Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Bewitched Continuum, and Other Outstanding Classic TV Episode Guides

I love episode guides.

There are dozens of television show companion books in my library, and I particularly enjoy revisiting those that devote most of their pages to an in-depth examination of each episode from their respective series.

Books like this were plentiful 15-25 years ago, when there was more of a market for TV companion volumes. Back then, you could go into any bookstore and the “Film/TV” section would comprise an entire aisle. Today, that subject is lucky to secure a single shelf in the six or seven bookstores still in business. 

Since the advent of the Internet, episode guides have moved online – and almost all of them are crap. There are exceptions – “Family Affair Fridays” over at Embarrassing Treasures offers wonderfully insightful and frequently hilarious analysis of that charming sitcom, but most website guides provide nothing beyond episode titles, airdates and guest cast listings.

That’s why I was delighted when Adam-Michael James’s new The Bewitched Continuum landed with a Yellow Pages-like crash on my doorstep. It delivers more than 600 pages of Bewitched episode guide. That will either strike you as overkill or “Oh, yeah!” If you’re in the latter category, you’ll definitely want to check out this exhaustively researched chronicle. 

An episode guide does its job when it makes you want to take the journey through the series again. Not that most classic TV fans ever need an excuse. But a well-written guide offers the possibility of seeing something new in a 40 year-old TV show, or better understanding how a single episode fits within the context of the entire series. It adds to our appreciation of a creative work.

As I began reading The Bewitched Continuum I found myself learning things about shows that I have watched a dozen times. James provides a synopsis of each episode, followed by a review that focuses primarily on how consistent the show played by the rules it established for witches and witchcraft (short answer: not too well).

The author also points out the best moments in each show, offers renewed appreciation for the series’ still-impressive special effects, and cites examples of inspired dialogue (writers always appreciate good writing). In addition to the episode guide, he provides a by-the-numbers overview of Bewitched that tells us how many times Darrin was fired by Larry Tate (15) and how many times Endora calls Darrin “Durwood” (133!) among dozens of other trivia nuggets. 

If you enjoy books like The Bewitched Continuum, here are five other classic TV tomes with episode guides done right. I’ll refrain from including my own efforts in my Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels books – that is for others to judge.

1. The Lucy Book (Geoffrey Mark Fidelman)
In one volume you’ll get detailed episode guides to I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy and Life With Lucy. The author is a  fan of his subject, but he is not afraid to call out episodes where Lucy was just going through the motions. 

2. Growing Up Brady (Barry Williams)
Very few classic TV actors would have any interest in sharing their thoughts on every episode of the series that made them famous. But here, Barry Williams offers the ultimate insider’s view of The Brady Bunch, including the episode where he was stoned on camera. 

3.  The Fugitive Recaptured (Ed Robertson)
One of television’s crown jewels deserves an episode guide worthy of its status. Ed Robertson delivers with discerning show reviews and interviews with cast members, producers, writers and series creator Roy Huggins. 

4. The Avengers Dossier (Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping)
It’s quirky, with star ratings for such categories as “Kinkiness Factor,” “Champagne” and “Eccentrics.” But The Avengers was a unique show that merits an equally off-kilter appraisal.

5. The First 28 Years of Monty Python (Kim “Howard” Johnson)
Monty Python historian Kim Johnson has written five books on the British comedy troupe. Here, every episode of the Flying Circus is described and dissected, along with quotes from all six Pythons on the stuff they liked, the stuff they didn’t, and what was censored for American broadcast. 


  1. I agree on the Bewitched book. It's great. I'd add The Official Batman Batbook to this list (and there's a good online blog, "To the Batpoles" examining each episode as well).

    I'm trying to fill the void at The Horn Section with a few guides, focusing on shows that don't have a book already. With one exception: Maverick (Ed Robertson's book is great), and I'm doing Maverick Mondays. Other episode guides I have going:
    F Troop (1965-67) Fridays,
    Love That Bob (1955-59, aka The Bob Cummings Show),
    Get Christie Love (1974-75),
    Quincy, M.E. (1976-83 though my focus is on the last 4 seasons) and a new addition, 1967's Hondo (just started last week w/an overview).

    Should be enough to keep me busy for a decade or two. :)

  2. Am definitely going to take a closer look at Love That Bob - the few episodes I've seen I have really enjoyed.

    I'm starting to think I should have made the other recommended guide list a top 10 instead of top 5- as I also left out those in the excellent books on Mission: Impossible and Three's Company.