By Tony Schwab
The Brady Bunch exists more as an image than a show. It is the definitive clean family sitcom. “The Brady Bunch Movie” makes fun of this image but understands why it appealed to people.
The setup is brilliant. It imagines The Brady’s living in 1990’s L.A. This is so effective because it makes explicit something that the original show always avoided, that a family this kind and friendly would feel out of place in the anarchic, cynical modern U.S.
The outside world that the Brady’s encounter shows the 90s at it’s most self-aware. The High School is full of flannel-wearing grunge fans. The characters are sarcastic well over half of the time. L.A. is its awful true self, full of crowded highways with carjackers lurking around.
In the face of this, the Brady’s are their normal cheery selves. They seem to stay this happy because they just do not process the meanness of those around them. This attitude makes the characters likable even as we laugh at them. In this way we get the appeal of the original show. The unhappiness of the world was just something to be cheerfully ignored.
The plotting is especially good at imitating the rhythms of sitcoms. The overall story is about the Brady’s trying to save their house from being sold after they magically forget to pay their taxes. This is a perfect example of the kind of impossible premise that the show would base an episode on. Each of the young Brady’s is given a smaller, equally silly plot. Jan tries to break free from being Marcia’s sister. Marcia tries to heal a broken nose before the big school dance. Mike and Bobby both try to get the girls they think are the most “groovy and far out”. This all works so well because there is a feeling of every bad sitcom plot ever being combined. Those who have never seen the Brady Bunch will still recognize all of the cliches from any number of shows.
Their is nothing quite like “The Brady Bunch Movie.” Nothing before it had taken a TV show and mocked it fiercely while still showing an affection for it. 20 years after its release, we can see that others have tried. Shows are now regularly brought back for movies after being cancelled, from Veronica Mars to Entourage. Others, like Arrested Development are brought back to tv well after the original run ended. But these were all shows that were outside of the mainstream from the beginning. The Brady Bunch was the absolute center of the mainstream. Its success can provide some hope that the Full House reboot might shock everyone and be entertaining.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org