The Brady Bunch
The Complete Second Season 1970-1971 (Paramount Home Video-2005)
The second season of The Brady Bunch is a letdown only in that there are absolutely no commentaries or extras – not even from its tireless promoter and executive producer Sherwood Schwartz – nor from any of its cast members, most of whom are always game for a Brady-related hoot.
This is curious, being that this is the pivotal season that miraculously survived television’s earthquake of change, in the name of Archie Bunker. Eventually, All in the Family and shows of its ilk would be the bell that tolled for the Bunch, making their brand of quiet, charming, non-ironic storytelling a quick, quaint artifact of the past. Still, this 1970-71 collection, like all Brady Bunch episodes before and after, is like taking fifty milligrams of beautiful painkiller.
Here, the Bradys continue to barricade themselves in their vibrant suburban paradise of Astroturf, industrial-sized hairdryers, thirty-five-cent magazine subscriptions and cheap paneling (the shows are even announced as being IN COLOR, which is no longer a novel treat for viewers by 1970). As well, their clothes, with a few exceptions for the purpose of a script, have yet to turn groovy. They continue to drink their milk, fix their bikes, avoid any need for a toilet, and wait for their house-calling doctor, who makes a beeline to their famous pad after only one sneeze from Cindy.
Nevertheless, the sixties are turning into the seventies, and relevance, controversy and major bummers cannot avoid seeping into the lives of even the most innocent of TV characters. For instance, Marcia has her fine ass dragged into the topical, modern Women’s Lib debate by innocently stating on the TV news that she thinks girls are equal to boys. We brace ourselves for this incredible statement to backfire when she joins her brother’s scouting troop (to his horror). Mom offers her two cents (adjusted for inflation): “I don’t think Women’s Lib is crazy,” and dad retorts with, “some of the things they want are pretty far out!” Of course, like all Women’s Lib episodes on prime time in the early seventies, Marsha proves her point that men can bend her but they can never break her. She then happily reverts to being a Lady, browsing through the latest fashion magazine. Heaven forbid she should – or could – be radicalized by the experience.
The Bradys also flirt with revolutionary protest when their beloved park is damned for demolition to make room for a capitalist-pig courthouse. Even housekeeper Alice gets hip to the spirit of the age when she cockteases a lonely neighbor into signing a petition to save the park. And Dad, encouraging his little woman into “doing her thing,” says, “Honey, a stirred-up bunch of women can save anything – except maybe money.” This mirrors the attitude of his boss, the creepy Mr. Phillips, who ponders, “Who doesn’t love a bargain – except my wife.”
Demons continue to afflict these innocents: Greg is goaded into puffing on a cigarette by a rock group called The Banana Convention; Alice is wooed by a smooth con man named Mark Mallard (it’s only funny when you hear her say the name). Mallard – that son of a bitch — just wants her for her money, yet Alice ponders her new relationship as if it were a love song from the 1920s: “I wonder if there is enough heat in an old flame to melt these knees again.” And mom rips her heart from her chest and squeezes it before the world when she cries: “Peter might even quit the glee club because of Bobby’s drumming!”
The family battles the sickness of greed after they find a wallet lost in a vacant lot by a kindly old coot (with the rockin’ name of Mr. Stoner). When they lay the $1100 dollars on that famous formica kitchen table, a stunned, dollar-drunk Alice says, “I’ll tape my trick knee, we’ll form a league and play every vacant lot in town.”
Cindy is freaked out by the dark, which is understandable, but her pain-in-the-ass mother is constantly thinking she hears a burglar in the middle of the night (this in a house with six kids, a housekeeper and a dog). Bobby, after a bad fall from a tree house, can’t deal with heights. His supportive family tries dramatically to cure him of this phobia (stilts, trampoline, ladder, canary), even going as far as christening this effort “Operation Bounceback.”
Of course, there is a special place in Hell for TV’s all-time most obnoxious bully, Buddy Hinton, who is misled by Satan into tormenting our precious little Cindy for the crime of having a lisp. We are even asked to understand Buddy’s Antichrist-like behavior as we get a glimpse at his shockingly anti-Brady dysfunctional parents (dad: out-of-control ogre; mom: beaten-down wimp). The contrast is troubling, and we can only turn away, helplessly.
Continuing the unwelcome line of bad influences on the clan is the bafflingly bug-obsessed Harvey Klinger, who has some kind of strange romantic Vulcan grip on Marcia. Harvey, with his Coke-bottle glasses and buck teeth, was reporting for duty long before nerd culture was acknowledged and given a hall pass on TV. And his good manners (“May we be excused, sir?”) are as shocking to us now as if he were a heroin-shooting hippie then.
Although it is well understood that Jan is the most tortured Brady soul, her neurosis only seems to be turned on at will (she creates an imaginary boyfriend named George Glass and punks her family with that poor-son-of-a-bitch mouse, Myron). In reality, we learn that in fact it is Greg who is most in turmoil. Even though his changing voice does not prevent him from participating in the opening theme song or warbling the unhackable love ballad, “Til I Met You,” he tackles his identity head on. After a half-assed compliment by LA Dodger Don Drysdale goes to Greg’s head, his father tells the legendary ballplayer, “he thinks you are a combination of George Washington, Neil Armstrong and the guy who invented pizza.” Amazingly, Drysdale does not slowly back away and make a quick exit. Better to take the advice of David “Deacon” Jones of the LA Rams, who advises Peter’s football team, “ya gotta keep movin’.” So true.
The apex of the season lies in the series’ directorial debut by Robert Reed, in the episode called “The Winner.” In it, Bobby sinks into a serious depression because he is the only Brady to have yet to win a trophy (the Bradys, like America’s other favorite family, the Kennedys, are obsessed with being the best). Reed took a bold, brave risk and not only pushed the confines of the script – but pushed the actors’ abilities — well beyond the seemingly shallow surface. Bobby (played by Mike Lookinland) is easily always and forevermore the best Brady, and Reed helps him delve into his darkest, most forbidden yearnings of being a winner and not a wiener. Borrowing from Fellini (hazy dream sequences) and Ballanchine (choreography at a children’s ice-cream-eating contest), Reed succeeds in putting his money where his mouth is, as he was infamous for making clear how lazily lame he thought the show could be.
Of course, Reed was too judgmental of a series that delivered on other, possibly more significant levels. No “quality” program on the current prime-time schedule would have the mother wonder, “Wasn’t it Diogenes who went around with a lantern looking for an honest man?” And mom knows best again when she brilliantly advises her eldest daughter, “Only times have changed, sweetheart. People haven’t.” And where else do we ultimately learn life’s most important lesson of all: “Mom said, don’t play ball in the house.”
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 26, 2005.