A confession: I watched a lot of TV during the eighties. A lot.
I was intimately acquainted with most everything on from roughly
1983-88, including popular fare like THE COSBY SHOW, FAMILY TIES and
CHEERS, as well as lesser-known programs like LOTTERY!, PARTNERS IN
CRIME and JENNIFER SLEPT HERE.
If I remember correctly, the show was broadcast around the time period of DIFF’RENT STROKES and SILVER SPOONS, my two holy grails. These days I could care less about those programs but hold a special place for JENNIFER SLEPT HERE, having searched high and low for copies of it. Now that I’ve finally tracked down the desired copies I feel compelled to share my findings with you, if for no other reason than to feel I haven’t entirely wasted my life rewatching this dumb show!
I’m not going to pretend JENNIFER was some kind of watershed event in TV broadcasting. There’s a good reason it didn’t last, and truth be told the show doesn’t play any better today than in 1983--and as I recall, it wasn’t much back then.
The premise was this: 14-year-old Joey (John P. Navin Jr.) moves with his parents and little sister into a house previously owned by Jennifer Farrell (Ann Jillian), a deceased movie star/sex symbol. Yet Jennifer’s ghost still haunts the place, visible only to Joey.
Yes, it’s the ultimate teenage boy fantasy, (which explains why this pre-teen enjoyed JENNIFER despite its crappiness), although no sexual relationship ever develops between Jennifer and Joey. Instead the thirtyish Jennifer acts strictly as a mentor, dispensing important life lessons in each episode.
The show was marked by dumb-assed slapstick and surprisingly proficient special effects. I like it for the jazzy theme song (who can forget the lyrics “Jennifer Slept Here, She Lived Here, She Loved Here, Laughed Here and Wept Here…”) and the presence of the delectable platinum haired Ann Jillian. Although best known these days as a Bob Hope regular and breast cancer survivor, the woman was damn near the hottest thing around back in 1983 (her charms were also on display in the long-running sitcom IT’S A LIVING and the flick MR. MOM), and as Jennifer she was outfitted in a variety of revealing outfits. Good idea, since, outside her unassailable physical assets and natural charisma, Jillian was never much of an actress.
In JENNIFER SLEPT HERE’S premiere episode
Joey finds he for some never-explained reason can see Jennifer’s ghost
but nobody else can. This sets up a running gag that has him seen from
the point of view of other characters talking to inanimate objects.
Another gag is that of the invisible Jennifer destroying something in
the house every time Joey’s father (Brandon Taggart of CHRISTMAS EVIL),
who’s not a fan of Jennifer, disparages her memory.
Episode four begins with a fun special
effect: a tiny Jennifer sitting in Joey’s pantry. It’s all downhill from
Episode 5 finds Joey looking to come up with
$100. He and his dad decide to auction off Jennifer’s old stuff. She
agrees to let Joey sell the contents of an old trunk, inside which he
finds an old calendar featuring Jennifer in nude poses. Sadly we don’t
get to see any of those pictures, although we do get a fun shot of a
tiny Jennifer crawling around the strings of a piano looking for the
calendar. Joey’s dad, it transpires, has hidden it.
Episode 6: In the beginning of this episode
we get a look at Ann Jillian in tights and leg warmers--she’s levitating
in the attic and Joey’s parents catch him chatting with her. This leads
his dad to call in an exorcist played by
POLTERGEIST’S Zelda Rubinstein, who
performs a goofy exorcism involving odor eaters, a weed whacker and a
toilet plunger. It works somehow, causing Jennifer to become shut in a
jar. Joey releases her, but she’s unable to walk through walls…and about
to vanish forever. Or so she claims. Turns out she’s just trying to get
Joey to admit his affection for her. Joey has the final line: “I’d kill
you if you weren’t already dead!”
Episode 8: This episode begins with Ann
Jillian showing up in a martial arts robe. She’s studying Karate, which
comes in handy when a bully picks on Joey. The invisible Jennifer beats
the Hell out of the guy and Joey takes the credit.
In episode 9 Joey is left alone in the house when his folks take off on a road trip. He invites Marc over for a party but calls it off when the latter crashes a boat through the living room. Joey calls a repairman who agrees to fix up the room, but in exchange turns the house into an illegal gambling den. Jennifer again intervenes to make things right, by influencing the dice on a craps table so Joey wins all the gamblers’ money and then calling in a squad of ghost cops to take the scumbags away.
Episode 10: This episode is particularly
annoying in the way director Alan Myerson constantly breaks up the
action with close ups of cast members smiling. It has Doug, an old flame
of Jennifer’s, dying and joining her as a ghost. They decide to hold a
ghost wedding at the same time Joey’s parents are getting remarried
(couples were always renewing their vows in 1970’s/80’s era
TV--practically every episode of EIGHT IS ENOUGH, you’ll recall,
concluded with a wedding).
Episode 11 is by far the deadliest of them
all. It begins with Joey’s inventor grandfather Barney showing up to
stay in the attic where Jennifer usually hangs out. She moves into
Joey’s room and becomes irked at how Joey and his parents ignore the old
man. But then one of Barney’s inventions blows up and he joins Jennifer
as a ghost. The two have a weepy one-on-one, talking in low voices about
how Jennifer was a “wonderful actress” and Barney a “wonderful
Episode 12: Joey’s folks walk in on him
playing ping pong with the invisible Jennifer, which somehow inspires
them to get Joey a history tutor. Said tutor turns out to be a hot
brunette named Pam (Gail Edwards). Jennifer becomes jealous and
interrupts the tutoring sessions in unique ways, such as superimposing
her head over George Washington’s in a history book.
Episode 13 is the final episode. Joey starts
up a diary, which his little sister reads. She promptly tells her
parents about Joey’s relationship with Jennifer, and they come to
believe he “doesn‘t have both oars in the water.” Joey himself begins to
suspect Jennifer may not be real, so she proves her existence by making
silverware move around on the dinner table and pouring milk in Joey’s
And so ended JENNIFER SLEPT HERE. Like I said, it was a dumb show, though for eighties nostalgiacists (i.e. me) it’s a hoot. And anyway, just wait, as the REAL awfulness is coming up--in a few weeks I plan on writing an overview of another eighties TV disaster: MANIMAL! Be afraid, be very afraid!