Editor’s Note: Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger from Illinois. She covers disability rights and women’s issues and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping and Glamour, among others. Read her blog, So About What I Said, and follow her on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion on CNN.
We all know the premise of “The Brady Bunch,” the ABC hit that ran for five seasons starting in 1969: A lovely lady met a man named Brady and they knew their love was much more than a hunch. And the rest is history – or, in this case, 117 episodes.
This week the classic sitcom celebrates the 50th anniversary of its very first episode. Remember Mike and Carol’s wedding? Remember the cake incident? It’s become iconic, and that single episode kicked off a cultural phenomenon that spawned catchphrases (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”), spin-offs (“The Brady Brides”) and a never-ending supply of Brady merchandise (everything from records to lunch boxes).
The fact that these characters have managed to have such cross-generational appeal speaks to the power of the show. You don’t find many shows that both baby boomers and Gen-Xers love, but you have that with the Bradys. They were one of the first blended families on TV and spoke of the “generation gap” between children and their parents.
But while the nostalgia factor is clearly still alive, times have certainly changed. Life in the early 1970s is vastly different from life in 2019, and as much as I love the show for the memories it’s given me, there’s no denying that some things are dated.
This month, HGTV debuted “A Very Brady Renovation,” which follows the six Brady kids (well, adults…) as they transform the inside of the famous California home that was used for the exterior shots of the show. Did I mention that they’re renovating the home to look exactly like the show’s set? The finished product will be classic Brady and a true homage to the series – all the way down to the blue and pink wallpaper in the girls’ room!
It’s an interesting premise, to be sure, but it also got me thinking: What if the Bradys were just gracing our screens for the first time in 2019? Could you literally transport it from 1969 and plop it in today’s world just like they’re doing by redecorating the house? I doubt the show would translate well. It would quickly become a victim of that generation gap the characters bemoaned some 50 years ago.
For half a century, it’s been hard to escape the show’s influence. We’ve all found ourselves wrapped up in the Brady bubble at some point, even if we didn’t watch during the original run. I was born a full seven years after the show ended, long after the gang hung up their bell bottoms and stopped singing about sunshine days. And still, the show (and most importantly, the Bradys themselves) were such an integral part of my childhood.
Thanks to reruns, I got to laugh, cry and learn right along with them. Whereas my mom grew up when the show was first on and dreamed of being Marcia, I fell in love with it in the early 1990s thanks to reruns and dreamed of groovy Greg, the Casanova of Clinton Avenue.
“It’s very safe and friendly and nice,” said Eve Plumb, who played middle sister Jan to E! about the show’s appeal – and I agree. Everything was wrapped up in a cute little bow by the time each episode ended and, of course, a lesson was always learned. As Plumb put it,”When you go to watch ‘The Brady Bunch’, you know that a problem will be solved and people love each other.”
But there are aspects of the show that haven’t aged as well as that catchy theme song. The storylines, for starters. We saw the Brady kids deal with things like peer pressure to smoke and breaking their mom’s favorite vase. Ask kids today about the challenges they face and the exhaustive and scary list includes things like school shootings, cyberbullying, mental health struggles and drugs.
Plus, in watching the show, we’re presented with this idea that the transition to blended family is a seamless one; in fact, it’s as seamless as that first 25-minute episode. Aside from a few other hiccups in season one, the Bradys rarely ever mention their blended status. The kids even call their stepparents “mom” or “dad,” as if they’ve been a family forever, even though we know things like blending a family are never that easy.
The show may have been relatable to adolescents of yesteryear, but much of that relatability would be lost on today’s teens. The show rarely mentioned politics, for example. Today that’s something we can’t ignore, especially with today’s Gen Z, who are routinely on the front lines of activism about everything from the climate crisis to gun control.
In the end, I’m not sure the sort of charm and innocence we see on “The Brady Bunch” can ever be replicated. But maybe that’s a good thing. After all, it’s that very uniqueness that has helped the show remain such a cultural classic for so many years. We can enjoy and appreciate it as a sort of time capsule of the era, revisiting its lessons any time we want.
And in a very meta moment, the biggest lesson of all may come from the Brady kids themselves. As they sang in the Season 3 episode, “Dough Re Mi”: “When it’s time to change (when it’s time to change)…Don’t fight the tide, go along for the ride…”
Yes, the Bradys have given us the ride of a lifetime. Bell bottoms and all.