The Brady Bunch: The Complete First Season
Paramount // Unrated // $38.99 // March 1, 2005
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted February 20, 2005
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In 10 Words or Less
Here's the story... of a bunch named Brady...

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 DVDs
The first season of The Brady Bunch hits DVD in a four-disc set, packaged in two dual-disc ThinPaks. Each ThinPak has a two-sided cover that lists all the episodes (with a synopsis for each.) The two cases come in a cardboard slipcase with a nicely-designed lenticular animation cover. The discs feature static, full-frame menus, that list all the episodes and includes 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. Though there are no subtitles or language options, the shows do have closed captioning.

These discs are stuffed, with each holding at least six episodes, and seven on the first platter. At 25 minutes each, that's plenty of Brady to enjoy. Here's the episode breakdown for each disc:

Disc One
1. The Honeymoon
2. Dear Libby
3. Eenie, Meenie, Mommy, Daddy
4. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
5. Katchoo
6. A Clubhouse is Not a Home
7. Kitty Karry-All is Missing

Disc Two
8. A-Camping We Will Go
9. Sorry, Right Number
10. Every Boy Does It Once
11. Vote for Brady
12. The Voice of Christmas
13. Is There a Doctor in the House?

Disc Three
14. Father of the Year
15. 54-40 and Fight
16. Mike's Horror-scope
17. The Undergraduate
18. Tiger, Tiger!
19. The Big Sprain

Disc Four
20. Brace Yourself
21. The Hero
22. The Possible Dream
23. To Move or Not to Move
24. The Grass is Always Greener
25. Lost Locket, Found Locket

The Quality
The inconsistencies that made Paramount's "MacGyver" DVDs look less than acceptable are still at work here. But this time, it seems like it's the source materials that suffer from occasional scenes that are simply a mess, with dirt, damage, softness and increased grain. This sometimes happens in the middle of a scene, and is extremely obvious when it does. Thankfully, this phenomena decreases in frequency as the season progresses. When the transfers work, which is most of the time, they are brilliant. The vivid colors come across beautifully, and the level of detail is outstanding. 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 simple Dolby Digital Mono, which is exactly what you would expect for a show from 1969. The mix is crystal clear, without any distortion, and the music and dialogue co-exist peacefully. Unlike most shows, 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, Sherwood Schwartz, goes solo, talking about how the show was created and his memories about the cast and the production of the series. At his advanced age, he's very laid-back and softspoken, pulling out as much as he can remember, though it's not the most energetic track. There's a definite nostalgia factor at work, which makes it worth listening to.

In 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 is back, 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 Paramount TV DVDs, 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. The DVD presentation is excellent for a show of its age, and the extras have actually content, instead of fluff. 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.

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