A Look Back: The Brady Bunch Movie

Sitcoms, when you’re a kid, tend to have a peculiar charm, as they don’t really resemble your actual family life or that of your friends. In a sitcom world, you may get the chance to observe strange new customs and rituals, but you always have the security of knowing that issues will be resolved in thirty minutes, certain problems will only crop up at certain times of the year, and very little can’t ultimately be resolved with a tidy moral and a laugh track, just so no one gets too bummed out.

When I was growing up, shows where the kids were raised by dads and dad figures were popular (which Freud would have a lot to say about), but before that, there was the Brady Bunch, bravely going where no TV stepfamily had gone before. In BradyWorld, pop stars manage to visit high school dances, good-looking un-related teens develop no sexual tension whatsoever living together, and there’s nothing more fun than an impromptu trip to Sears. Though of course, BradyWorld has a lot of things that don’t make a great deal of sense. Either you start realizing these things as you mature, or it’s left to someone in the house older and more jaded to point out such plot holes/conundrums as:

1. If Alice is the live-in full-time family maid, what does Mrs. Brady do all day? Surely, her hair appointment can’t take that long.

2. If Mr. Brady is such a great architect, why doesn’t he figure out a way to add on more bedrooms so six kids aren’t jammed into two rooms?

3. What happened to Tiger, the dog that was present in the early episodes?

In 1995, “The Brady Bunch Movie,” was released. Instead of placing the whole thing in the original era, the filmmakers went for the genius twist of having them living with their values intact in the nineties, untouched by such things as drugs, crime and political correctness. If their world is symbolic Astroturf, their neighbors’ is looking more than a bit grub-infested.

Gary Cole takes on the role of the head patriarch, Mike, channeling the passive-aggressive amiability he used for his “Office Space” role but without any of the smarm. Shelley Long plays his wife, perky Carol, who stands firmly behind her man, chirping “Your father’s right, kids!” even as his metaphors become hopelessly convoluted. Playing the junior bunch are Christine Taylor (a ringer down to the last hair swish) as Marcia; Christopher Daniel Barnes as Greg; Paul Sutera as Peter; Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan; Jesse Lee Soffer as Bobby; and Olivia Hack as Cindy. And Henriette Mantel plays Alice. Cameos by several of the original bunch, including Florence Henderson, Barry Williams and Alice B. Davis are also included. The theme music, home, profession of Mr. Brady, and problems of the six survive, although the Brady’s perpetual optimistic approach to life baffles and disgusts their nineties’ acquaintances. As one character puts it, “Come on! A family that’s always happy?”

The main plot has to do with the threat of the Brady’s possibly losing their house if they can’t raise an enormous sum in time. In Brady tradition, the kids decide to put on a show and compete in a song and dance competition. This will tie in with Marcia’s obsession with Davy Jones, Greg’s desire to become a professional musician, Jan’s determination to eclipse Marcia, and Peter’s first crush. The younger kids also have their own problems, as does Alice who, in this version, finds her suitor, Sam the Butcher, hopelessly unromantic. Eventually, of course, everything works out, the house is saved, and the Brady’s neighbors learn a few lessons about the importance of looking at the sunny side of things. A sequel would follow, in which the Brady’s take a vacation to Hawaii – giving them another chance for a “Something suddenly came up,” joke. And in “The Brady Bunch Movie,” Shelley does toss off an aside about Tiger’s whereabouts. (The real Tiger died offset, but that part is left out.)