Monday, July 18, 2011

A Very Brady Tribute: Part One

The television industry lost one of its earliest and most prolific comedy writers this past week. In his fifty-year TV career, Sherwood Schwartz wrote for The Red Skelton Hour and a number of now forgotten series: The Dusty Trail, It's About Time and Harper Valley. He would be best known for creating a silly series about rag-tag comic castaways called Gilligan's Island, if it weren't for three little words.

The. Brady. Bunch.

I grew up in the groovy seventies and Sherwood Schwartz was one of the most influential figures of my childhood. (Even if I didn't know who he was at the time.) Surprisingly, he has made a tremendous impact on my daughter's early years too.

When my now tween daughter was about seven years old, one of my coworkers gave her the first season of The Brady Bunch on DVD. What fun! From Carol and Mike's disastrous wedding ceremony and their full house honeymoon, to the Brady kids getting used to new siblings. From Alice feeling unneeded to Jan feeling unappreciated. Measles, braces, diaries, pay phones, camping trips ... she devoured it!

As fast as you can say, "Desi Arnaz, Jr!," we were investing in seasons two through five.

We were a very Brady household for quite a while. My daughter would watch as many episodes in a row as we would allow. Whenever I could, I joined her, reliving my own childhood fascination with all things Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter and Bobby. We also shared the DVDs with several of her friends who were just as enchanted (and whose parents were just as nostalgic). At one point, my daughter had a Brady Bunch birthday theme party. We gave out tie-dyed tote bags, peace sign necklaces and seventies candy. I dressed as Alice and my husband wore a final season Mike Brady white-man-afro. The party pictures are excellent blackmail material if either of us ever needs it.

Oh, and our favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor? Marsha Marsha Marshmallow!

After we had gone through the entire series a couple of times (all right, maybe eight or nine times), I thought I'd introduce her to another show I had lived and died and breathed for: The Partridge Family. In fourth grade, I remember Friday evenings were my favorites because The Brady Bunch was on at 8:00, and the one and only dreamiest of dreamy Keith Partridge followed at 8:30. Sigh ... no one had to tell me to "Come On, Get Happy." I was in Tiger Beat heaven!

Alas, my daughter was nonplussed. I don't think she even made it through the first DVD, much less the first season. What happened?

In terms of sets and costumes, attitudes and dialogue, both The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch are desperately dated. "Cool" is still cool, but phrases like, "Far out!" ... well, not so much. I cringe when I see the short, short, short dresses on the Brady girls (Cindy's bloomers peeking out from under her skirts wouldn't fly today, good thing). Or, Keith and Greg's endless pursuit of "chicks." And Carol Brady and Shirley Partridge seem to have been in competition for the best (worst?) shag haircut. (Mrs. Brady won (lost?), by the way.)

So, why the continued fascination for the Brady kids, while the talented Partridges are relegated to the back of my family's DVD cabinet?

I think Mr. Schwartz hit on something more basic and universal than the idea of a family rock band (even a groovy one). Despite all the dated silliness, the Brady Bunch was an innovative look at what makes a family a family. And, apparently, if my daughter and her peers are any indication, it still resonates today.

In an interview, Schwartz once recounted that the idea for The Brady Bunch came to him when he heard a statistic that 29% of marriages included a child (or children) from a previous marriage. This new idea of family and how it might work was his inspiration for one of the most beloved shows of all time. When Marcia nominated Mike for "Father of the Year," it made for an endearing episode with a powerful, timely lesson. Mike was Marcia's father because of their day-to-day relationship, not their DNA. Think how many permutations of families have appeared on the small screen since.

Bell bottoms aside, The Brady Bunch and its creator were ahead of their time.

Next Post: Prime Time Life Lessons or All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned from the Bradys

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