Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Very Brady Tribute: Part Two

Prime Time Life Lessons or All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From The Bradys

In my earlier post, marking the passing of beloved sitcom creator Sherwood Schwartz, I spoke about why The Brady Bunch has stood the test of time so well.

Forty years ago, Sherwood Schwartz and his team were addressing the evolving nature of the American Household. It was a reassuring message in a changing time: where there's love, there's family.

The Bradys are often held up as impossibly idealized and yet they were a patchwork of steps: stepmom, stepdad, stepbrothers, stepsisters. And, while the 30-minute episodes all had happy endings, the characters were not perfect. They had their share of petty jealousies, major rivalries and — yes, even filial disobedience. Of course, Mike and Carol were always loving and wise, despite some rather poor choices made by the tween and teen Bradys. I certainly don't remember seeing them COMPLETELY LOSE IT as I have been known to do ... oh, once or twice (all right, maybe a few more times than that). The Bradys are something to aspire to.

And, more importantly, The Brady Bunch offers us life lessons that could rival anything you might hear from his holiness the Dalai Lama.

Here are just some of the things it taught (and can still teach) us ...

There's Sex After Marriage
The Brady Bunch broke new ground when it put the parents in ... gasp ... the same bed. If you remember, Lucy and Ricky slept in matching twins, like school roommates, with a chaste gap of a few feet between them. (Of course, one of the Ricardos must have crossed over or we wouldn't have met Little Ricky in season two.) Not only was Schwartz's series one of the first to show a husband and wife sleeping together, but many episodes ended with Mike reaching for his lovely bride in a manner that suggested that sleeping wasn't the only thing going on.

I figure that if Mr. and Mrs. Brady can still get frisky with six kids, a dog, a cat, a housekeeper, a station wagon and an astroturf lawn, I can put a little more effort into my own romantic life in a much less complicated household. Maybe I should invest in one of those little peignoir sets Carol was always wearing?

You Can't Change a Person
Alice loved Sam. And, arguably, Sam loved Alice. But, when the housekeeper tried to get her butcher to go to a Brady school performance instead of his bowling league ... well, let's just say it was "love's labor lost" — their love clearly knew some bounds.

Women (and many of my friends, in particular) think they can fall in love with one part of a man — his dashing looks, say, or his rakish humor — and then, over time, change whatever falls short. Take a lesson from Alice, ladies. If he's a slob when you're dating, he'll be a slob when you're married. If he drinks too many brewskies while you're getting to know him, he'll continue to do so when your relationship is old hat. Once a workaholic, always a workaholic. You get the idea.

However, if you are truly smitten, you can always try and embrace his interests. Alice, after all, went on a very romantic — if widely misinterpreted — bowling date in episode 12 of the final season, "The Elopement."

To Thine Own Self Be True
Forget Shakespeare's Polonius! To see the wisdom of this life lesson, look no further than Jan and Peter. In "Will the Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?," Jan, forever lost in the shadows between teen dream Marcia and baby girl Cindy, tries to make her mark. She dons a rather ridiculous curly black wig. With the help of some sympathetic friends, however, she realizes that natural blondes really do have more fun.

Peter, meanwhile, tries to create his own unique identity when he fears he has 'no personality.' His attempts include a battery of lame jokes and a comical impersonation of Humphrey Bogart. The episode, "The Personality Kid," gave us one of the series' most famous and incessantly repeated lines, "Porkchops and apple sauce, ain't that swell?"

The moral from the middle children? Be yourself. As Mike and Carol would say, "Figure out what you do best, then do your best at it."

Girls Can Do Anything Boys Can Do
At first glance, The Brady Bunch might not seem like a feminist program. After all, happy housewife Carol doesn't seem to have much ambition beyond getting all six bag lunches into the hands of the right Bradys before school each morning. And, in rewatching the series now as a 21st-century middle-aged mom, I do find myself cringing at times when Mike holds court. He is clearly the head of the household and it often feels as though he has two handmaids the way that both Mrs. Brady and Alice fawn over him.

Nevertheless, the Brady kids prove time and again that girls can do anything boys can do. In "The Liberation of Marcia Brady," the oldest Brady daughter becomes the first female to join the Frontier Scouts while poor Peter has to sell Sunflower Girl cookies door-to-door. Girl vs. boy competitions were a theme throughout the show's five seasons, mirroring real-life political and cultural movements. And Mike, albeit flanked by his two sometimes subservient women, always reinforced that, amongst the Brady children at least, there was gender equality. Hear, hear!

Nothing Beats a Family Vacation!
This is one message that I like reinforce with my own daughter and there are several Brady episodes that help me underscore the point. Yes, weekends with BFFs are fun and horseback riding camp is absolutely an essential part of the summer. But, really, nothing beats a good old-fashioned family vacation.

Where else could you be locked up in a ghost town jail by a delusional gold rush prospector (who sounds remarkably like Thurston Howell III)? Or, discover a taboo tiki that needs to be returned to an ancient Hawaiian burial ground? Or, meet a genuine Indian? (Remember, this was the early seventies; we didn't use the term 'Native American' yet and the episode, I'm sorry to say, was called "The Brady Braves.")

The point is, the Bradys taught us nothing so much as that family comes first. Perhaps this is why so many parents as well as kids still love the show. From the Grand Canyon to Honolulu to Westdale High, it was always the Bradys against the world.

My money's still on the Bradys. R.I.P. Mr. Schwartz.

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