Film & Television

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from the Bradys

Last week, nearly five decades after it premiered on ABC, The Brady Bunch was in the news once again. Winning a bidding war that included (now heartbroken) celebrities, HGTV paid $3.5 million to buy the Studio City property that was used as the exterior of the Bradys’ house. The network has promised “to restore the Brady Bunch home to its 1970s glory as only HGTV can.”

I grew up in the seventies, and The Brady Bunch was “must-see TV” for me long before anyone came up with that phrase. Oddly enough, it made a tremendous impact on my daughter’s early years too.

When my now college junior daughter was about seven years old, one of my coworkers gave her the first season of The Brady Bunch on DVD. What fun! From Carol and Mike’s disastrous wedding ceremony and their full-house honeymoon, to the Brady kids getting used to new siblings. From Alice’s feeling unneeded to Jan’s feeling unappreciated. Measles, braces, diaries, pay phones, camping trips … she, or rather we, devoured it!

As fast as you can say “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” we were investing in seasons two through five.

We were a very Brady household for quite a while. My daughter would watch as many episodes in a row as we would allow. Whenever I could, I joined her, reliving my own childhood fascination with all things Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, and Bobby. We also shared the DVDs with several of her friends, who were just as enchanted (and whose parents were just as nostalgic). At one point, my daughter had a Brady Bunch birthday party. We gave out tie-dyed tote bags, peace sign necklaces, and seventies candy. I dressed as Alice and my husband wore a final-season Mike Brady wig. The party pictures are excellent blackmail material if either of us ever needs it.

Fashion faux pas aside, why has The Brady Bunch stood the test of time so well? One word: family.

As divorce became more common and accepted, creator 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.

When it comes to 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 poor choices made by the younger Bradys. As parents, Mr. and Mrs. Brady were something to aspire to.

In episode after episode, The Brady Bunch offered valuable life lessons. Here are just some of the things it taught (and can still teach):

Lesson #1: 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 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 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 always reinforced that, amongst the Brady children at least, there was gender equality.

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