BradyBunchcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes
1969-74, 2,980 min. (117 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be G)
CBS/Paramount
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Includes: 20 discs in sturdy plastic case w/cardboard slipcase
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

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.

There were conflicts over clubhouses, shared things and spaces, class elections, invented boyfriends, broken things that had to be replaced, and even talent shows. Drugs? Not here. Peer pressure to smoke? Only briefly. Teen pregnancy? Please! 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 BradyBunchscreen1second-chance family life probably struck a chord with broken families. The range of the Brady children’s ages (7 through 14, when the show began) was broad enough for most 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 . . . before TV sitcom families would start spouting one-liners and zapping each other with zingers, before families (or rather, writers) got “hip.”  

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. Maybe that’s why, 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.

BradyBunchscreen2It will 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. Is it dated? Certainly. But now that’s part of the fun, part of what makes it an entertaining show. The Bradys 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 at 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 that watched the Brady kids grow up right before their eyes. By the fifth season, the child actors had grown so old that Williams 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 in one episode. 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 series by the fifth season, but adults probably will have had their fill by the third. Later 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 racism. But the series really jumped the shark when the producers brought in a young kid to be the new live-in honorary Brady, Cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist).

Still, this is one wholesome, classic American TV series that remains perfect for family viewing, with plenty of warmth and laughs . . . some of them intentional. A word on the space-saving packaging: With this set, which is housed in a newly designed hard plastic case with single discs on single-page spindles to keep them from getting scratched, you really only save the width of one standard DVD case. So if you already have Seasons 1-5 with the individual hologram covers, there’s no need to upgrade, if that’s your only motivation.

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