Tragically, The Brady Bunch is one of the most frequently-maligned sitcoms of all time. Critics hated it from the get-go, and tossed out all the mean adjectives their thesauruses had to offer: zingers like “juvenile,” “shallow,” “na’ve” and “unrealistic.” But critics rarely cop to a campy guilty pleasure, and their lives are probably the worse for it, too. Who doesn’t want to take part in the ‘favorite Brady episode’ discussion? Who doesn’t want to ruminate about the trials and tribulations those Brady kids endured…their joys, their triumphs, their pigtails, their bellbottoms and their lisps? Whether you can freely admit your appreciation of the show, or you claim higher art as your calling (but then secretly watch the reruns late at night), The Brady Bunch is somehow ingrained in your television consciousness.
The show focused on a family constructed from the remnants of two previous families. Widower father Mike had three sons: Greg, Peter, and Bobby. Widowed mom Carol brought three daughters into the mix: Marcia, Jan and Cindy. They were also blessed with a wise and super-efficient housekeeper, Alice. Sam the Butcher, the eventual beau for Alice, popped up on occasion. The reconfigured family settled down in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house in the San Fernando Valley for five seasons’ worth of comedic misadventures and heartwarming morals.
The show’s plotlines were always simple, which was a big gripe with the critics. Typical episodes included ‘Kitty Carry-All is Missing,’ in which Cindy accuses Bobby of stealing her favorite doll after it goes missing, and “Sorry Right Number,” in which Mike installs a pay phone to cut down on the kid’s phone bills.
Despite the simplicity of the episodes’ stories, they often had a surprisingly strong emotional undercurrent. In particular, Jan’s inner turmoil over being a middle-child made for some memorable moments. Two unforgettable examples were ‘The Not-So-Ugly Duckling,’ in which Jan created an imaginary boyfriend to save face when Marcia won the affections of the real boy she wanted, and ‘Will The Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?,’ in which Jan buys an outrageous wig for a party because she doesn’t feel glamorous enough.
The other kids had their moments of emotional and social crisis, as well. The always pretty and popular Marcia suffered a memorable blow to her ego in ‘The Subject Was Noses’ when she was accidentally given a broken nose by a wayward football pass right before a big date. A memorable episode involving life-lessons for all the Brady kids was ‘Vote For Brady,’ in which the male and female Brady kids took sides against each other when Marcia and Greg both decided to run for student body president. However, the show never tackled a problem so big that it couldn’t be solved by Mike, Carol or Alice by the end of the half-hour.
As the ratings began to lag, the show introduced a new kid: Cousin Oliver. He came to visit while his parents were on a trip and proceeded to reveal himself as a unintentionally-mischievous ‘jinx.’ His episodes had some of the daffiest plotting in the series’ history, especially ‘Top Secret,’ in which Bobby and Oliver become convinced that Mike and Sam are involved in a spy plot. Oliver’s addition did turn out to be a genuine jinx, because five episodes and one enormous pie fight later, The Brady Bunch was cancelled.
Despite spending five successful seasons perched consistently in the Top 25, The Brady Bunch was never the biggest show on television during its initial run. After its cancellation, the show immediately ascended to re-run heaven and has played continuously ever since. After maintaining a hallowed presence on daytime television for over a quarter century, the show has become downright mythic in stature. Although some non-believers still marvel at the Bradys’ continued popularity, they are clearly in the minority. Like Lucy and Star Trek before them, the The Brady Bunch are here to stay.
During its original run, the show’s innocence and simplicity were endearing to many during an otherwise turbulent time. The Brady Bunch also provided an idealized vision of family that is and has always been comforting to viewers of all ages. This is key to its continued longevity: as long as people have to deal with the issues of being in a family, there will always be a place for The Brady Bunch on the airwaves.
The Brady Bunch inspired a number of spin-offs over the years. The first was The Brady Kids, an animated series that ran on Saturday mornings from 1972 to 1974. Another prime-time series arrived in the form of The Brady Bunch Hour, a surreal mixture of domestic comedy and variety show that was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft.
There were two additional prime-time series: The first was The Brady Brides, a sitcom from 1981 that was an outgrowth of a special called The Brady Girls Get Married. The second was The Bradys, a short-lived 1990 stab at transforming the show into a serious drama. A stand-alone television film called A Very Brady Christmas was made in 1988. The original series was also successfully transformed into a feature-film series with a new cast. The Brady Bunch Movie was released in 1995 and followed the next year by A Very Brady Sequel. These were set in the 90’s but had the Brady’s acting as if it was still the 1970’s.
So you might as well just go ahead and admit it: You’re susceptible to the Brady charm. With all of these incarnations, with the show’s endless, endless syndication…why fight it? Instead of battling a pop culture behemoth, take a deep breath, let that opening theme song wash over you, and start prepping for the next watercooler discussion or cocktail party debate. Because believe us, which Brady vacation adventure was the most exciting, or whether Greg truly deserved that attic bedroom…forget global warming, these are the topics that are going to be debated for years to come.
Theme song lyrics
“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady,
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls…
’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!’
“The fact that The Brady Bunch kids were created from two different marriages made them radically different from any other TV family” – Creator Sherwood Schwartz
USA / ABC – Paramount / 117×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 26 September 1969 – 30 August 1974
Creator/Executive Producer: Sherwood Schwartz / Producer: Howard Leeds, Lloyd J Schwartz
Robert Reed as Michael Paul ‘Mike’ Brady
Florence Henderson as Carol Ann Brady
Barry Williams as Greg Brady
Maureen McCormick as Marcia Brady
Christopher Knight as Peter Brady
Eve Plumb as Jan Brady
Mike Lookinland as Bobby Brady
Susan Olsen as Cindy Brady
Ann B. Davis as Alice Nelson
Robbie Rist as Cousin Oliver (1974)
Allan Melvin as Sam Franklin