50 Years Later, ‘The Brady Bunch’ is Still A Welcome Diversion from Real Life
There’s a moment in the first season of The Brady Bunch where Alice, the Brady’s housekeeper, says, “If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a perfect kid. And six of them…yuck!” It’s a statement dripping with irony. Those six perfect kids, along with their perfect parents, perfect house, and yes, perfect housekeeper, are precisely what made The Brady Bunch a pop culture phenomenon.
If you’ve never seen the show — a feat in and of itself, given its long life in reruns — the premise is simple: A single (presumably widowed) mother of three girls, Carol, marries a single (widowed) man, Mike, who has three boys of his own. Though the saccharine sitcom, which premiered on September 26, 1969, never broke the Top 30 during its five-season prime time run, it became a nearly instant success once in syndication. It was in the late 1970s and into the 1980s that Gen X kids like me became hooked on that Brady goodness, and an entertainment staple was born.
When I was in elementary school, my goal was to finish my homework early enough to squeeze in an hour or two of The Brady Bunch every day. If I was lucky, the syndication gods would align their schedules in such a way that I could watch multiple episodes of the show, back to back.
Even by sitcom standards the show was completely hokey, but it was that mawkish sentimentality that was so appealing. In the Brady’s world, any problem — a nose break, a heartache, a lost dog — could be solved within 30 minutes. There was no issue that couldn’t be tackled with just a few sage words from Dad, a hug from Mom, or a good family singalong. (Except for maybe a bully — that one required physical violence. But even the bully eventually came to see the error of his ways in the end.)
I was fascinated by the Bradys, who existed on an entirely different plane than my own. As an only child raised by a single mother, I had no concept of what life could be like with happily married parents, five siblings, and a live-in maid. The Bradys ate home-cooked meals together as a family; I ate my dinners solo in front the TV while my mom paid bills. Mike Brady drew up architectural plans in his spacious home office; I occasionally visited my dad at one of his many blue-collar jobs. Now and then, a celebrity — Davy Jones, Desi Arnaz, Jr. — appeared unannounced at the Brady family’s front door. My mother and I had few visitors, save for the old lady downstairs who occasionally forgot which apartment was hers after downing too many beers.
Mom and I didn’t have the luxury of multiple bathrooms or a backyard with a teeter-totter. We lived in a tiny apartment in the projects in South Boston, Massachusetts. Everything about our place was hard, from the hollow metal entrance door to the concrete tile floors. Paint peeled off the walls, and iron radiators took up too much space in every room. The pipes that ran through each apartment, from the basement to the fourth floor, were used as a mode of communication; if any tenants were too loud, a good bang on the pipe with a pan would let them know to keep it down.
We did our best to make the space as cozy as possible, but nothing we pulled together ever seemed as comfortable, warm, or inviting as the Brady’s split-level abode. Despite having six kids — seven with cousin Oliver, who joined the bunch briefly in season five — and a dog, their house was spotless. No bills piled up on the kitchen table, no dirty laundry accumulated on the floor. The Brady’s suburban neighborhood was quiet and safe, a far cry from my ‘hood, where my mom was told to “watch her back” after asking the guy upstairs to turn down his stereo.
The Brady Bunch was my brief, drama-free break from real life. It was my pixelated security blanket. For a latchkey, apartment-dwelling kid like me, the show was a fantasy land, full of familial camaraderie, ever-present parents, and life lessons, all taking place in a spacious but homey single-family dwelling. Though the show could be old-fashioned and predictable, it was those qualities that kept so many of us coming back for more. As entertainment writer Jess Cagle wrote, “…the show was a picture of stability while Vietnam and the sexual revolution rocked the rest of the world. While our real-life parents were splitting up at an alarming rate, those goody-goody Bradys were telling us a shameless lie about family life. We desperately believed it.”
And, I would add, we desperately needed it.
Now, 50 years after the show’s premiere, the Bradys are back. Between appearances on multiple Discovery and Food Network shows, and their own enormously popular HGTV design show, A Very Brady Renovation (in which the “Brady kids” renovate the interior of the real house used in The Brady Bunch), the six remaining cast members are being celebrated yet again.
It couldn’t come at a better time. This year is shaping up to be just as, if not more, turbulent than 1969, when The Brady Bunch premiered. With the world in a constant state of upheaval, it’s nice to have Bradys back. Sure, Mike, Carol, and Alice have passed on, and we’ve learned enough about the cast’s personal lives to know things weren’t all virtuous on the show’s set. But there will always be something soothing about the Brady family and their wholesome perfection. I may no longer attend grade school or live with my mom, but I still need to escape reality now and then, and I’m happy to have my TV security blanket back for a while.