Bewitched seems almost destined to have become the perfect vehicle for nostalgia, a standard mid-century suburban sitcom that managed, through humor and the supernatural, to play on the very underpinnings of 1960s life. It exposed the things venerated for making a life worthwhile, that appeared to be synonymous with contentment; the hopes of a perfect life all wrapped up in and around the perfect home, the white picket fence, the loving husband, and a particularly boozy cocktail hour. It is into this world that our witch, Samantha Stevens, is thrown after her marriage to a mortal man, Darrin. When, on their wedding night, he finds out that Samantha is a witch, he makes her vow not to ever use magic again. He forces her to give up the thing that differentiates her from other wives, all in a bid for normalcy—that ever so sacred and amorphous thing that plagued the 1950s and 1960s. It is into this world that Samantha willingly goes, and it is through her that we see the folly and vapidity of the suburban American dream.
Socially and culturally, the witch has always been the perfect encapsulation of our society’s fears about womanhood and power. She functions outside of the norms of propriety. She is able to wield the kind of power that women are seldom allowed. She is a force that must be controlled and contained; something unusual that must be stripped of its authority, and rendered ineffective. It is through her that the conventions of society are undermined. It is in the form of Samantha, however, that we are given the opposite of this standard view of the witch. Samantha is typically feminine and demure. She is the perfect pastel wife, who appears to fit into this notion of the idyllic American life. She is the dream girl for the common man, with one small hitch; a hitch that threatens to expose the not-so-normal life that Samantha and Darrin have built for themselves.
Throughout Bewitched’s initial run, from 1964-1972, Samantha and Darrin’s dream of suburban abundance and normalcy was consistently undermined. The show functioned by putting a woman, who had extraordinary powers, into one of the most restrictive and uniform environments possible, and the writers knew that. This conflict was at the core of the show, with everything built up around it. Without these competing powers battling for dominance, there would be no friction. Samantha, a powerful witch, has decided, at the behest of her husband, to give up magic, to sacrifice a piece of what makes her unique, in order to have a normal life. And she agrees because, as she tells her mother, she wants that life; that world of normalcy and false appearances appeals to her, that world of Donna Reed and Leave it to Beaver-esque sitcoms, of which she has now become a part. She wants all of the trappings of the American dream, as it was understood in the 1950s and 1960s, but she is never quite able to give up witchcraft, it is as much or more a part of her as the drive towards conformity. The trappings and conventions of suburban life are put into relief by Samantha’s inability to adapt to them. This is not the world that she was raised to inhabit, as her family, and especially her mother, Endora, continually put into relief, seeing her new role as a kind of oppression and resenting her husband for it. Even as she wants these things—the husband, the children, the appliances and the attendant cooking and decorating that make a perfect home—she is not equal to the task of housewifedom: the menial, convoluted, and stifling tasks that signify in equal measure her privilege and her subjection. It is entirely too proscribed a life for her, as signaled by the situations she continuously finds herself in.
An early episode opens on Samantha in the kitchen. She has been tasked with putting together a dinner party for Darrin, his boss, and a potential client. Even though she is uncomfortable in the kitchen, she never complains or resorts to magic. Even through this discomfort, she hosts the party with a steadied and performed ease, the transformation from witch to suburban housewife seemingly complete. She is now the image of desired womanhood and she functions for Darrin as such. She has become merely an ideal that he attempts to pass off onto the rest of the world, an image that lends him, as an advertising man, an air of legitimacy and it is clear that this is the thing most important to him. It is clear that his comfort, his joy, and his aspirations are the basis of Samantha’s new existence, and the conflict between that and her former life as a witch come into relief when a client begins to drunkenly harrass her. Knowing no one will believe or protect her, she turns him into a dog. Darrin eventually stands up to the client, but it is clear that Samantha knows on some level that she, as a woman, is on her own. It is what she represents that is so appealing to men, including Darrin, not who she is. The darker side of the 1960s is shown by the writers and, in their own alchemical way, turned into humor. Bewitched is a flawless piece of reinvention, where the dominant notions of existence and conformity are reinforced and the specter of empowered womanhood in the symbol of the witch is complicated and made more palatable. Samantha doesn’t relish her power, but rather, is embarrassed by it and the complications that arise because of it. She is still able to use witchcraft, but it is all under the guise of attempting to fit in. She does it for the sake of normalcy, for the sake of Darrin, and for the sake of the illusion that he has built. She has been made into the perfect suburban woman.