"The Brady Bunch" was one of the very last squeaky-clean family sitcoms in the old '50s mold, airing as an anachronism of sorts during the Vietnam War years amid the chaos of Civil Rights, women's rights, and anti-war protests. But in the Brady household, father Mike, a working architect, was still king of the castle with a den all his own, while his wife, Carol, was a stay-at-home mom who had the luxury of a servant. The children got into all sorts of minor conflicts and mischief, but none of the storylines tackled serious parental concerns of the day. Everything was sibling rivalry and innocent mix-ups. Drugs? Not here. Peer pressure to smoke? Only briefly. Teen pregnancy? Please! And while other teens from the time were raiding their parents' liquor cabinets, this group was content to raid the cookie jar. No one got into really serious trouble, and there was usually a lesson to be learned . . . from dad. When he wasn't around, there was always mom or Alice, the housekeeper/cook (Ann B. Davis), to help them find their way.
First telecast on Sept 26, 1969, the show was a surprise hit, no doubt because it felt like comfort food to Americans who snuggled together during a turbulent era to watch and relive happier, more uncomplicated times. Divorce was becoming a widespread phenomenon for the first time, and the show about second-chance family life probably struck a chord with broken families. And the range of the Brady children's ages (7 through 14, when the show began) was broad enough for a wide range of youngsters to identify with. Airing on Friday nights, the show connected especially with children too young to have a social life, or, like the Bradys, too awkward and introverted. "The Brady Bunch" never finished in the Nielsen Top-30 and never won any Emmys, yet the show has become a cultural icon, lampooned in two feature films and held up as an example of one of the last wholesome family sitcoms to be telecast. "The Brady Bunch" was a gentle reality sitcom, one of the last we'd see before TV sitcom families would start spouting one-liners and zapping each other with zingers—before families got "hip."
It should come as no surprise that Sherwood Schwartz, the man who brought viewers "Gilligan's Island," was responsible for this tale of a blended family stranded together under a single, sometimes straining-at-the-seams roof. That's because their antics can seem just as corny as Gilligan and the Skipper's.
Robert Reed starred as Everyfather Mike Brady, with singer Florence Henderson finding the right pitch as Carol Brady. They clicked as a couple and were believable as former single parents of three (he, three boys, and she, three girls) who married and combined their broods. People who study birth order behavior will be hard-pressed to find anything askew here. The oldest—Greg (Barry Williams) and Marcia (Maureen McCormick)—often take the center stage, as siblings are apt to do in real life. The youngest—Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen)—struggle to shed the "baby" image. The middle children, meanwhile—Peter (Christopher Knight) and Jan (Eve Plumb)—have to work overtime to create a niche for themselves. As corny as the shows were, and as naively clean-cut as the Bradys seemed during the show's five-year run, audiences kept coming back for more—even when the show went to daytime syndication.
The first season, many of the episodes dealt with the problems of adjustment—Mike and the boys, and Carol and the girls, learning to live with each other. This second season, the episodes have more to do with the children finding their individual selves.
Here's how the episodes from the 1970-71 season stack up on this four-disc set:
1) "The Dropout"—Former L.A. Dodgers pitching great Don Drysdale guests in an episode where Greg and his ego decide to drop out of school and pursue a career in baseball.
2) "The Babysitters"—Greg and Marcia team up as babysitters at home, with ultimate success . . . if you don't count a phone call to the police and a wary visit from mom and dad.
3) "The Slumber Caper"—When Marcia is accused of badmouthing one of her teachers and may lose her slumber party privileges, no one is more upset than the Brady boys, who were poised with itching powder and itching to put some in the girls' sleeping bags.
4) "The Un-Underground Movie"—A goofy episode where the whole Brady bunch dresses up as Pilgrims for a film Greg is producing for a school assignment. Even Fellini didn't have to contend with actors like this!
5) "Going, Going . . . Steady"—When Marcia starts faking a love of bugs to cozy up to budding entomologist Harvey Klinger, Carol wonders if she should swat away any ideas Marcia might have of dating at so young an age.
6) "Call Me Irresponsible"—A frequently shown episode in syndication, this one involves Greg learning responsibility by running architectural errands for his dad on bicycle (and losing some important plans).
7) "The Treasure of Sierra Avenue"—Bobby finds a wallet with over $1000 in it, but there are bogeys at 11 o'clock when he decides to share it only with his brothers.
8) "A Fistful of Reasons"—When a neighborhood bully teases Cindy about her lisp and punches out Bobby when he tries to defend her, Mike decides it's time for his son to learn a little self-defense.
9) "The Not-So-Ugly Duckling"—A classic episode where Jan has a crush on a boy who instead falls for her sister ("Why is it always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia???") and to save face she creates an imaginary boyfriend transparently named "George Glass."
10) "The Tattle-Tale"—Little pitchers have big ears, but Cindy also has a big mouth. She repeats sensitive information overheard from family members' conversations, which gets them all mad and jeopardizes Alice's relationship with Sam the butcher.
11) "What Goes Up . . ."—Bobby sprains his ankle climbing Peter's tree house and develops a fear of heights. Another frequently aired episode.
12) "Confessions, Confession"—Carol's vase gets broken, and the rest of the kids decide to cover up for Peter so he can go on the weekend camping trip.
13) "The Impractical Joker"—Jan turns prankster in this episode, but the joke's on her when she's almost responsible for Greg's science project mouse going belly-up.
14) "Where There's Smoke"—This is the "Clowns never laughed before . . ." episode, where Greg sings the worst ballad ever written and turns bad boy . . . by smoking.
15) "Will the Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?"—Another classic, where Jan buys a black wig in order to attract attention as The New Jan Brady and attracts only laughter.
16) "The Drummer Boy"—Everyone's annoyed when Bobby takes up the drums after failing to make the glee club, and Peter, who did make it, thinks about quitting when his football teammates tease him. Former L.A. Rams standout Deacon Jones has a cameo.
17) "Coming-Out Party"—Carol misses the boat when she and Cindy come down with tonsillitis (talk about coincidence) and she also manages to insult Mike's boss by calling his craft a "broken-down barnacle barge."
18) "Our Son, The Man"—Groovy! Greg dons shades and dresses mod to impress "chicks," even going so far as to turn dad's den into a bachelor pad. A classic.
19) "The Liberation of Marcia Brady"—Another classic, where Marcia speaks out for women's liberation on TV and puts her money where her mouth is by trying to join the all-male Frontier scouts . . . which inspires Peter to retaliate by joining the Sunflower Girls.
20) "Lights Out"—Cindy takes the spotlight when she develops a fear of the dark after watching a magician make a woman disappear.
21) "The Winner"—Cindy wins a jack tournament, which makes Bobby realize that he's the only trophy-less loser among them. The cure? Enter an ice cream eating contest.
22) "Double Parked"—When Mike's firm is hired to build a new courthouse on the site of a neighborhood park, Carol and the kids are at the head of the protest line. Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester, on "The Addams Family") guests.
23) "Alice's September Song"—An old flame turns up the heat in order to woo Alice away from Sam, but Mike isn't sure that everything that's cooking is kosher.
24) "Tell It Like It Is"—When Carol submits an article to a women's magazine and her depiction of Brady family life is rejected for not being positive enough, she sets out to get it right.
Video: The video quality is tough to assess. Just when I was ready to pronounce it better than the first season (with sharper clarity and less color bleed), then you get an episode with more graininess in it. The quality varies among the 24 episodes, which indicates that the condition of those episode masters also varies. The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and stretched to fit a widescreen TV it holds pretty well without too much distortion. To see each episode begin with a still shot of the group on the staircase and the multi-color subscript proclaiming "COLOR" will remind fans that this was a time when color was a big deal, and the set of "The Brady Bunch" was no doubt designed to showcase a wide variety of colors. It was still technically the '60s (which social-historians date between the Kennedy assassination and Nixon resignation), but even at that, this was a pretty square family to have such garish colors everywhere. It's a bright set, and the picture quality is such that it looks pretty darned good.
Audio: The audio is nothing special—a functional Dolby Digital Mono which delivers the dialogue without a whole lot of hiss, pop, or distortion.
Extras: Sorry. No extras.
Bottom Line: Fans of "The Brady Bunch" will no doubt want to get every season, and this one has a number of classics: "A Fistful of Reasons," "The Not-So-Ugly Duckling," "Where There's Smoke," "Will the Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?," "Our Son the Man," "The Liberation of Marcia Brady." Watch these, and you'll laugh even more when you rewatch the movie parodies.
DVD releases are another test of time, and this anachronistic show still holds the same mysterious appeal today as it did in the '70s. Younger children (ages 3-9) still find the antics of the Brady children amusing, and parents wanting to relive their own TV youth by sharing this show with their kids should find a willing and appreciative audience.