The Brady Bunch
The Complete Fourth Season 1972-1973 (Paramount Home Video-2005)
Something suddenly came up, all right – it’s Season Four of The Bunch, just to boogie with you. The gang makes a group leap into adolescence, and the vibe is even more incestuous now that we have the maternal great-grandmother running off to Vegas with the paternal great-grandfather. As Marcia would observe, real mat-chur.
You can dress ‘em up in the most righteous of seventies’ fashions (the boys shine like a beacon in the spooky Hawaiian forest), but the glow is starting to dull on the beloved old series, with this season being the most uneven so far. They’re all over the place this year: we get to see the one time that the clan says grace before dinner, and in the same episode, we watch helplessly as they are mass-murdered by Jesse James (in Bobby’s dream). This is soon after we learn that Mike is an “olive freak” (he’s talking about the garnish and not the color of his garish shirts) and that three big, strong boys can’t seem to overpower Vincent Price in a cave. Mom dispenses indispensable advice (“just be yourself, you’ll be popular”); Peter diagnoses himself with a fatal disease that only morphs into a comic misunderstanding, and chicken livers are sixty-nine cents a pound.
Some things never change, however – the parents are still horny at the end of a hard day, and the kids all seem to share that same well-worn workbook when coming from or going to school.
Like their studio-dubbed voices on the Hawaiian beach, the Season Four Bradys seem to be a faint echo of their former selves. The earlier years never would have shamelessly displayed that man with the wicked perm and the snug Speedo strutting by the sea. That can’t be stoic Mike Brady, father of six! But it is.
The bikini-watching’, apple-eating, Teen-Time-Romance-subscribing, water-gun-spraying, Don-Ho-digging, allowance-betting, taboo-fearing, Family-Night-frolicking, amateur-contest-entering gang is phoning it in at this point, especially Maureen McCormick, who just can’t seem to pronounce the word “werewolf.”
Outside evil continues to tempt the innocents, as we watch scheming Jennifer Nichols use “Greggie” for his ability to pick the new head cheerleader (her determination and shallowness is unsurpassed, and delicious). The producer’s daughter, Hope Sherwood, grabs yet another plum day-player role as Greg’s über-understanding and over-enunciating girlfriend, and confident character actor Chris Beaumont makes still another appearance as yet one more of Greg’s slimy pals.
You’ll revisit all the good stuff that your UHF station cut out to make way for more Wheaties commercials. Though 1972-73 prime-time-television material is maturing faster than Greg and Marcia, the gang is stuck in cultural neutral. Sure, Mike may include in his company speech the ironic line, “I heard we just tore down a freeway to make way for a slum,” the family is more concerned with mom’s favorite earrings and the girls’ slumber parties than VD and Watergate (which is covered instead by Archie Bunker and Maude).
The Bradys’ idea of social relevance includes an argument over who has a better passing average (Roman Gabriel or Joe Namath). This is in addition to a frank discussion of the dangers of hero worship – Bobby’s love of Jesse James and Peter’s obsession (and the family’s continuing HUGE problem with) Benedict Arnold. Would most kids on today’s TV (or in today’s real life) even know these historical figures?
By the early seventies, nobody but nobody said “groovy” anymore – except the Bradys. Dad says to the rockin’ new dentist, “[Marcia] awarded you her generation’s supreme compliment – you are groovy.”
Still, there are two huge series high points this season: Alice makes a tearful but temporary exit when the kids give her the cold shoulder over a misunderstanding. (This is the second time she attempts to quit, only to be pulled back again a la Al Pacino in Godfather III). She’s replaced by a maid who is equally efficient and robotic, but without the warm fuzzies and the big funnies (she tells the boys, “A housekeeper doesn’t play basketball. She keeps house.”). Her cold detachment is quite unsettling, even though the kids so deserve it. And Greg, while being punished for driving recklessly on the freeway, weasels out of his sentence by arguing his case of “exact words,” a devil’s bargain that will come back to bite him on the ass.
We’re baffled by logical lapses, like when the parents, gearing up for a night on the suburbs, tell the kids, “If you need anything, Alice is at the movies.” And it must have been true if the Bradys practiced it: people still dressed up – real fancy-like – just to ride on an airplane.
Season Four also gives us unwarranted entertainment galore: Mom and Marcia do a duet of “Together,” and the boys try to make the reciting of a boring poem visually funny (in talent shows, only the Bradys are allowed true talent – everyone else is limited to playing endless accordion solos). As well, the kids enter a television talent contest (“I went down to TV station KBEX,” Jan says, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to say.).
A word about the excellence of Ann B. Davis: she is the only one who truly gets it right in the “what is reality?” of the closing credits, when she marvels a “my, how they have grown” expression at all of the Bradys in the surrounding squares. Davis is underrated and actually fascinating to watch, even when she cleans and cooks with a religious fever. Where the other characters come across as flat and/or interchangeable, Davis is consistently the most intriguing.
Dad, as always, leaves us with the words of wisdom that allows the show to rise above anything you can throw at it: “if you never make a mistake, you never learn a lesson.” Mom outdoes him with, “You should never put down a loser, Cindy, because you might be one yourself one day.” Ouch.
Sadly there are still no commentaries or extras (perhaps Season Five will make up for this crime, or in subsequent, inevitable Brady repackagings). The art of so-bad-it’s-good, however, speaks for itself. The Brady Bunch is like an Oreo cookie you leave too long in the milk, and yet it still never gets soggy.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 1, 2005.