“…Til the one day when the lady met this fellow, and they knew that it was much more than a hunch
that this group must somehow form a family. That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.”
Sept 26th, 2019 Marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of The Brady Bunch.
Has it really been 50 years? Nothing make me feel as old as when a film or television show I watched as a kid celebrates some grand anniversary milestone. It’s like birthdays without the ice cream cake. On September 26th, The Brady Bunch celebrate its 50th anniversary. And we’re talking about The Brady Bunch 50th Anniversary TV & Movie Collection. They call it the Bradiest collection ever, and that’s no exaggeration. The 31-disc collection features just about anything that was ever associated with the name Brady. I’m surprised there isn’t a complete collection of New England Patriot football games for the last decade or so. What you will get is pretty impressive:
You get all five seasons of the original television itself with some commentaries by creator Sherwood Schwartz himself as well as members of the Brady clan. That’s 117 episodes of Brady. For me going back to those very first episodes was a bit of a culture shock. The show was planted firmly in its time. From 1969 to 1974, the series was very much anchored into its place in time. More than that, the show began to influence and insert itself just as firmly in becoming a part of that very same culture. The theme song is pretty much known by anyone who has ever lived from that era to today. You don’t have to have ever watched an episode to know it. I was a young kid when I last watched any of these episodes, but it’s amazing how much of it came back. It was also a bit of a shock seeing the kids so young in those first season episodes. In these five seasons the clan grows up, and there’s a rather dramatic difference in how they look and act over those years.
The story itself is simple. The theme song pretty much sums it all up. Mike Brady was played by Robert Reed. Mike was an architect and had three sons named Bobby (Lookinland), Peter (Knight), and Greg (Williams) going from youngest to oldest. He also had a housekeeper named Alice, played by Ann B. Davis. In the pilot, he marries Carol Brady, played by Florence Henderson. In the kind of coincidence you might only find in Hollywood, she had three daughters named Cindy (Olsen), Jan (Plumb), and Marcia (McCormick). In that first season the stories were more or less about the large family learning to be together. Many of the stories would pit the boys against the girls. After that first season there was less of the “new” family dynamic, and the group very much settled into a routine that has gone on for 50 years. The show still plays in syndication all over the world and has enjoyed spin-off shows, movies, and specials that are still going on. Most of those shows are found in this collection.
You get all of the episodes of both spin-off shows here. Unfortunately, they didn’t last very long, and it isn’t hard to see why. Both shows appear to be forced and never really carry on any of the kinds of dynamics and stories that made the original show the cultural icon that it was and still is.
The first series came in 1981 and was called The Brady Brides. There were seven episodes, including a 90-minute pilot. When Jan (Plumb) wants to marry her long-time boyfriend Philip (Kuhlman), her parents (Reed/Henderson) aren’t as excited as she hoped. They still believe in a kind of tradition where the oldest girl should be married first. That’s going to become a problem until it isn’t. Marcia (McCormick) runs into a rather wacky guy named Wally (Houser) who boldly sits at her lunch table and in minutes he’s joking about them getting married. She ends up finding him charming, and before you know it, she’s also telling her parents about being engaged. Before you can say Brady Bunch sequel, it’s a double wedding. The two couples decide to buy a house together, where we get something more akin to The Odd Couple than The Brady Bunch. Wally works as a sales rep and designer at a toy company and pretty much lives in the moment. Philip is a science professor and has a somewhat aristocratic demeanor, and the two mix about as well as oil and water. While the rest of the Brady clan all made cameos in the pilot, only Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis would appear in episodes of the show.
It took 10 years for another show to arrive. In 1990 we got The Bradys. The show starts with the family all at their own places cheering Bobby (Lookinland), who is racing in a big championship race. He has a horrible accident that puts him in a wheelchair and understandably depressed. The show ran for five feature-length episodes and did star the entire clan with the exception of Leah Ayres, who filled in for McCormick as Marcia. With all of the characters back, the show really focused on Carol and Mike dealing with their grandkids. Mike ends up going into politics when he can’t get results from his city councilman. There was more potential to this show, but with so many characters, including grandkids, it never really formed into a cohesive kind of show and just couldn’t compete.
While the original show was on the air, the studio attempted to capitalize on the notice the kids were getting for a couple of musical episodes on the show. Folks started seeing some money in presenting the kids as a kind of singing group. Remember, this was the era of bubblegum pop, with The Partridge Family, The Monkees and The Archies. The Saturday morning cartoon landscape was also starting to move in the bubblegum pop movement, and with shows like Josie & The Pussycats dominating both television and radio it was decided to give the kids there own cartoon show. The Brady Kids was complete fantasy and did not connect with the live-action show at all. The kids form a rock band and go on tour with a talking parrot who was actually a wizard and a couple of panda cubs. The adventures were silly, and the show featured them playing songs. It all lasted for a little more than a season and delivered 22 half-hour episodes, and they are all found here in this collection.
The collection also includes five films made in connection with The Bradys:
A Very Brady Christmas (1988)
This would be the only film to feature the original cast. Once again the complete cast assembled with the exception of Susan Olsen. Jennifer Runyon filled in for the youngest girl. The film begins with both Carol and Mike each trying to surprise the other with exotic vacation trips for Christmas. When their plans are finally discovered, they decide to use the money to bring the now scattered Brady clan home for the holidays. Each of the kids have something else going on, but they all give in and gather at the Brady house for Christmas. It all ends with a daring rescue of people stuck in a building collapse by Mike and a Christmas feast where they all reveal things they’ve been hiding or keeping inside.
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
Once the original cast was finished with spin-offs and reunions, it was decided to reboot the family for the big screen. Bob Cole was cast as Mike Brady, and Shelley Long would take over as Carol. All of the kids were also recast, and the film was released for Valentine’s Day in 1995.
The film was really a spoof and not a serious attempt to recreate the series itself. All of the characters were caricatures of the original. Cole was pretty much trying to chew up scenery with his very exaggerated Mike Brady, and the plot was really just some elements from the show that were thrown together with little story connecting it all. The main plot, if you could call it that, was a move to take the Brady house for a development deal. Mike and Carol are the lone holdouts, and now they need $20,000 to keep their home from a tax frame. Of course, the kids enter a talent contest to save the family home.
A Very Brady Sequel (1996)
The first film pulled in a modest $46-million box office take. It wasn’t huge, but on basically a television show budget, it was enough to try again the very next year. The same cast pretty much rejoined for the film, and the idea was pretty much the same. Episode elements combined with a thin main story to drive the narrative. This one starts with an Indiana Jones kind of adventure. An explorer finds a valuable horse statue, and bad guys are almost on him, so he mails it home to his wife Carol before they can get to him. We jump years later and discover that the $20 million horse is the same one that has decorated the Brady home since the beginning. Of course, they are oblivious to its value. Now Tim Matheson stars as a con artist who poses as Carol believed-dead husband to get inside the home and steal the horse. It’s beyond silly. Even the animated series gets an homage here when Matheson eats some special mushrooms and has a bit of a trip. Tons of other era television is also planted throughout the movie including Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I., Gilligan’s Island, and even I Dream Of Jeannie.
The Brady Bunch In The Whitehouse (2002)
The sequel only brought in half the box office, and the series of films was already beyond its expiration date. But six years later, it was decided to bring Cole and Long back together for a final attempt. There was no talk of having a theatrical release this time, and it went straight to television and home video. This time Bobby finds a lottery ticket in an abandoned building while rescuing a cat. The ticket ends up winning $20 million, and the Brady’s embark on a national hunt for the “rightful” owner of the ticket. They plan to identify the winner by asking what was written on the back of the ticket. The answer was a 900 sex line, and people line up trying to guess the answer. No one comes forward, and no one will. The “rightful” owner only discovers he won on his way to the electric chair. Mike decides to donate the money for retired architects rather than keep it. Their honest earns then nationwide attention and an award from the president of the United States.
When scandal threatens President Randolph (Nichols), Mike ends up his vice-president and soon president. He puts Carol in as his V.P., violating the Constitutional provision that these two offices cannot be held by residents of the same state. Saul Rubinek guest stars as Sal Astor, a guy who really wanted that slot.
This would be the last of the Bob Cole/Shelley Long films.
Growing Up Brady (2000)
This film was based on a book written by the original Greg Brady, Barry Williams. The book covered the years the show was on the air and featured some really personal looks behind the scenes of the show’s production. So this film doesn’t feature the characters so much as the actors on the show. Williams narrates, and we go inside the family. The cast was notable because it featured two future stars. Adam Brody played Barry Williams, and The Big Bang’s Kaley Cuoco played Maureen McCormick (Marcia). Scott Lookinland is the son of Mike Lookinland and plays his father here (Bobby). Michael Tucker plays Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of the series. In the film’s final moments, Barry Williams and the real Schwartz meet in the film stage where the show was shot.
There are some good insights here. The film spends considerable time on how agents and managers got inside the heads of the kids and pushed them more into the musical career and eventually negotiated them all out of a job. There’s time spent on Robert Reeds unhappiness doing the show. He often fought with Schwartz and threw more than a few temper tantrums. But he did really love the kids and tried his best to look after them.
The show spends too much time on the relationship between Williams and McCormick. Yes, there were some “juicy” moments between them, but the film spends way too much time on what was really not that big of a deal. Williams’ narration wants us to believe it’s the one question he gets all of the time. For production budget’s sake, the first kiss was moved from Hawaii to a limo.
So ends the story of that man named Brady and the whole Brady Bunch. But not really. There is now talk of yet another reboot, and the family’s house has been front and center on one of those renovation shows. A Very Brady Renovation features many of the kids, and is running now, so not included in this set. There’s 50 years of Brady here, and it will take quite a while to go through it all. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary? The Bradys certainly had their flaws, and the films are often pure schlock. The kids might not have been your typical 1970’s American kids, and they certainly weren’t the symbols of virtue many television kids before them were represented to be. “If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a perfect kid. And SIX of ’em, yecch!”