Today Indiewire published a piece I wrote about the portrayal of kids coming-of-age on The Brady Bunch. It's the third in a series of five stories they're running this week to mark tomorrow night's launch of Participant Media's exciting new cable network pivot. As I think about all those afternoons trying to one-up my UCLA Daily Bruin colleagues in Brady trivia 20 years ago, I certainly never realized that one day my encyclopedic knowledge of most-things-Brady would actually come in handy.
I was a typical latch-key kid of the '70s and '80s, so my addiction to television should surprise no one. I had several afterschool television companions. Had you asked me when I was seven or eight to name my favorite show, I likely would have said channel 2's Captain Cosmic. But the show I ultimately absorbed and knew most intimately was absolutely The Brady Bunch, which aired its repeats on rival channel 44.
I'll admit it: I loved the Bradys. My parents divorced when I was four, and neither remarried until I was 13. I had no siblings, and even my two first cousins closest to my age lived out of the country until I was nine. I split time between each of my parents' San Francisco apartments: Mom in the Richmond, Dad bordering Golden Gate Park in the Sunset. The Brady Bunch presented a situation I could recognize and I suppose realistically long for even though it was pretty removed from my own.
I've never been someone who possesses instant recall of movies, television, theater or music. People will quote a song lyric or a line from a film and then be surprised -- or even disappointed -- that I can't identify it. I'm still that way. I tend to remember my feelings and reactions to the overall story more than the intricacies of plot or individual lines themselves.
However, that was never true with The Brady Bunch. By the time I arrived at UCLA in 1988, even though I had stopped regularly watching the Bradys years earlier, I realized that I could identify almost every episode within its first 10-15 seconds. The initial post-credits shot, background music and first few seconds of the first scene often were enough for me to know whether Marcia was about to get hit in the face with a football or Greg was about to "fit the suit" and turn into Johnny Bravo. When I became involved with the Daily Bruin, I met a few other people with Brady obsessions, and thus began the aforementioned trivia battles.
Also in 1992, a stage show called The Real Live Brady Bunch came to The Westwood Playhouse (since renamed the Geffen Playhouse). It had already become a small hit in Chicago (where it had been developed the year before) and New York. I watched a group of up-and-coming improve and sketch comedy performers take actual scripts from the series and perform them onstage. The show was created by Jill Solloway and her sister Faith, and starred Jane Lynch as Carol and Andy Richter as Mike. It made fun of The Brady Bunch and was a perfect '90s response to the Bradys leftover '50s earnestness and '70s sentimentality. But it too proved the lingering impact - so ripe for satire - the Bradys had on the creative minds of our generation.
I hadn't watched an episode of The Brady Bunch in at least a decade, likely longer. But it took me no time to think of a half-dozen episodes that could work for Indiewire's series. Ultimately, I chose "Greg Gets Grounded", probably better known to most as the "exact words" episodes. I also thought about "The Personality Kid" (a/k/a the "pork chops and applesauce" episode); "Her Sister's Shadow" (a/k/a the "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" episode); and "Confessions, Confessions" (a/k/a the "Mom said don't play ball in the house" episode).
The Brady Bunch was certainly a fantasy world of a nuclear family actually formed out of tragic circumstances during one of the most turbulent periods of our nation's history. Of course, I didn't know that at the time, and still, when I sat down to rewatch "Greg Gets Grounded," I found myself both cringing at its cheesiness and comforted by its familiarity and simplicity. For that split second, I was eight years old, sitting in my mom's bedroom watching channel 44, waiting for her to come home from work and thinking about how cool it would be to have an older brother like Greg; or how annoying it would be to have a younger brother like Bobby. Then just as suddenly, I was back on my couch in Brooklyn, with YouTube streaming to my Apple TV analyzing a silly sitcom for social relevance.
What's better than that?
You can read my Indiewire piece here. And for what it's worth: All five seasons of The Brady Bunch are available on DVD, and four seasons can be streamed for free at CBS.com. Unfortunately, the one they don't stream is season four, which includes "Greg Gets Grounded." I found it posted in three parts on YouTube. I also found on YouTube the below, fascinating behind-the-scenes look at The Real Live Brady Bunch.