The Evolution of the Genie on American Television

Do you dream of genies? Well, stop it. Why dream of genies when so many of the magical beings are readily available for you to watch. The television screen has seen many a genie come and go. The most famous, of course, was the blonde whose belly-button could not be shown. The Ginger or Mary Ann debate can be extended to the two leading figures of supernatural magic on 60’s TV: Jeannie or Samantha. Jeannie had the better costume, but frankly give me Samantha. Jeannie was just way too selfish, possessive and likely to act not in the best interest of Major Nelson. Is such selfishness an inherent trait of the TV genie? Let’s find out.

The X-Files

Before he created Walter White, Vince Gilligan created Jenn in the episode titled “Je Souhaite.” You never seen one of those guys on “Storage Wars” come across a keeper like the prize found wrapped in a rug on this episode of “The X-Files.” Two brothers who make Jesse and Walt in the early days of “Breaking Bad” look like absolute geniuses become the latest beneficiaries of Jenn’s power to grant wishes. What “The X-Files” does to the legacy of genies on TV is focus almost exclusively on the bureaucratic intricacies of wish-making that makes understanding the average legal contract look more like understanding “Goodnight, Moon.” Is Jenn as subtly malevolent as the Jeannie in the bottle found by Maj. Nelson? I would suggest not, but you might think differently.

The Twilight Zone

“The X-Files” is one of the many progeny of “The Twilight Zone” and both utilizations of the genie turn on the inability of those finding the genie to fully think things through before making the wish. The badly constructed desire ends in mere tragedy for the brothers who discover Jenn while the married couple on “The X-Files” experience what might be termed tragedy on steroids. Irony abounds as usual. Of note, however, is that the title of this “Twilight Zone” episode is “The Man in the Bottle.” Notice the gender of the pronoun and consider that another episode titled “I Dream of Genie” also featured a male in the title role. Both these episodes afford a glimpse into how TV very quickly but for a surprisingly short time changed our perspective of genies as primarily male entities.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse
“I Dream of Jeannie” gave female genies their place in the sun on TV, but they barely had time to get a sunburn before the dudes in the bottles started establishing their authority again. Jambi was a male genie who appeared as a head inside a box in every episode of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” in order to grant Pee Wee just one wish. While Pee Wee would learn a lesson that would guide him toward making the perfect wish, Jambi is a genie whose power to read the contractual obligations of his position in life is far less arbitrarily executed.

The Monkees

“The Monkees” aired around the same as “I Dream of Jeannie.” If you remain unaware of this fact, then the moment that former Monkee and teen sensation Davy rubs a lamp and a genie (a female!) appears and asks how she may serve him will lose its impact.

Just Our Luck

What the 1983 sitcom “Just Our Luck” added to the legacy of TV genies was a return to the males who once dominated the roles with a twist. A goofy weatherman became the Major Nelson of the 80s while a black guy became the ancient genie who lived to serve him. Sort of. About as much as Jeannie lived to serve the astronaut. Interestingly, the NAACP weighed in on the appropriateness of a black man serving the will of a white man almost immediately while the woman serving the will of a man she addressed as “Master” for five seasons with no significant outcry from males.

You Wish

Jeannie v. Samantha debate received a 1990s update of a sort when “You Wish” briefly joined “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” Friday’s TGIF lineup. Of course, the 1990s versions of witch v. genie was not quite what it had once been. For one thing, “You Wish” brought the genie legacy back around full circle by having the genie found inside a rug (again!) turn out to be a male. So, well, there you go. The other reason why the genie v. witch battle on TGIF in the 90s didn’t quite live up to its 1960s antecedent was that “You Wish” lasted a dozen episodes while Sabrina exercised her teenage magic over the course of more than 160 episodes. Witch beats genie again.