Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Brady Bunch Movie

If you've got the Encore package, you've got a chance to enjoy some retro fun wihth 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie. It's coming up this afternoon at 4:20 PM (repeated three hours later if you've got both the East and West coast feeds of Encore), and is on the schedule again for Friday and Saturday.

If there's anybody here who isn't American and doesn't know about The Brady Bunch, I'd be surprised, but then, I don't know how much the original series made it to Europe. Mike and Carol were single paretns with three children each, who got married and started a blended family. If you thought Yours, Mine, and Ours was square, The Brady Bunch ups the ante, with the family living in suburban Los Angeles and being the model stereotype of middle-class life with First World problems; not that back in the 70s these things would have been called "First World problems".

The 1995 movie has a fun conceit: the Bradys are still living in the 1970s, although the world around them has evolved. Mike (Gary Cole) is still an architect, living in that iconic house and still designing all his buildings to look like variations on 1970s House. Somehow he's able to make a living, but that living is about to face a crisis: the neighbors the Ditweilers (Michael McKean and Jean Smart) are trying to sell the land in the area they all live to a developer who will build a mall on the spot (ah, the days of the shopping mall). To this end, they've been stealing the Bradys' mail, so that they haven't been getting their property tax bills. You'd think Mike and Carol (Shelley Long) would have noticed something, but they don't due to their 1970s ignorance, and wind up with a $20,000 tax bill.

What's a 1970s family with a $20,000 tax bill to do? Do what the Brady children did in a vintage episode from the original TV series and go on a TV talent show and win the grand prize! Interestingly, this movie comes from the era between when local TV was still producing a fair amount of non-news programming and when the "reality" competition shows like American Idol that hand out prizes big enough to solve the tax lien problem were around. But then, the whole point of this film is to be an homage to the original TV series.

As an homage, it broadly succeeds. If you liked the original TV show, I think you'll like the movie. References to the TV show abound. Also, all of the surviving stars from the original series (Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady, had died in 1992) have cameos. Almost as fun are some of the scenes with the Bradys being even more of fish out of water than they were in the original show. Jan pays a visit to a school psychologist and gets diagnosed with "Middle Child Syndrome" and is given some more startling advice; Greg knows what a car is but not a carjacking, Jack; and so on. If you didn't like the original show or are one of those non-Americans who never had it as a cultural touchstone, a lot of the humor may be lost on you or not stupidly funny.

The movie was successful enough among people looking for nostalgia that there was a remake, A Very Brady Sequel, that much more clearly takes ideas from the original show in creating its plot. I also have to admit that I prefer the sequel, but The Brady Bunch Movie is good fun for those looking for a warped trip back in time.

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