Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Regarding the Silver Age "Brady Bunch" that almost but never was.

'60s network television -- where the '50s never died.

Here in Chicago, one of the high-numbered television stations shows "Brady Bunch" reruns all Sunday afternoon, which I often half-watch while doing computer chores and the like; this last weekend, for example, they ran a whole string of episodes from the very first season, which got me thinking all over again about just how radically that show changed because of the specific years it was on the air (1969 to 1974), and because of how much of a difference in tone it took over those years. Except this time, I don't know, maybe it's because I'm now in my forties, or perhaps the look of those early years is now changing from quaintly old-fashioned to literally historical, but it really struck me this weekend how innocently charming the first season of the show actually is, and how we would have an entirely different cultural memory of the Brady Bunch if it had managed to maintain that tone throughout its entire run, like a number of other shows on the air at the same time managed to do.

"Yours, Mine and Ours" established the premise...
"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" established the zany yet innocent tone...
And a stubborn refusal to let go of the Kennedy Era established the look.

See, despite its countercultural start date, the Brady Bunch was originally conceived as a genteel family comedy in the Mid-Century Modernist style, influenced heavily by such similar movies at the time as Yours, Mine and Ours and Please Don't Eat the Daisies; and if you watch the first season, you'll see that there's actually a sort of legitimately funny if not corn-filled humor more appropriate to '50s sensibilities, a zing to it all that's smarter than how it might appear at first, since it's based mostly around a family-friendly, very innocent type of story that's trying to be told. I mean, seriously, have you ever really stopped and noticed the Kennedy-Era wet dream the Brady house is supposed to be on the inside, from the euclidean background decor to the Eames-like influence on the furniture, to the kitschy quasi-Baroque sculpture adorning bookshelves and the like? And this was the same year as Woodstock!

"My Three Sons," which technically started in the Eisenhower Era, so at least had an excuse.
"Family Affair," which didn't, which perhaps is why it's now the most obscure show out of the three.

And in fact everything at first about the Brady Bunch fairly screamed, "Skinny ties will never go out of style! Skinny ties will never go out of style!," which to be fair was pretty typical of network television in the mid- to late-'60s, a medium that by its very nature is terrified of radical change, as evidenced in similar shows on the air at the time like "My Three Sons" and "Family Affair," which let's not forget both ran into the early '70s just like the Brady Bunch did, but without ever fully giving up the square attitudes and outfits they established when first starting. So is this maybe why the Brady Bunch is so profoundly more well-known now, 40 years later, than either of these other two shows? Because really, that's mainly what the Brady Bunch is known for now, not for its humor but for being an oddly awkward record of how places like television networks and people like family-sitcom producers exactly dealt with the countercultural era, that is to say not well at all, the series long ago passing into the realm of ironic enjoyment for all the ridiculously silly ways it dealt with the changing social mores going on around it.

At least two of these people went on to coke-fueled late-'70s orgies.

It's funny, I think, how my opinion of the Brady Bunch has radically changed over time: how when I was a kid, I simply found it entertaining; while as a teen and into my early twenties, I found the early shows fatally dated and the later ones an inappropriate hoot; while now in middle-age, and dealing with Brady-aged kids on a regular basis for the first time, I suddenly find myself now legitimately charmed with the early episodes, and wondering what its fate would've been if it had stuck to its guns its entire run, instead of devolving into a mess of male perms, vacations to Hawaii, and groovy hippie pads in the attic and den. Anyway, just some random thoughts on a boring Sunday afternoon!

No comments:

Post a Comment