The Brady's were a lovable bunch, poised somewhere between those cherubs whose cheeks you want to pinch and the goody-two-shoes so out of touch with the way normal people behave that you want to laugh at them . . . or shake them.
Of course, that's what director Betty Thomas did in "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995), which poked enormous fun of this blended California family from the Seventies who acted like it was the Fifties. When they uttered a word like "groovy," it never sounded so interplanetary.
For five seasons, though, the Bradys found an appreciative audience, and an even larger one when the series entered into syndication years later. During times of stress, there's something to be said about simple entertainment, and it doesn't get any simpler than this show from Sherwood Schwartz, the man who gave us "Gilligan's Island." There was just something about widower Mike Brady (Robert Reed) and his three sons, Greg, Peter, and Bobby (Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, Mike Lookinland) hooking up with Carol (Florence Henderson) and her three daughters, Marcia, Jan, and Cindy (Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen) that drew people in. Maybe the spiraling divorce rate in the Seventies accounted for some of the show's popularity. After all, it was every kid's fantasy to have a whole family again. Whatever the reason, it's impossible to find an adult who watched the show as a kid who can't sing "The Brady Bunch" theme song by heart.
But by the fifth season, the child actors had grown older—Williams, so much so that he was rumored to be having a fling with onscreen stepmother Henderson, as well as a few close encounters with onscreen sibling McCormick. Cutesy scripts that used to be enough to force a smile were suddenly fitting everyone as awkwardly as the infamous Johnny Bravo suit that Greg tried on for size. It's one thing to watch little kids putting on a production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in their backyard, but teens? Kids will still love the fifth season's output, but the nostalgic meter will fall a bit if the adults watching are honest with themselves. The episodes this season showed that the writers were running out of gas, or else everyone knew that cancellation was coming, so why not do a bunch of goofy stuff. The episodes are a lot more far out . . . and that doesn't necessarily mean groovy. Peter has a double, they put on a play, they act in a film and throw pies at each other, they dress up for a UFO episode, they have dream sequences, and there's a show that uncharacteristically actually tackles an issue (racism). But the dead giveaway that something was up—make that down—was that the producers brought in a young kid to add to the cast. Not only did that acknowledge the Brady kids had gotten too old for "cute" to work, but it's also the sign of a TV show in trouble when you add a kid to the mix, as they did with the new live-in honorary Brady, Cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist).
There are 22 episodes on four discs in two plastic keep-cases, housed in a cardboard sleeve:
1) "Adios, Johnny Bravo"—In the most famous episode from this season, the kids' singing draws the attention of two rock promoters who are looking for a new star . . . someone to fit their expensive matador's suit. Claudia Jennings guests.
2)"Mail Order Hero"—Joe Namath turns up to save the day after Bobby brags to friends that he knows the Jets quarterback, when, of course, he doesn't.
3) "Snow White and the Seven Bradys"—Even chief cook and bottle-washer Alice (Ann B. Davis) gets into the act when the family stages a play in their backyard to raise money for a retirement gift for Cindy's teacher.
4) "Never Too Young"—Melissa Sue Anderson guests in an episode about Bobby's big kiss . . . which gives him the mumps and threatens to ruin the Bradys' Roaring '20s party.
5) "Peter and the Wolf"—Peter wears a fake mustache and pretends to be a groovy friend of Greg's instead of a younger brother so Greg can supply a date for his girlfriend's cousin.
6) "Getting Greg's Goat"—Dad did it, and unknowingly goads Greg to swipe the opposing team's goat . . . which, of course, ends up in the Brady house.
7) "Marcia Gets Creamed"—It's the great ice-cream job face-off as three Bradys get jobs at the same place, but one of them has to be let go.
8) "My Brother's Keeper"—It's the old owe-a-life routine, with Peter agreeing to be Bobby's slave for life after he saves him from a falling ladder.
9) "Quarterback Sneak"—Greg's football rival starts dating his sister, but it might just be so he can cop a peek at Greg's playbook.
10) "Try, Try Again"—Jan's self-esteem takes a beating again, this time when she can't seem to find her niche in dance, baton-twirling, or acting.
11) "The Cincinnati Kids"—It's road-trip time, with the Bradys going to King's Island amusement park in Ohio.
12) "The Elopement"—The kids get it wrong again when they overhear Alice and Sam (Allan Melvin) talking and guess they're getting married.
13) "Miss Popularity"—Jan turns into a monster while trying to become the most popular girl at school.
14) "Kelly's Kids"—Ken Berry and Brooke Bundy star as a couple whose rainbow coalition adopted kids cause a stir in the neighborhood.
15) "The Driver's Seat"—It's Marcia vs. Greg in bets involving men vs. women drivers.
16) "Out of This World"—Former astronaut James McDivitt guests in an episode where Peter and Bobby see an alien spacecraft (and everyone gets in costume again).
17) "Welcome Aboard"—Oliver joins the Brady Bunch, but everyone else thinks he's a jinx.
18) "Two Petes in a Pod"—Pete finds his double at another high school, and it causes him double trouble.
19) "Top Secret"—Bobby and Oliver somehow think Sam the butcher is a spy.
20) "The Snooperstar"—Cindy peeks at Marcia's diary, and Marcia gets back at her with a cruel joke. Natalie Schafer ("Gilligan's Island") guests.
21) "The Hustler"—Bobby turns out to be the best at the family's new pool table, and decides to become a shark. Another "Gilligan's Island" regular guests: Jim Backus.
22) "The Hairbrained Scheme"—Greg ends up with orange hair right before graduation.
Video: It's no surprise that the aspect ratio is 1.33:1, and the colors, as with previous releases, have pretty good saturation with very little overall graininess.
Audio: The audio is, as always, Dolby Digital Mono, but it's a relatively full-sounding Mono. No complaints.
Extras: Sorry fans, no extras. But this completes your collection. What more do you want?
Bottom Line: You know a show is a cult (short for "pop culture," in this case) favorite when the shows keep coming long after the original is laid to rest. An animated "Brady Kids" ran on Saturday mornings (1972-74), and ABC tried a variety format with a short-lived "Brady Bunch Hour" (1977). In a second wave of Bradys on the air, "A Very Brady Christmas" (1988) drew enough of an audience for CBS to gamble on a new "Bradys" series (1990), but it got the quickest hook of all because someone had the bright idea to try serious drama with this group. A third wave of Brady interest washed over fans with "The Brady Bunch Movie" and "The Brady Bunch Home Movies" TV-special which aired around the same time, and the satiric "A Very Brady Sequel" (1997). Then on TV came "The Unauthorized Brady Bunch" (2000), "The Brady Bunch in the White House" (2002), a 35th anniversary reunion special (2004), and two more specials in 2005.
Obviously, America isn't ready to let this family go. But there's no substitute for the original series. This final season may not be as strong as the first four, but it's still as Mom and apple pie as it gets.