Grade:  B-
Comedy
Rated PG-13

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? Oh behave! 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, to help them find their way. The theme song explained the premise:

“Here’s the story . . . of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother,
The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the story . . . of a many named Brady,
Who was busy . . . with three boys of his own.
They were four men, living all together,
Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow,
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch
That this group would somehow form a family,
That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.”

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. Plus, 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 became a cultural icon. During the first year of COVID-19 it was common to see people posting Zoom shots of their families that mimicked the show’s opening.

All cultural icons are ripe for parody, and The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)went right for what made the TV show distinctive:  its retro wholesomeness. Both The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel (1996) poked fun of how squeaky-clean out-of-touch-with-the-times this family was, and how others around them were astounded by their collective naivete. People look at the Bradys as if they were aliens, and it’s the discrepancy between Brady values and current values that’s the source of much of the humor. There are also plenty of spot-on Brady highlights in the films, like Marcia getting hit on the nose with a football, Jan dealing with “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” middle-sis blues and inventing imaginary boyfriend George Glass, Greg and Marcia sharing an attic space (and a few uncomfortable but still wholseomely depicted “feelings,”) Cindy’s speech impediment and attachment to her Kitty Carry-all doll, Bobby’s “detective” work, those “groovy threads” and the Brady kids’ singing, and that inexplicable gigantic horse statue that anchored the main entrance to the Brady house.

The casting and costume design are also a highlight, with Gary Cole nailing all the Mike Brady mannerisms and dadisms, Shelley Long rocking the Carol Brady hairdo, Christine Taylor a dead-ringer for the original Marcia, Jennifer Elise Cox having fun with the Jan role, and Olivia Hack as Cindy, with the boys played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, Paul Sutera, and Jesse Lee Soffer. 

Betty Thomas—familiar to TV Land as Sgt. Lucy Bates in Hill Street Blues—directed the first Brady movie parody, while Arlene Sanford, whose directing credits include Desperate Housewives, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal, directed the second film. The sequel takes the family to Hawaii (yes, the bad-luck Tiki makes an appearance) and also borrows a plot from the old James Garner-Doris Day film Move Over Darling, about a missing-and-presumed-dead husband who returns to complicate life. Henriette Mantel even does a pretty good Alice impersonation.

Though both films pull down PG-13 ratings, they’re still clean enough for most kids who’ve watched the old TV show, especially given the content of most movies today. The innuendos will fly over most young kids’ heads.

Entire family:  Yes (but see below)
Run times:  90 min. each
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 5.1
Studio/Distributor:  Paramount
Bonus features:  n/a
Trailer 1
Trailer 2
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for racy innuendo (tongue-in-cheek) and some drug content

Language:  2/10—None of the Bradys swear, but there might be a lesser profanity or two from background characters

Sex:  4/10—Lots of innuendo, and in the second film older teens Greg and Marcia find themselves fighting an awkward physical attraction to each other—nothing shown, just silhouettes behind a screen, no worse than It Happened One Night

Violence:  2/10—Nothing much here except for a come-uppance punishment or two

Adult situations:  4/10—There’s all that innuendo and Carol finds herself with two husbands, but mostly it’s the clash between wholesome Bradys and the world of 1995-96

Takeaway: You don’t absolutely have to have seen the original TV series to enjoy these films, but you’d be doing your children a favor if you had them watch at least a few episodes of The Brady Bunch on one of the streaming platforms; after all, a parody is funnier when you get all the references