Here's a puzzler for deep-thinkers to consider: What is it about "The Brady Bunch" kids—a goody-two-shoes group so unbelievably polite and well-behaved that they make the Cosby offspring look like delinquents—that endears them to children today, even though their actions and mindsets are galaxies apart? I mean, this is a group that begs to be made fun of—a group which, in fact, inspired two feature-film parodies that are hilariously on-target if you watch the originals. And it's not just the transference factor, where mom and dad like a show and the kids inherit their nostalgic affection, the way hapless offspring can become Cubs or Red Sox fans via a strange kind of familial predestination. When a new "Brady Bunch" DVD comes to the house, without any prompting from us, my kids want to watch it instantly, and spend their mornings and after-school moments with Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, and Bobby.
Frankly, I can't explain it. Then again, it's hard to explain the initial success of "The Brady Bunch," a show with Eisenhower values which aired during the Watergate and Vietnam era. Creator Sherwood Schwartz ("Gilligan's Island") had a knack for coming up with phenomenally and oddly popular shows—shows that, for all their simplicity, somehow managed to connect with viewers. While it's impossible to say, I suspect that "The Brady Bunch" provided a much-needed dose of idealism and diversion during a time when reality was so intense that it all but begged people to escape to a simpler time. But now?
Somehow, the show still connects. For adults, maybe it's because "The Brady Bunch" is a part of American pop culture. For kids, maybe it's that timeless sibling thing. If you've somehow missed seeing this iconic show, "The Brady Bunch" was a half-hour sitcom about a blended family in which a widowed architect (Robert Reed) raising three boys (Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland) married a woman (Florence Henderson) with three "lovely girls" (Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb, and Susan Olsen), while housekeeper Alice (Ann B. Davis) was a full-time unofficial family member and part-time referee. Like "The Andy Griffith Show" before them, this group's daily problems undoubtedly seemed sympathetically major to children, and so engagingly minor to adults compared to their own headaches that they could laugh and escape to a simpler world for a half hour. This family is so square that the square dance in their living room this season!
Season four has the classic three-part episode about the family's trip to Hawaii, with that bad-luck Tiki idol and guest shots by Hawaiian singer Don Ho and horror star Vincent Price. Then there's the episode where Marcia takes a football on the schnoz, and thanks to a black-and-blue swollen nose, learns a lesson about false popularity, and the equally classic episode where Peter acts all Cyrano after getting a crush on one of Jan's friends. "Sound of Music" alums Nicholas Hammond and Kym Karath guest in those, which is an unexpected bonus. Then there's the infamous show where Peter's volcano erupts all over Marcia's plans to join one of the most popular cliques in high school, and the so-hokey-it's-funny episode about a scaring contest between the boys and girls which sees Mr. Brady losing his head . . . or rather, the bust of him gets busted. Mr. Smooth, Greg Brady, has his hands full judging a head-cheerleading contest this season when the final position comes down to a choice between his latest girlfriend and sister Marcia. This season, Marcia also gets a crush on her dentist, Bobby goes bad cop when his safety monitor job goes to his whistle-blowing head, and Cindy's head swells when she beats out Bobby for a chance to appear on a quiz show.
Season four provides a good cross-section of episodes that seem more confident, perhaps, because the child actors have grown comfortable in their roles and the writers have stopped penning those "aren't they cute" moments that elevated every viewer's blood-sugar count to dangerous levels. There's also a singing episode, with the gang donning "groovy" matching outfits to appear on an amateur TV show in an effort to win money to pay for an anniversary present for their parents. Rounding out the season's classics is the episode where Greg has his sights set on moving into the attic in order to create a "bachelor's pad," while Marcia decides it's the room she needs. Well, shades of "It Happened One Night"! And hey, they're not really brother and sister.
Here's the complete rundown of the 23 episodes:
1-3) "Hawaii Bound," "Pass the Tabu," and "The Tiki Caves"—The Bradys go to Hawaii but things go awry when Bobby finds a Tiki and it comes with a curse. The boys try to return it, but run into a crazed archaeologist (Price).
4) "Today, I Am a Freshman"—Marsha joins practically every club in order to find friends and be popular, until Peter's volcano changes everything.
5) "Cyrano de Brady"—Peter has a crush on a girl who prefers Greg, and his siblings first sabotage him, then try to help him out.
6) "Fright Night"—It's sheet-ghost time as the gang tries to outscare each other.
7) "The Show Must Go On??"— Henderson gets back to her singing roots (albeit as an Ethel Merman clown clone) and Reed does stand-up in this episode where Mom and Dad Brady perform with the kids in a high school show.
8) "Jan, the Only Child"—When Jan wishes she was an only child, the other siblings give her a taste of what that would be like.
9) "Career Fever"—When Greg fakes an essay just to get it done, it raises his dad's hopes that his son might follow in his architect's footsteps.
10) "Goodbye, Alice, Hello"—A dump-Alice movement is underfoot, as the kids suspect that their trusted housekeeper-friend has become a tattle-tale.
11) "Greg's Triangle"—Greg has to choose between his sister and his girlfriend when he's asked to judge a cheerleading competition.
12) "Everyone Can't Be George Washington"—Peter tries to sabotage things after he's given the part of Benedict Arnold instead of Washington in the school play.
13) "Love and the Older Man"—Marcia falls for her dentist.
14) "Law and Disorder"—Bobby goes nuts when he's appointed safety monitor.
15) "Greg Gets Grounded"—Greg has a hot date but no wheels, but frog-gone it, he's going to figure out a way to keep that date.
16) "Amateur Night"—The kids sing "Sunshine Day" and "Keep On" on TV amateur hour in order to raise money to pay for their parents' anniversary gift.
17) "Bobby's Hero"—Jesse James is the bad guy in this episode about Bobby's misplaced hero worship.
18) "The Subject Was Noses"—Marcia has to choose between a nice guy and the star quarterback, and the nice guy wins by a nose . . . Marcia's bruised one.
19) "How to Succeed in Business"—Peter gets a job at the bicycle shop, but his attention to detail results in a backlog that all but ensures he's got to get fired.
20) "The Great Earring Caper"—Peter turns detective in order to help Cindy find a pair of lost earrings.
21) "You're Never Too Old"—It's matchmaker time as the Brady kids try to pair up one Grandma with another Grandpa (as Reed and Henderson play two roles in this corny episode).
22) "You Can't Win 'Em All"—Cindy beats Bobby for the right to appear on a quiz show, and it goes right to her suddenly gigantic head.
23) "Room at the Top"—Greg and Marcia battle over who gets the newly cleaned-out attic for a private bedroom.
Video: For the era, the film stock seems to have survived pretty well. With just minor graining, the picture is clear and the colors as saturated as a tie-dyed shirt. Decent quality, with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Audio: The audio is also decent this time around, with the only complaint being that the Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 tonal quality is slightly hollow, as if the characters were speaking on a soundstage. But of course this is laugh-track comedy, and the characters were on a soundstage.
Extras: Sorry would-be Bradys, there are no extras.
Bottom Line: The fourth season is quintessential Brady. This is the one that fans have been waiting for, and the one to buy if you can only own one season. If you watch this season, you'll be hip to all the gags on the two parody films.
I'm glad that my kids like "The Brady Bunch" so much. With medical experts blaming today's fast-paced, commercial-filled TV shows for much of our children's attention deficits, DVDs like this one can provide a much-needed change of pace. Life is slower in the Brady lane, plots are simpler, family members more overtly loving, and children are more polite and well-behaved. And at a time when so many eight year olds are over-programmed and walking around with cell phones pressed to their ears, that's not a bad lifestyle to model.