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Brady Bunch: Season 1

Paramount // Unrated // December 9, 2014
List Price: $22.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted October 23, 2014 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Here's the story... of a bunch named Brady...

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Sitcoms
Likes: The Brady Bunch, '70s cheese
Dislikes: Early Marcia
Hates: Jan, pointless represses

The Story So Far…
The story of a lovely lady and a man named Brady started in 1969 and was told for five seasons, as the blended Brady family, with three girls and three boys, represented an idyllic home life that gave America an escapist fantasy to enjoy, one that remains entertaining today, even if it is extremely cheesy and dated.

Paramount released the complete run of The Brady Bunch, seasons one through five, on DVD between February of 2005 and February of 2006. DVDTalk has reviews of each of those sets.

The Show
The tic-tac-toe opening credits, the catchy theme song, the "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia"... is there a show as recognizable for the various bits and pieces surrounding the series as it is for the actual characters and stories? Making its debut in 1969, The Brady Bunch represented a response to a time when the American Baby-Boomer ideal of the happy family was under attack, thanks to statistics that said divorce was becoming more and more prevalent. So here were Mike and Carol, two single parents with three kids apiece, who decide to meld their families into one uber-clan, with enough love and happiness to go around six times over. (It was intended that Carol had been divorced, but the networked cut that out. Though we know what happened to Mike's wife, the fate of Carol's ex is unknown [and joked about in A Very Brady Sequel.])

The kids, three girls and three boys, ranged in age from little Bobby and Cindy, to pre-teen Greg and Marcia, enabling the show to tackle tons of different storylines, as there was always a child at the right stage of life. Make no mistake, The Brady Bunch may have had nine cast members, but the show was only about six of them. The adults were somewhat superfluous, existing mainly to enhance the reality of the show and to provide the kids with foils and subjects of comparison, to illustrate differences. They may have been the motivation, but Mike and Carol were pushed into the background more often than not. That's not to say they didn't have their impact, but most of the plots focused on one or more of the younger six Bradys, leaving just three episodes in the first season focused on the parents, including two, "Is There a Doctor in the House?" and "The Grass is Always Greener", that are just extensions of their kids' battle of the sexes.

Surprisingly, Season One got off to a quick start, presenting some of the most classic and best remembered moments and ongoing concepts in the series' five-year run. The slapstick-heavy pilot episode, "The Honeymoon" set the tone, introducing the main players and homes for Mike and Carol, that wouldn't be seen again, as well as the first Mrs. Brady. "Sorry, Right Number" is one of the most memorable of Mike's schemes to teach the kids a lesson, as he replaces the house phone with a pay phone to cut down on the kids' calling. The sibling rivalry between the girls and boys, which would be a theme for most of the series' run, gets going right away also, in episodes like "A Clubhouse Is Not a Home" and "Vote for Brady," which pits Greg versus Marcia for student class president. As would be expected, Marcia is the center of attention several times, including "Father of the Year," "Brace Yourself" (a classic take on dental braces) and "The Possible Dream," the first of Marcia's star crush episodes, where she gets to meet Desi Arnaz, Jr. It doesn't get much bigger than that.

Considering the cheese factor and the dated nature of everything from the late '60s, the show really is not that bad. The kids are very good actors, and the material they have to work with doesn't handcuff them, which makes them more real than kids on similar shows from that era. Robert Reed and Florence Henderson are just as good as the parents every kid would love to have, as they portray a straitlaced, but extremely loving couple. This isn't Masterpiece Theater, but ignore the '60s stuff and there's a damn good family show underneath that can stand the test of time. Plus, Cousin Oliver hasn't shown up yet, which makes it twice as enjoyable by comparison.

The Discs
An exclusive release for Target, the first season of The Brady Bunch hits DVD with a newly-pressed four-disc set of the same content released in 2005, though this time it's packaged in a clear, single-width keepcase with a dual-hubbed tray. In the case is a two-sided cover that has an episode guide on the inside, while the slipcover repeats the stylish new cover art (a big improvement over the original set's) with added embossing and spot-UV coating. The discs feature the same static, full-frame menus as before, which list the episodes and include a play-all feature. For the three episodes that feature commentaries (see The Extras), the option to turn them on or off is shown after selecting those episodes. The other special feature is found on the menu for the fourth DVD. There are no subtitles or language options, but there is closed captioning.

The Quality
No changes here, so these reports are mainly the same:
The source materials seem to be suffering from occasional scenes that are simply a mess, with dirt, damage, softness and increased grain. Oddly, this crops up in the middle of a scene sometimes, and is extremely obvious when it does. The issue most goes away though as the season progresses. For the most part though, the transfers are brilliant. The show's vivid colors come across quite well, and the level of detail is surprisingly high. When Cindy opens the door and sees her new brothers in the first episode, the blue in her eyes, the blonde of her hair and the pink of her dress are simply stunning. Bright reds shimmer slightly, and there's some light dirt and damage, but other than that, everything looks good.

The audio is delivered in Dolby Digital Mono, which is exactly what you would expect for a show from 1969. The mix is clean and clear, without distortion, and the music and dialogue co-exist peacefully. Unlike many sitcoms shows, especially of this era, there's a lot of overlapping talk, but it's easy to pick apart. An excellent aural presentation.

The Extras
The three most intriguing extras are the commentary tracks on "The Honeymoon" (Disc One), "A Camping We Will Go" (Disc Two) and "The Hero" (Disc Four). On "The Honeymoon," the show's creator, the late Sherwood Schwartz, went solo, talking about how the show was created and his memories about the cast and the production of the series.Recorded seven years before he passed, Schwartz was very laid-back and softspoken, pulling out as much as he could remember in terms of production trivia, though it's not a high-energy track. There's a definite nostalgia factor at work though, which makes it worth listening to.

On the other two tracks, we hear from three of the grown-up Brady kids: Barry "Greg" Williams, Christopher "Peter" Knight and Susan "Cindy" Olsen. Their commentaries are a bit more lively, as the three friends play off each other, taking the track in a more adult direction than one might expect for a family release. For the most part, the trio makes fun of the costumes and set, talk about the plot, and talk about what it was like to make the show. There's not much in terms of sentimentality, which makes them more fun. Sure, most of the gossip has been spilt many times before, but in this format, watching along with them, listening to the Bradys is definitely entertaining.

A 15-minute featurette is also included on the fourth DVD, titled "The Brady Bunch: Coming Together Under One Roof." Schwartz returned, filling the main storyteller role, in a look-back at the series. Joining in for the featurette are Schwartz' son Lloyd, Mike "Bobby" Lookinland and the author of "The Brady Bunch" Files. There's some overlapping between the featurette and the commentaries, but with some new players involved, lots of footage from the show and some rare photos, it's an interesting bonus that's well-worth a look. Some of the facts about the show that are revealed seem relatively unknown to casual fans, such as Schwartz' first choice to play Mike Brady.

The first disc also includes trailers for several other "upcoming" Paramount TV DVDs (released back in 2004), which are forced before the menu and can be chosen as an option on the menu.

The Bottom Line
Despite being remembered as a safe family show that today comes across somewhat cheesy and saccharine, The Brady Bunch was actually quite ahead of its time, with Mr. and Mrs. Brady's subtle flirtations, the concept of a happy second marriage and the various references to politics and social issues. The comedy isn't groundbreaking, but even if you don't feel the nostalgia value, the shows are fun and representative of an idyllic American dream. Heck, just laughing about the dated clothes alone makes for a good time. Sadly, this release just puts a shiny (and admittedly attractive) new bow on the exact same package released nearly 10 years earlier. That said, the presentation is solid, and the extras remain enjoyable. If you were a fan of the show, these discs are a great trip back in time, and if you've never caught the show, somehow, then checking out these discs is a valuable pop-culture education.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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