Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Most Important Lesson Taught By The Brady Bunch

I believe we can learn a lot from the classic shows of the past. Granted, many of the lessons they teach are pretty basic – honesty, courtesy, good citizenship; perhaps back then viewers wondered why such obvious positive character traits even had to be imparted – didn’t everyone already know how to behave themselves?

Welcome to 2020, when it’s obvious some folks need a refresher course. Especially in the one message that, by accident or design, The Brady Bunch conveyed most frequently. 

Don’t play ball in the house? 
No, but that’s still good advice.

Don’t pick up small carved totems from Hawaiian construction sites?
I doubt anyone has tempted fate like that for decades.

Don’t bring a frog to a drive-in movie?
Now you’re not even trying.

If there is one tenet The Brady Bunch wanted all of its young viewers to understand, it was the danger inherent in developing a sense of entitlement.

That lesson was taught six times in six different episodes, each featuring a different Brady kid. For such a well-adjusted family, it’s surprising they had to keep learning it.

Peter was the first Brady to fall into this trap, in a first season episode entitled “The Hero.” It begins at Driscoll’s Toy Shop, where he pulls a little girl out of the path of a falling shelf.

Had this been a more recent series, the girl’s mother would have sued Driscoll’s into bankruptcy, and no one would ever get to buy toys there again. But this was a different time, and instead the mother was grateful to Peter and made sure he received the accolades he deserved for his heroism. 

The story makes the front page of the newspaper (slow news day!) and that’s when Peter begins to believe that his heroic act affords him special status within the family. “He doesn’t think heroes should put the garbage out,” says Bobby, on why Peter’s chores are now his. Then Peter wins a citizenship award with a $50 prize, and uses the money to – get this - throw a party to honor himself. Most Un-Brady-like. He finally gets the message when none of his friends show up.

Cindy’s brush with entitlement occurs in “You Can’t Win ‘Em All” when she is selected to represent her school on the television quiz show ‘Question the Kids.” From the moment that happens, she starts referring to herself as a television star: “Would you boys like to be the first to get my autograph?” she asks her incredulous brothers.

Throughout this episode Cindy expresses the belief that, when you are on television, everything you say or do is automatically more important. Sadly, many of the people who work in TV still believe that as well, as do many of their viewers. But Cindy’s brush with fame does not end well – when the quiz show begins she goes catatonic, with the worst case of freezing on camera until Admiral James Stockdale participated in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate. 

Unlike Cindy, Bobby never sought any special recognition, but had it thrust upon him. In “Law and Disorder” he is appointed to the post of school safety monitor. At first he is appalled at the prospect of finking on his friends. But that hesitation doesn’t last long. Not only does Bobby come to embrace his man-with-a-badge status, he decides to start writing up his siblings at home for rules violations. Even Alice ends up on report. 

Of course, this episode is best remembered for the scene where Bobby floods the laundry room with soap suds. That happens because Bobby is put in a position where he has to break a rule with good reason. Lesson learned.

Certainly, the Brady most susceptible to entitlement is Marcia. “Every time she turns around they hand her another award!” Jan once said, and it seemed to be true. Still, Marcia maintained a level head through all of her various achievements until she was cast in the lead in her school’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Reluctant at first to accept the part, she rapidly turns into a Fillmore Junior High version of Katherine Heigl. She berates her costars, changes stage direction, and even rewrites Shakespeare to suit her preference. And she plays the diva at home as well, especially when reminded of how she is expected to help Peter clean out the garage: “Do I have to remind you that I am the star of our school play? Juliet wouldn’t do such menial labor.” 

Result? She gets fired from the play on the day of the performance. That does the trick.

Jan, of course, never amassed the same accolades as her older sister, and frequently suffered from low self-esteem as a result. But in “Miss Popularity” she finally does something right, and still manages to screw it up. Nominated for “Most Popular Girl,” she wins the title by making campaign promises she has no intention of keeping: “The election’s over now, and I won. That’s the important thing.” 

Spoken like a true politician.

In the first draft of her victory speech, she accepts the title by acknowledging how this honor confirms she has more “charm and personality” than any other girl in school.

“We’ve got five other kids – can we put her up for adoption?” Peter asks. 

Thankfully it doesn’t come to that – like all of Jan’s other meltdowns and misadventures, this one also ends with a return to normalcy – or as close as she gets.

Last but not least, we have Greg deciding he no longer needs college and may not even bother with finishing high school. In “The Dropout,” Dodger great Don Drysdale compliments Greg’s slider, and from that moment nothing else matters to him but baseball: “I’m going to be a baseball player – they don’t have to know anything.” 

That life-plan proves short-lived after he gets clobbered in a Pony League game, leading to the best father-son scene of the series.

Say this in the Brady kids’ defense – all of them snapped out of their entitlement attitude pretty quickly. And at least they all achieved something first before their collective heads swelled.  Today, we have too many people that trumpet their entitlement without accomplishing anything to deserve it.

Sometimes I think this whole country should take a seat in the family room and listen to a stern talking-to from Mike Brady.


  1. Good gosh I loved this. I understand (I think) the point you’re trying to make David, but I just want to bask in all this awesome Bradydom. Grew up watching & loving the show Friday nights at 8pm, I can still remember what my mom said to my dad the night of the pilot episode: “Who do they think is going to watch this shit?”

    Mom, you & Dad had 6 kids—3 boys, 3 girls—and you honestly asked that?? Anyway, great read David—thanks!

    PS. I always loved Marcia’s dramatics, they were few but fiery—but she scared the crap out of me when she had that breakdown in the Juliet episode!

    1. Thanks for reading! I thought Marcia's meltdown was particularly dramatic as well, especially that heart-wrenching "Moooommmmmm!" at the end. But, whatever it takes to bring her back to her senses.

      And yes, I'm sure you did pick up on the point that was also being made here.

  2. I grew up on the "Brady Bunch" and am still a fan to this day. Going through this happy nostalgia-fest was a treat -- and I really like the way you tied it in to today's prevailing mindset. There are good reasons for this 1965 baby to wish time machines actually existed...

    1. I was a 1965 baby too, and I'll be halfway to 60 next month.

    2. I just wish more people were open to the lessons they taught us (and continue to teach).

  3. Great piece. I learned a lot from Mike and Carol Brady (and Alice). They filled a void for me I needed as a kid. Always call television "My Third Parent" and the Brady family is a good reason why.

  4. I remember these exact 6 episodes being covered in that 1/2 hour documentary on TV Land that copied Ken Burns' form of documentary. I didn't care much for the "ego" episodes. Barry Williams did actually cry in "The Dropout", not sobbing, but honestly crying, and it must've been tough for a 15-year-old boy to do. As you pointed out, he had the SM role thrust on him through no desire of his own, and he was more power-mad than having an ego trip, like the others. As I remember, Carol had Marcia removed from the play, so she was only "fired" by her mother's insistence, but it was an ego blow in any case. I could never stand Jan's run for "Most Popular Girl", since I thought a title like that was honorary rather than a job for which someone would campaign. I do agree w/ you over all about how everyone could benefit from good citizenship lessons now.