Published in December 2019
About now, we all need some distraction.
One of my escapes from COVID-19 has been to read a book about the Brady Bunch.
Like many of you, I grew up watching Brady reruns. The Brady Bunch rerun generation is the one that lived through the divorce revolution, latchkey childhoods, TV before cable and, of course, no internet.
Those of us who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s did not have snowplow parents practicing intensive enrichment. Our parents had their own problems to deal with. We were not overscheduled in countless after-school sports or artistic activities. Instead, we had TV.
The Way We All Became The Brady Bunch is one part a biography of the show and one a sociological examination of the show’s enduring appeal.
I found the details of the creators, cast and episodes far less interesting than the examination of The Brady Bunch’s cultural impact. If you want to know everything you didn’t think you wanted to know about how the show as conceived, and how The Brady Bunch altered the lives of the Brady family, then this is a good book for you. (Note to self: never become a childhood TV star.)
Brady Bunch fanatics will enjoy the details about the Brady house, the behind-the-scenes squabbling of the actors (especially Robert Reed) and all the subsequent poor-quality Brady spin-offs (The Brady Bunch Hour [1976-77], The Brady Girls Get Married , The Brady Brides , A Very Brady Christmas , and The Bradys ).
The much more illuminating parts of the book come when the question of why the Bradys continue to colonize so much cultural territory is examined. How did a show that only lasted five seasons (1970 to 1974) and never cracked the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings continue to live on in our collective imagination?
Kids growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s watched The Brady Bunch because the family depicted in the show was so different from our families. Yes, many of us lived in blended households. But none of us had parents whose full-time jobs were to focus all their attention on the kids.
If we had siblings (many of us didn’t), they were maybe one or two. Large families were unusual by this time. There was certainly no Alice.
Where the Bradys got the money to vacation in Hawaii (season 4) on Dad Mike’s architect salary is a mystery. We were not taking flying vacations.
Here is where I want to bring this book, and The Brady Bunch, back to COVID-19. Watching The Brady Bunch was aspirational escapism for pre-internet, pre-cable and pre-concentrated cultivation children.
Reading a book that dives deeply into the trivial details and sociological meaning of The Brady Bunch is an excellent escape from the realities of life under COVID-19.
The problems of the Brady family are about as far apart as we can imagine the challenges that we all face during a pandemic. In the Brady universe, every crisis was resolved by the end of the episode. We have no idea when our lives will return to normal.
Did you grow up on syndicated reruns? What shows did you waste too much of your childhood on?
What are you reading and watching to escape?