A Brady Too Far
Now don't get me wrong. I love the Bradys. I love playing Name That Episode. I love the hour long, to-be-continued episodes: Grand Canyon camping, the ghost town lock-up, Vincent Price in Hawaii. I love how what I sincerely saw as intriguing plot developments 20 years ago (when the Bradys had already become afternoon reruns on our independent TV stations) now can be enjoyed again as cheesy impossibilities on Nick At Nite. I'm intrigued by the behind-the-scenes drama, the "incestuous" relationships, the sound and the fury of Bradymusic. I've been there for every Brady spin-off, reunion, documentary, interview, parody and for a few guest appearances on VH-1's 7 Days of 70s. I understand.
But I've recently started to question the endlessness of Bradymania. I've performed a self-intervention and decided I'm takin' it to the streets because America is a nation desperately unable to get over the death of a sitcom 30 years ago. It's finished. When will we, as a people, be able to face it? We need to move on and obsessively reminisce over some other defunct show. Life goes on. I think. This year, a whole new slew of Brady nostalgia came upon us. This May, every network seemed to think Brady nostalgia was their answer to this year's sweeps month.
Brady Bunch: The Final Days (May 6 on Fox) focused on the last, tumultuous days of the white-washed depiction of this happy, blended family and Mr. Brady's ugly confrontations with Sherwood Schwartz (the show's creator and writer). In this movie, Mr. Brady is portrayed as a loving father figure to the cast, but a tormented soul, unchallenged and uninspired by Sherwood's two-dimensional scripts.
Sherwood and Son, on the other hand, are portrayed as bad, manipulative TV hacks who can't understand what the heck Brady has got his briefs in a jam about. In the final episodes, The Mike Brady/Sherwood Schwartz conflict comes to a head when Brady refuses to work until changes to the script are made. Short of having him thrown off the set, the last episode, the hair tonic episode, is filmed without a Dad. Brady cancellation is almost done as a retaliation against the disgruntled Brady Pop and the Brady Pups who were hankering for better contracts anyway.
Headliners and Legends: The Brady Bunch (May 20 on MSNBC) was strictly documentary footage and interviews. This was the first serious documentary I've seen on Life as a Brady (except for the docu-spoof on Nick at Nite years ago). There's something signature about every Brady reunion show and this one was no exception. There's always a stand-in Brady. Someone in every single post-Brady Bunch reunion show blows off the project...and it's never the same Bradigan from reunion to reunion! One year it's Jan, the next it's Marsha, then Peter...almost as if it were bad luck to reassemble a complete Brady cast again for fear of apocalyptic retribution from the God of cult TV. This show's interviews were missing Mike (understandably), Jan and Marsha. Marsha's very moody about her Brady heritage and Jan has always had an attitude about being Brady, even during the original episodes.
Growing Up Brady (May 21 on NBC) was not as engaging as the cheap Fox production earlier in the month despite cameos by Greg and Bobby and the blood-line casting of Scott Michael Lookinland as Bobby. Sherwood, played here by L.A. Law's Michael Tucker, was portrayed as a gentle father-figure in this version. He was hands-on and patient with the ever-scowling Mr. Brady. This movie covers the infamous Greg and Carol date, one story that has been beaten into the ground ever since it was first told by Barry Williams in his book, Growing Up Brady. Nothing happened. It's a 'so-what' story. The sexy bedroom scene between Marsha and Greg is covered again (with an overabundance of sweet sensitivity), the Brady music tours are covered, as are the kiddy contract disputes. The pilot episode is badly recreated. And Tiger is completely miscast. Brady cancellation in this version is a bittersweet affair for Schwartz. He's tired of the Brady grind and he wants to end on top.
Disturbingly, the two Brady movies seemed to be in a war over the interpretation of Robert Reed and Sherwood Schwartz, a case of dueling father figures. Who ya gonna believe? Could Papa Brady be a bad guy? I don't think so.
After watching the trilogy of Brady, I would have to say that the Headliners and Legends documentary was the most informative. The Final Days was the best of the two movies, possibly due to lowered ambitions. With their low-rent cast, this movie didn't try to cover too much ground instead providing a close-up of the final conflict between Schwartz and Reed, yet still capturing the full complexity of the backstage escapades: Marsha's and Greg's racy bedroom scene (this version is much seedier, insinuating a junior Schwartz tried to get Greg to hook up with some other leggy blonde in order to get over his lusty thoughts for Marsha). Growing Up Brady was all over the map and ended up as disjointed as every other bio-drama out there.
But all Brady recreations and retrospectives are essentially bad. Here's the thing: we can all bond over Brady. We all watched it. As for other after-school shows: it's a crap shoot. I watched Good Times, you watched Happy Days. We'll never see eye to eye on those. But that nutty Bunch 'o Bradys were on everywhere. That and Bugs Bunny may be the only thing all of us truly have in common. And maybe that's why the ratings meisters demand resurrecting the ghost of it over and over again. Six years from now are we gonna have to watch a new wave of Bradymania? Before that happens, we should seriously question where it all will end.
There's something missing in every Brady incarnation: chemistry, which explains much about why the Bradys have become such a cult-phenomenon and further underscores the fact that no amount of Brady-crazed programming will bring the Bradys back. And I know, because I loved them too. But we have to let go. And not look back. Because a second-hand Brady is no Brady at all.
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