, only for the rest of the episode to be filled with old clips of how Walter got to this point. It’s terribly deflating, and in spite of how much “Hurricane Jeannie” gets right, it’s a special episode for how much it misfires, too.
The thing is, a clip show is also something that easily lends itself to a bottle episode, as people can wax on about their past adventures while never leaving the confines of their confine. It’s an idea that Community wonderfully exploits in their “Paradigms of Human Memory” episode, which goes out of their way to film new footage for all of their “previous” exploits, but technically could still be considered a bottle episode under certain circumstances. “Hurricane Jeannie” isn’t as nearly as elegant, constructing a clunky “Past and Future Machine” (a literal deus ex machina) to remind Dr. Bellows of previous magical misadventures.
As one might suspect, “Hurricane Jeannie” sees Dr. Bellows getting trapped inside the Nelsons’ home in the height of a storm. While all of them are stuck together inside, Dr. Bellows eventually ends up witnessing Jeannie committing acts of magic, and suddenly he begins to think back to his entire history with Tony and Jeannie, putting the pieces together and finally realizing what’s been under his nose for all of this time. Remarkably though, this episode differs from others that we’ve looked at because it’s not really even about escaping their enclosure. They all accept their fate almost immediately, and let’s be honest, if Jeannie really wanted to escape, she could. Maybe it’s just because she’s already so acquainted with being stuck in a cramped place for long periods of time.
Remarkably, this episode is written as a pseudo-series finale, just so this sort of placeholder ending could always exist, regardless of what the fate of the show in the future would be or if it faced an abrupt cancelation. The rather cataclysmic events that occur here not only see Dr. Bellows discovering that Jeannie is a genie, but her bottle breaking in the process and her being unable to return. As a result, Tony resigns from NASA and he and Jeannie decide to move away together and have their happily ever after. That’s huge stuff.
The people behind I Dream of Jeannie were also network savvy enough to understand that episodes often don’t air in the order in which they’re produced, and even though this was the final episode they worked on, who’s to say where it would be placed within the running order. Obviously it would be beyond jarring to watch something so series finale-like and then the following episode seeing Tony back at work and having everything be back to status quo. Further complications arose when NBC did end up deciding to renew I Dream of Jeannie at the last minute (although the series would not choose to embrace that decision).
Accordingly, the end of the episode was reworked with a sleeping Tony waking up – of course the events of all of this being rendered “a dream,” so the inevitable reset that follows is all the more easy to swallow. Thankfully, some justice has been served in the syndication run of the series, which often places “Hurricane Jeannie” at the end of the fifth season (even if that “dream” ending still stings). For such mammoth events to go down in this episode, and for it to so deeply feel like a series finale with its reflective tone through it all, it’s crazy to think that NBC thought this had any business airing anywhere other than the end of the season. The fact that they forced this new ending to happen at all is a prime early example of network interference beginning to happen.
So, if you want your perfect, respectful I Dream of Jeannie ending, simply turn off “Hurricane Jeannie” before its insulting final minutes. Take it in for what it is and bask in its bottle episode honoring glory. If only we had some sort of Jeannie-like presence in our lives where we could wish away that conclusion though…