Saturday, March 19, 2016

Six Kids, Six Classic Brady Bunch Episodes: The Ultimate Brady Six-Pack

In the four years that this blog has been around, I have written more about The Brady Bunch than any other series. I don’t know if I would call it my favorite show, but it is certainly the one I most closely associate with the warm, nostalgic feelings engendered by Comfort TV.

The other week I was watching “The Power of the Press,” an episode about Peter writing a column for his school paper, and I wondered how many episodes focused on each of the six Brady kids. So I added them up.

It turns out there are 12 Greg episodes, 10 for Peter, 8 for Bobby, 14 for Marcia, 9 for Jan and 6 for Cindy. The rest are either family-oriented stories, shows that feature more than one kid (Bobby and Cindy on the teeter-totter, Greg and Marcia fighting over the attic), or episodes that focus on the parents or Alice.

But which is the best show for each of the Brady kids? That’s one of those delightful TV debates that could fill an evening of dinnertime conversation – at least in my social circle. Here are my picks for the ultimate Brady six-pack, and I look forward to any opposing viewpoints.

“Bobby’s Hero” (Season 4)
When you examine the Bobby episodes, you realize he had as many inferiority complexes as Jan. Whether it was feeling like a neglected stepson (“Every Boy Does it Once”), never winning a trophy (“The Winner”) or being insecure about his height (“Big Little Man”), Mike’s youngest always seemed to struggle to find his place in the family.

Perhaps that influenced his choice of Jesse James – someone who didn’t take crap from anybody – as a hero. In “Bobby’s Hero” he idolizes a ruthless outlaw until he meets a man (played by Comfort TV’s favorite senior citizen, Burt Mustin) whose father was killed by Jesse James. I remember how that seemed far-fetched, but the episode aired in 1973 and James died in 1882, so the math does work out.

I chose this episode because of the old west dream sequence in which the Bradys are shot and killed (which probably terrified younger viewers and delighted a few TV critics), as well as Bobby’s poignant come-to-Jesus moment, as he wakes up from the aforementioned nightmare. I think Mike Lookinland’s scene in Mike and Carol’s bedroom, when Bobby somberly announces, “I’m turning in my guns,” is his best moment on the series.

The show also works as a potent cautionary tale about the pitfalls of hero worship when you choose poorly, a message even more relevant today. 

“Eenie, Meenie, Mommy, Daddy” (Season 1)
Most of Cindy’s best Brady moments are in episodes where she shares the spotlight. “The Voice of Christmas” was as much Carol’s story as it is hers, and the celebrated bullying episode “A Fistful of Reasons,” starts out Cindy-centric and then switches to Peter.

When Cindy flies solo the results are usually not that stellar. Shows like “The Tattle-Tale” and “Cindy Brady, Lady” don’t hold up well, and the less said about the Shirley Temple episode (“The Snooperstar”), the better.

“Eenie, Meenie, Mommy, Daddy,” just the third episode in the series, is the exception. Cindy’s moment of triumph – earning a lead role in a school play – turns to anguish when the school only gives each cast member one ticket. Should she ask her mother, or her father? The Brady Bunch meets Sophie’s Choice! It’s also fun that Cindy’s co-star in the play is Chris Partridge (Brian Forster). 

“The Personality Kid” (Season 3)
With the exception of “Two Petes in a Pod,” almost every Peter episode is a series highlight. These are also some of the funniest shows in the run, whether Peter is secretly recording his siblings’ conversations (“The Private Ear”) or being consumed by guilt after breaking mom’s favorite vase (“Confessions, Confessions”). 

Still, “The Personality Kid” is an episode everyone remembers, and with good reason. The story has Peter coming home from a party distraught because someone told him he has no personality. His parents expect it to blow over, but when it doesn’t we find Mike doesn’t have much tolerance for self-pity: “Stop moping around! If you don’t like your personality, improve it! Change it!” Thus we get an iconic sequence as Peter takes various personalities for a test drive, one being that of Humphrey Bogart.

It’s hard to explain why the “pork chops and applesauce” scene still makes me laugh, even though I’ve probably watched it 50 times. It isn’t just Christopher Knight’s awful Bogie impression, in which “swell” becomes “schwell”; it’s the reactions from Carol and Alice that progress from befuddled to bemused, and how it becomes contagious as both adopt the same facial tics and pronunciations. 

“Her Sister’s Shadow” (Season 3)
Another no-brainer. Jan’s insecurity and middle child issues crop up in other episodes (such as “Will the Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?” and “Try, Try Again”) but this is one of the series’ definitive shows, and the one that forever branded Jan as the poster girl for sibling envy. Her plaintive cries of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” will echo across the generations. 

This is also one of the series’ most quotable episodes, and not just for that one famous line. “Find out what you do best, and do your best with it” is good advice for anyone, and I love Jan’s justification for dumping her sister’s awards in the closet – “Every time Marcia turns around they hand her a blue ribbon.”

“Her Sister’s Shadow” also sees Jan hearing immoral voices in her head, which became a running gag in The Brady Bunch Movie. Will she give in to the dark side and accept the Honor Society Award she really didn’t earn?  

“The Dropout” (Season 2)
I’m sure many fans would opt for “Adios Johnny Bravo” which, as with many of the Greg shows, focuses on Greg’s choice between listening to the devil on one shoulder or the angel on the other. Here he has to decide between solo teen idol stardom and staying with the family musical group. 

He faced similar dilemmas in “The Wheeler-Dealer,” in which he is tempted to lie to a friend to unload a lemon of a car he purchased, and in “Greg’s Triangle,” where he is on the committee in charge of picking the next head cheerleader. Should he take the fringe benefits that would come with choosing his new girlfriend, or choose his sister Marcia instead?

But there’s a special moment in “The Dropout,” the show’s season 2 opener, that makes it my favorite Greg show. If the title doesn’t jog any memories, this is the episode featuring Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale, who compliments Greg’s curve ball, sending the kid on an ego trip that ends badly. There is a scene between Mike and Greg after his little league downfall that is the best father-son moment on the series. 

“Today I Am a Freshman” (Season 4)
This was by far the most difficult decision.

What an embarrassment of riches we have with the Marcia shows: “Getting Davy Jones,” “The Slumber Caper” and “The Subject was Noses” are all classics; there was also her crush on bug-lover Harvey Klinger in “Going, Going…Steady,” and her feminist-inspired enrollment in the Frontier Scouts in “The Liberation of Marcia Brady”.

And while I rarely get emotional watching The Brady Bunch, Mike’s realization scene at the end of “Father of the Year” always gets to me. Watch Maureen McCormick’s face – she is positively beaming with love and pride. 

I have three reasons for selecting “Today I Am a Freshman,” which depicts Marcia’s uneasy transition into high school. First, it sent a reassuring message to young girls that no one is immune from insecurity, even someone as beautiful and smart and poised as Marcia Brady.

To boost her social life at her new school, Marcia joins every club available, leading to a series of amusing scenes as she tries her hand at archery, scuba diving, karate and yoga. While this is happening, the episode’s B-plot has Peter building a working volcano, which he tests as Marcia is considered for membership in Westdale High’s most exclusive club, The Boosters.

For a television writer, bringing the A-plot and B-plot of an episode into a perfect simultaneous payoff is the ultimate accomplishment. “Today I Am a Freshman” achieves this goal with another unforgettable Brady moment. 


  1. Thanks for creating this list. I've seen all of these over the years. I didn't care much for the Brady ego trip episodes. "The Dropout" was notable to me as being the only time that Greg ever cried in an episode, which leaves Peter as the only Brady Kid who never cried.
    I guess I was always a sucker for light-hearted episodes like "The Show Must Go On??", where no one cried or yelled or fought. A good part of it was of the Family Night Frolics, where Carol & Marcia performed a great version of "Gypsy" and Mike & Greg did a funny poem reading.
    I don't know what you think of "Mike's Horror-Scope", but when I see it now, it seems very odd to me. The kids have very little to do in it, not appearing until 10 minutes into the show and only serving as a device for Mike's main plot. The kids were used here in much the same way as Ritchie Petrie was used (if he was used at all) in most Dick Van Dyke Show plots. Maybe the kids had been used too much recently according to their welfare worker and needed time off.

  2. "Mike's Horror-Scope" was never one of my favorites, Jon. The Beebe Gallini character was so exaggerated that it took me out of any recognizable reality. For a show that succeeded by presenting typical middle-class family situations, that was a bad choice. I felt the same way about "And Now a Word from our Sponsor," with its hippie TV commercial director.