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The Brady Bunch – The Complete First Season (A PopEntertainment.com TV on DVD Review)

The Brady Bunch - The Complete First Season

The Brady Bunch – The Complete First Season

The Brady Bunch

The Complete First Season 1969-1970 (Paramount Home Video-2005)

Check your superior attitude at the door, you smug son of a bitch. You know you want to rip into this Brady Bunch DVD with the same gusto and viciousness that you’ve carefully nurtured with your friends and siblings over the course of decades.

However, you must chill. This collection – the series’ premiere year – is not the season for teasin’. These are the charming, storybook-like episodes that often warm the cockles of your heart. Here, the bunch is dressed in nothing more atrocious than items from the 1969 Sears’ catalog. This is long before the butterfly collars and the bell-bottoms and the floral shirts and polyester. This is also long before the unintentional catchphrases (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” and “Ow, my nose!” and “Mom said, ‘Never play ball in the house.’”).

This is Season One, so show some respect, Mr. Man and Ms. Thing. This is the world in which you want to live, and you know it. It’s all here, lovely to look at in the juiced-up primary colors of those very first episodes: the Danish Modern house without a toilet, the spotless, space-aged kitchen filled with jars and bottles without labels, and the astro-turfed backyard (with the wrinkles in it).

It’s a world in which, unlike today, adults actually act like adults. The parents happily indulge their alarming coffee addiction and read seriously academic, black textbooks in bed. Their glad-to-be-anywhere housekeeper joyfully, robustly cooks, cleans, and lives in the laundry room like a Hobbit, hardly ever stepping out of that blue uniform. In this busy house with busy signals, an outrageous bill from Ma Bell is a distressing thirty-five dollars.  And the genuinely concerned doctors make hurried house calls.

It’s here where the family dog slowly fades away, and the family cat has only one life rather than nine. The trading-stamp-collecting, hi-fi-listening, snooping, tattling, bike-fixing, Desi-Arnaz, Jr.-worshipping, apple-eating, milk-drinking, dog-washing children bicker and confront each other. This is contrary to the very wrong popular opinion that life in the Brady household is always utopian. As Dad so perfectly puts it (as usual), “Underneath their friendly smiles lurk the Hatfields and the McCoys.”  And, of course, the very worst thing you can be called in this family is Benedict Arnold. No child on TV today would even find this the least bit devastating, but this tugs at a Brady’s soul.

‘Tis the season in which Cindy’s only wish is that her mommy gets her voice back for Christmas and the one in which Alice no longer feels needed now that the boys have a new mom. It’s here where Bobby wants to run away from home, but Carol, suitcase in hand, will not let him go without her. Here Marcia unselfishly concedes the office of class president to her brother Greg, and Peter saves a little girl from certain death in a toy store.  The tykes attempt to “haunt” the house so that their parents won’t/can’t sell it, Bobby hides a photo of his mom because he fears his new mom may not like it, and Cindy stresses because she can only invite one parent to the school play, trying not to mess up anybody’s ‘justment.

Are you crying yet? Or at least developing a sentimental lump in your throat? If not, you’re made of stone.

Besides, we don’t need your stinkin’ Brady Bunch zingers – the Bunch themselves are on hand to make the jokes for us, in one of the most hilarious DVD commentary tracks ever recorded. Here, Barry Williams (Greg), Susan Olsen (Cindy), and Christopher Knight (Peter), do what millions of us between the ages of 30-50 have been doing for decades, which is sit on a couch and talk back to The Brady Bunch.

“Here comes another Mike Brady lecture,” Williams warns us, while Knight wonders out loud, “does anybody think that the garage is kind of weird?” And Olsen observes, “I love Eve’s dress. Look at that necktie! Very corporate!” as well as “Mom is still in a wig.” Williams comes back with, “Look how Carol matches the formica countertops,” and Knight asks Olsen, “what on eBay could you get [for your Kitty Carry All doll]?”

We also force ourselves to face the hard facts that we have long-suppressed: Alice carries an anti-witchcraft amulet, Peter is the only non-blue-eyed child, dog powder is toxic to Jan, and the Bradys may very well be Republican (Greg tells his father, “You always taught us to be self reliant and try to solve our problems on our own.”). Also, shockingly, Dad leaves little Cindy alone in a department store (in line to see Santa) so that he can return a gift on another floor.

We also learn that when the family dog is lost, Greg reports that the pooch was spotted walking along a road by none other than Steve Miller (who may or may not be the famous Space Cowboy/Gangster of Love/Maurice). We also can’t forget Marcia’s curiously strange new schoolmate, Linda, who tells Carol four times that she’s from See-addd-tttttle.

Creator and Executive Producer Sherwood Schwartz is on hand, of course, to do a bit of his own sincere commentary, but, unlike the kids, his is as serious as a heart attack. He informs us that the idea for The Brady Bunch came to him, not from a heavenly angel but from an article in The Los Angeles Times that reported that over 29% of all marriages contained children from previous marriages. He is extremely proud of the fact that he devised the nine-squared opening credits that explain the story (he knew that it was much more than a hunch). However, check out this first season’s sloppy, lazily made closing credits, in which each character’s close up is run and then rewound on an endless loop (you’ll die laughing while watching Alice’s eyebrows).

According to Schwartz as well, there were over 1100 kids at the original audition, and three blonde boys and three brunette girls were on standby in case the casting of the parents changed (talk about going through life feeling like Pete Best).

Gene Hackman was the original pick to play Mike Brady, but Schwartz may have had his doubts about his final choice, an extremely unhappy Shakespearian actor named Robert Reed, who, by all accounts, loved the cast but hated the show (you can even see his annoyance at someone off camera as you watch him shake his head in in the opening credits).  Says Schwartz, “Bob Reed is a very mannered performer.” Ouch. And also: “I couldn’t survive the show without Florence [Henderson] because her leading man was occasionally a problem.” Double ouch. However, Reed is such a good actor that you would never know there was ever a concern about content. He must have lived the very words by which the Bradys say they always live (even though it was only stated once): “a wise man forgets his anger before he lies down to sleep.”

The bells and whistles of this DVD are good but underwhelming (a short, slapped together documentary/lovefest lasts about thirty minutes, and the kids’ commentaries appear only on only two episodes when they should be on all of them. And where is Florence Henderson, Ann B. Davis, and Eve Plumb?). Here’s hoping that they make up for it and give us what we crave in the coming releases.

The show maintains its original charm through its second season, though it will lose The Peppermint Trolley Company (the studio musicians who lovingly croon the theme song like an Irish lullaby). However, you can always count on Frank DeVol’s assortment of adaptable, applicable Brady Bunch themes for every scene and occasion (the sad version, the peppy version, the serious version, the marching version, the sentimental version, etc.).

This is the season that gets to the root of the matter, and it’s generally forgotten later in the series: here we learn why this group must somehow form a family, and these twenty-five episodes detail in gratifying detail the way they became the Brady Bunch.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 1, 2005.

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