The Brady Bunch Hour
Still more Seasons of the 70s.
In the 70s, evening television programming was scattered with—littered with, rather—variety shows. They were like Quaaludes® broadcast over the airwaves. A glitzy opening number, some self-deprecating joking around, renditions of popular songs of the day, a comedy sketch or two, a big production number, and a cutesy goodnight. These were the essentials. One of the most beloved was, and still is, the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which aired from 1971 to 1974. The two reunited in 1976, post-divorce, for the Sonny and Cher Show. As far as I’m concerned, they set the bar for solid TV pablum.
Something very, very strange happened in 1977. Someone, somewhere—Sid and Marty Krofft, actually, the duo responsible for such trippy oddities as H.R. Pufnstuf—greenlit a project in which the Brady Bunch would sing and dance in gaudy glory.
(It should be noted, of course, that Eve Plumb, the original Jan Brady, declined to participate. She was quietly replaced with Geri Reischl, aka Fake Jan. Reischl has gone on to sort of make a living off of this notoriety.)
It wasn’t enough that the Bradys should delight us with run-of-the-mill production numbers. They needed an edge. You can imagine Sid and Marty meeting with the creative team:
“Boys, the ‘Brady Bunch Hour’ has to be different. We need something to set us apart from the Osmonds and Sonny and Cher. Any ideas?”
“Duh, I dunno boss, how ’bout girls in a swimming pool?” <wink wink>
“That’s brilliant! Get a hose.”
Yes, there was a swimming pool built into the stage. A swimming pool, in which lavish Esther Williams-esque underwater ballets would be performed. Never mind that these lovely ladies might distract from the main attraction—this was the 70s, when more was never enough. Watch it all come together like a chunky rotten chowder in the opening number:
What’s most disturbing about this medley is the brief segue into “Love To Love You, Baby.” A most inappropriate song for any variety show, let alone one featuring the wholesome Bradys. (The moaning strains of Donna Summer were far more appropriate as a soundtrack to Robert Reed’s clandestine evening escapades…)
Sure, the Brady clan would engage in some comedy sketches, but they really shone when performing their versions of the latest disco hits. Here, they warble and stumble their way through a medley of “The Hustle” and “Shake Your Bootie.”
The “la la la lala lala la la” speaks for itself. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on dance-wise:
Poor Robert “But I’m a trained Shakespearean actor!” Reed is so incredibly out of step he might as well not even be there. You’d think for a poofter he’d have better rhythm. He’s barely trying. You gotta hand it to Florence Henderson, though—a seasoned pro through and through, singing and dancing for all she and her Wesson oil contract are worth. Poor old Alice, on one of her rare furloughs out of the kitchen, wanders into the mélée and nearly gets smacked by one of Marcia’s flailing arms. Dig Fake Jan’s excellent solo
It’s a horrible Technicolor® trainwreck, but we treasure it anyway because of its unabashed tackiness. TV in the 1970s could get away with this kind of stuff. Today we’re overloaded with reality, procedural, and mystery shows. I’d love to see the cast of “CSI” shake their epithelials in polyester jumpsuits. William Petersen would be the cranky Robert Reed, doing it out of contractual obligation. Marg Helgenberger would be gettin’ down and shakin’ those cheek implants. Then you’d have George Eads and that new girl whose name nobody really remembers—Louise Lombard, that’s it. Eric Szmanda would be paired with “Fake Sara Sidle,” because Jorja Fox would bitchily decline to participate. To update it a bit for the 2000s, Gary Dourdan would be the DJ spinnin’ stage right. Robert David Hall and Paul Guilfoyle—since they’re older, like Alice—could alternately stumble (or limp, in Doc Robbins’ case) into numbers and make funny faces. There would be hilariously inappropriate sketches about DNA mixups and blood spatter. (“Seamen? I thought you said semen!” “Hands off my swab!”) And maybe David Caruso could guest star, though Petersen would surely refuse to share the stage with him.
Bring back the variety show, I say. Let’s chow down on some serious processed TV cheese.