Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing The Brady Bunch Hour, which ran on ABC from 1976 to 1977. All nine episodes can be found on YouTube!
The year was 1976 and cocaine was very popular.
Well, seriously, how else do you explain the existence of The Brady Bunch Hour? Produced by Sid and Marty Kroft, The Brady Bunch Hour imagined a world in which the Bradys got their own variety show. Now, this could have made sense if the show had been hosted by “the stars of the Brady Bunch” but instead, in this show, Mike Brady specifically abandoned his job as an architect so he and the family could move to Hollywood and star on a variety show.
Almost all of the Bradys returned to do the show. Eve Plumb balked at signing a five-year contract and, as a result, Geri Reischl was cast as Jan Brady. Barry Williams, who was starring on Broadway in Pippin, returned to play Greg “Music is My Life” Brady. Maureen “Marcia” McCormick was also excited to get a chance to dance and sing. Susan “Cindy” Olsen was excited over the prospect of appearing in skits. (She was told that the skits would be SNL-style skits.) Both Christopher “Peter” Knight and Mike “Bobby” Lookinland were aware of their own musical limitations. Knight eventually agreed to return when he was told that he wouldn’t have to do much dancing or singing. Lookinland tried to get out of appearing in the show by demanding a lot of money. To his surprise, the producers not only paid him what he asked for but his demands led to everyone else getting a bigger paycheck as well. Ann B. Davis had left acting to work for a church but she appeared on the show as a “guest star.” Florence Henderson, who had the most singing and dancing experience of anyone in the original cast, was not enthusiastic about The Brady Bunch Hour but she agreed to give it a shot for the fans and the kids.
Actually, the most enthusiastic member of the cast was Robert Reed. Reed, who rarely had a good word to say about his time on The Brady Bunch (though he did get along with the rest of the cast), was surprisingly enthusiastic about getting to dance and sing despite not being very good at either one of those things. Alone amongst the cast, he reportedly never lost his enthusiasm for the Brady Bunch Hour.
But enough background! Let’s take a look at this bizarre, only in the 70s type show!
Episode 1.1 “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”
(Dir by Art Fisher, originally aired on November 28th, 1976)
We open with a line of dancers doing kicks in a front of a swimming pool. On the screen behind the dancers, the faces of the Brady Bunch are projected. We immediately notice that Jan is now played by Geri Reischl and she’s the only one of the kids who appears to be sincerely happy to be there. While the other members of the Bunch are obviously struggling to smile, Fake Jan can’t wait to get out on stage and perform. And she quickly gets that opportunity when the family comes out to perform Baby Face. While the Bunch sings an off-key rendition of the song, the dancers dive into the pool. The audience goes crazy as the announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman, the Brady Bunch!”
This performance only lasts for two minutes but it’s hard not to notice that all of the members of the Bunch appear to be totally exhausted by the time it’s over. Robert Reed especially looks like he’s on the verge of fainting.
With the performance over, the Bradys argue over who will be the first to speak. Carol reveals that the Bradys are each assigned a number, like at the DMV, and the Bradys are now serving “Number 27!” “Who has number 27!?” Mike demands. “Mike, check your number,” Carol says. Yes, you guessed it! Mike is 27 and he explains that he’s an architect but his family is forcing him to star on a variety show. “I didn’t want to do this,” Mike tells us. “We’re all very excited!” Carol shouts.
(Again. in real life, Robert Reed was the only member of the Bunch who wanted to do the show, despite the fact that he could neither dance or sing.)
Carol introduces the members of the Bunch. Greg says music is his life. The audience goes crazy for Marcia. Peter flirts with dancer. Jan complains, though the naturally cheerful Geri Reischl is a bit less convincing when it comes to playing bitter as Eve Plumb was. Bobby announces that he grew 2 and a half inches this year. Cindy announces she grew 3 inches. Carol explains that Mike is the first architect to have his own variety show. Maybe there’s a reason why architects are not typically given this opportunity.
Suddenly, everyone starts singing Baby Face again. Mike falls in the pool. The audience loves it.
After a commercial break, we find the Bradys (sans Mike) at the family’s new Hollywood home. The kids agree that Mike has to be dumped from the show because, as Greg puts it, “he’s not very good.” Carol tells them that Mike is their father and that he will always be a part of the act. Carol points out that Mike doesn’t enjoy wearing tights and that he’s only doing the show for his ungrateful children. Carol has a point. These kids suck.
The doorbell rings and Tony Randall, looking like he’s already realizes this is a mistake, steps into the living room. He says that he needs a script. Bobby calls him “Tony.” Randall replies, “You can call me Mr. Randall.” Bobby suggests that Tony Randall could be the family’s new father. Mike comes down the stairs, just in time to hear his family begging Tony Randall to become their new father. AWKWARD! Anyway, Tony refuses to steal Mike’s role. To me, it seems like the kid owe Mike an apology but he doesn’t get one. However, everyone does eventually agree that they love him. Then Bobby suggests Burt Reynolds could be their father.
We then cut to the Brady Bunch performing One from A Chorus Line. Mike takes center stage for this performance, wearing a glittery white suit and a hat. The viewer gets the feeling that this was all done to show that Robert Reed really could perform and dance but it has the opposite effect for both him and the entire family.
At the Brady Bunch home, Greg plays his guitar. Marcia comes in and wonders if Mike and Carol were ever young. This leads to a flashback to the 1950s, with young Mike and his gang (played by the Brady boys) hanging out at the roller rink and hitting on four girls, played by Carol and the Brady Daughters.
Now, you may think that things couldn’t possibly get worse than the Brady Bunch paying tribute to Grease. (Actually, Grease wouldn’t come out for another two years so I’m not really sure what the point of this skit was.) Well, it does get worse because Donnie and Marie Osmond roll up on a motorcycle and everyone sings Splish Splash. It’s not so much that the Bradys (with the exception of Fake Jan and Florence Henderson) can’t dance or sing. It’s that the audience applauds every little thing that they do, in much the same way that parents give out pity applause at a talent show at an elementary school.
Once the flashbacks ends, Greg welcomes the audience to the second half of the show. Peter pushes Greg into the pool. Greg grabs Peter and throws him in the pool. The audience loves it but, judging from the way their bodies hit the water, it’s obvious that neither Greg nor Peter were trained stuntmen and they were both risking injury for a joke that wasn’t really that funny. Oh well, no matter! It’s time for the show’s dancer to put on clown makeup and do an aquatic dance number.
Cut to the Brady Bunch’s Hollywood home, where Mike is playing Risk with the kids and bitching about how he “always lands on Yugoslavia.” You know, I felt bad for Mike when the kids were trying to replace him with Tony Randall but now I see that the kids had a point and that Mike is always whining about something.
Meanwhile, Marcia is talking on the landline about how much she loved The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. “Barbarino in a bubble!” Excuse me, Marcia …. his name is Travolta!
Continuing to play the game, Mike announces, “I just landed on East Germany and your mother already owns it!” “With three hotels,” Carol says. Uhmmm …. okay, are we playing Risk or Monopoly? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?
Peter, meanwhile, call his girlfriend and breaks their date because “My Dad is being held prisoner in East Germany.” It turns out that Peter is interested in another girl, which leads to Mike and Carol reprimanding him and teaching him an important lesson about honesty. This skit goes on forever. It’s almost bad enough to make me wish for another musical number….
Be careful what you wish for because this skit is followed by Cindy and Bobby introducing “our big brother,” and saying that they think he’s very talented. As if to specifically humiliate them, Greg comes out on stage and oversings Corner of the Sky. (Corner of the Sky comes from Pippin, a show that Greg left so that he could co-star on the Brady Bunch Hour.) Perhaps the most interesting thing about this sequence is that Bobby and Cindy both appear to have joined a cult.
This is followed by a skit in which a disgruntled Mike and Bobby show up on stage dressed as a rabbit and a chicken. They are soon joined by Greg, who is dressed as a bear, and Tony Randall, who is dressed as himself. Tony announces that he’s going to sing a song about animals but he doesn’t want any of the Bradys to be involved. (Considering that he was the show’s “special guest star,” it’s interesting that Tony Randall only appears twice on the show and, both times, he makes it clear that he holds the Brady Bunch in complete and utter disdain.)
After Tony does his song, Alice the Maid (Anne B. Davis) appears and says that she watched the Bradys grow up. This leads to a montage of old Brady Bunch clips and Florence Henderson singing The Way We Were and, believe it or not, it actually works. For once thing, Florence Henderson could actually sing and The Way We Were is exactly the right song for her performance style. I mean, make no mistake. It’s silly and schmaltzy but it’s also kind of touching.
Finally, it’s time for the big finale! The Bradys are on stage, dressed in white, but they can’t decide what medley they want to perform. Greg wants to do music from “that Rocky Horror show!” “This is a family show!” Mike yells. Carol suggests something from The Sound of Music. The kids don’t want to do old stuff. “We’re young and we want to do young music,” Marcia says. Alice runs on to the stage and tells them to just sing something.
Mike and Carol sing Cheek to Cheek and then the kids sing Dance With Me. Carol responds by singing I Could Have Danced All Night, which is another good song for her. Unfortunately, the kids start to sing Do The Hustle and eventually segue into Shake Your Booty. All the Bradys dance, including an embarrassed-looking Alice. Fake Jan gets a solo and proves that, unlike the other Brady kids, she actually has a pretty good voice.
In the final comments, Carol thanks the audience. “Without you, there would be Brady Bunch,” she says. “I think I had something to do with it,” Mike says, which …. I mean, I know it’s awkward to point this out but Mike can really only take credit for half of the kids. So, really, Mike didn’t have much to do with it beyond the fact that he quickly moved on from his first wife’s death. (Or is Mike the one who got divorced? I can never keep track of who was divorced and who was widowed.)
Anyway, on that cheery note, the show ends.
Wow, that was exhausting. My main impression of the pilot of The Brady Bunch Hour is that it wasn’t good but it was impossible to look away. It was fun to watch but I can already tell that the show’s corny humor and badly-choreographed musical numbers are going to get tiresome pretty quickly. Fortunately, this thing only ran for 9 episodes so this is only going to cost me nine weeks of my life. Yay!