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The Twilight Zone (Episode #114): “I Dream of Genie” (airdate 3/21/63)
The Plot: A man finds a lazy genie in a lamp who only grants one wish.
The Goods: For a second, let’s pretend that there isn’t a massive sub-genre of “Wish Fulfillment Gone Awry” episodes of this series (and of others). That includes forgetting that genies and Satan keep popping up everywhere. Thomas Gomez, Ernest Truex, and Joseph Ruskin all played the magical wish-granters, but no matter the actor behind the role – the rules are the same.
You get what you want, and more than you bargained for.
That’s why we’re forgetting all of those episodes exist because, despite its trite starting gun, this episode packs the kind of bullet that can make it seem like the only one in the world. It’s the trite polished up to be shiny and new.
Having loved this episode a while, it was a joy to revisit. It’s on the saccharine end of fantasy storytelling, but that doesn’t keep it from being a smack in the face to tradition while celebrating it. More on that in a second, but first, the plot.
George Hanley (Howard Morris) and his lovable dog (a lovable dog actor) finds a lamp which houses a genie (Jack Albertson) that’s dressed to the nines in modern duds and curly-toed shoes that no one from the Arab states would have ever actually worn. Sweet deal, right? Not exactly. This genie is offering one wish, so Hanley better make it a good one.
Thus, unlike all the other idiots faced with whatever they want, he vividly considers what the long-term results would be if he picks up what the genie is putting down. It’s a simple, shrewd shift in the norm, but it’s enough to recreate a classic narrative. Plus, Morris is incredibly strong in the role – a contemplative sweetness that leads to pure, unadulterated overthinking.
Of course, that’s the other element at work here. Whereas the usual fool’s shortcoming is short-sightedness, Hanley lets his creativity and knack for imagination run wild. Instead of letting the wondrous positives infest his thoughts, he envisions love as marriage to a famous movie star who soon grows cold; contemplates the boredom that comes with large amounts of money; and sees the responsibility of power as crippling instead of, well, empowering.
But the result of eschewing the traditional wishes is that Hanley talks himself into a unique option. In the end, he reappears in a dark alleyway, rising out of a lamp as a classically dressed genie (along with his badass hound), offering a stranger a grand bargain as long as he’s returned to the street to be discovered by the next down-on-his-luck sucker.
On the one hand, the twist of the concept is something that smirks at tradition. It almost, almost mocks it. On the other hand, the costume choices here are a small tell of what Rod Serling and writer John Furia Jr have up their sleeve. In the beginning, the genie is slick and modern, and in the end, Hanley chooses to become an antique genie. He is the visible, living embodiment of an ancient story straight from Scheherazade’s boudoir. The story here may be a new turn on an old theme, but its concrete is still that old theme. To mix metaphors.
There’s a competing idea there, and the episode handles it really well. The imaginative trips into the What If world of possible wish outcomes is a little ridiculous, but that’s what kind of man Hanley is – a little ridiculous, a little classic, and a little twisted.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The famous show I Dream of Jeannie would see the air two years later. The title here (and of that show) is a play on the first line of the 1854 Stephen Foster poem “I Dream of Jeannie.”
On the Next Episode: A man does everything he can to save the wax figures of five famous killers.
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.