Given its permanent place in the memories of millions of TV viewers, it’s surprising to find out The Brady Bunch was never really a hit in its first run. It lasted five seasons, but it never even made it into the top 30 when it aired. Now it’s a permanent part of our pop culture, with phrases like “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”, “Oh my nose!,” and “Something suddenly came up” still striking a familiar chord with multitudes of fans.
While the catchphrases were classics, a big part of the show's pop culture popularity was its unforgettable cast of characters. Marcia (Maureen McCormick) was the girl we wanted to be or wanted to date. Greg (Barry Williams) was the 70s-style cool older brother who got the girls and wrote the songs. Jan (Eve Plumb) and Peter (Christopher Knight) were the ones we actually identified with the most, while Cindy (Susan Olsen) and Bobby (Mike Lookinland) were the typical annoying little siblings.
Anchoring the Brady Bunch square was Mike Brady (Robert Reed), one of the gentler, more reasonable TV dads around, and Alice (Ann B. Davis) was the miracle worker housekeeper we all wished we had in our houses growing up. And what can I say about Florence Henderson? She was the patient if square mom Carol Brady, but Henderson's star power is so enduring that she's still a TV show fixture and has only gotten spunkier and more interesting as the years go by. (Anyone who's done a cooking segment on TV with Willie Nelson at her side gets a thumbs up in my book.)
So, on the 40th anniversary of the very last episode (where Bobby accidentally dyes Greg’s hair orange), we celebrate the series with − what else? – life lessons we’ve learned from The Brady Bunch gang.
#1: JUST BE YOURSELF
Did “The New Jan Brady” work? Did a wig change Jan’s life? Nope. She was laughed at, although subsequently apologized to, and reminded that the beauty of her true self is what shone through. Same thing happened to Peter, both when he tried getting some more attention with a Humphrey Bogart imitation, spawning the memorable “pork chops and applesauce” line, or when he asked Greg to step and feed him lines, Cyrano De Bergerac style, to win his lady love. Perhaps this is exclusively a middle child issue.
#2: DON’T GET A BIG HEAD
We all have our shining moments, but we can’t let our egos inflate to match our accomplishments. Marcia scored a starring role in Romeo and Juliet and became intolerable, Peter saved a life and fancied himself a hero, and one great baseball game turned Greg off academics completely, while visions of sports superstardom danced in his head. Jan won a “Most Popular Girl” contest – really? – and then reneged on all her campaign promises. What does this teach us? Humility above all. The alternative: humiliation.
#3: THE SECRET UNDERGROUND NETWORK OF ASSISTANTS, NANNIES, AND SECRETARIES INCLUDES HOUSEKEEPERS
What happened when Marcia lost her diary containing her secret thoughts about Desi Arnaz, Jr.? The Bradys did everything they could to find it to no avail. Then Alice stepped in: one call to Lucile Ball’s all-powerful housekeeper and Desi Jr. was at the Bradys’ front door.
#4: BEING ON TV IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK
“Baton Rouge, Cindy, Baton Rouge!” Cindy studies hard and wins a place on a quiz show, then freezes the minute she sees that little red light, and never recovers. But she’s not the only one who can’t handle the spotlight: when the whole family gets cast in a laundry detergent commercial, some terrible acting advice steers them wrong, and right off the set. Oops.
#5: BEWARE OF BAD ROLE MODELS
Remember when Bobby decided that Jesse James was his hero? Luckily his parents had access to a living witness to Jesse’s murderous activities. This isn’t something we all have access too, especially in world of fictional antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White. Let’s all take a lesson from this and keep our hero-worship focused on the worthy, if only to avoid having terrible nightmares.
#6: EVERYONE HAS AN EXACT DOUBLE
While we didn’t see a doppelganger for each member of the family, we did get to meet up with Alice’s no-nonsense identical cousin, who ran the house like a boot camp, and Peter’s twin, who literally bumped into him at school and launched the “now I can be in two places at once” scenario that always sounds so promising until it all comes crashing down.
#7: SINGING FIXES EVERYTHING
From school talent shows to fundraising efforts for anniversary gifts, the Brady family’s ability to sing came in awfully handy. And when things get challenging and puberty strikes, just re-write the song. The only time singing wasn’t enough was when Greg dumped his siblings for a solo career only to discover that his qualification for the job was all about how he fit the suit, and not his vocal stylings. Singing only failed them once: Cindy’s cringeworthy performance of “The Good Ship Lollipop” may have gotten Mike a gig, but that performance will never be forgotten. Unfortunately.
#8: IF YOU PROMISE A CELEBRITY TO YOUR ENTIRE SCHOOL, AND THEN STALK THAT CELEBRITY, YOU WILL SUCCEED
The prom. Davy Jones. Enough said.
The series has been done for 40 years now, but it’s become an indelible part of the fabric of American pop culture, for now and ever after. As Mom always said: "Don’t play ball in the house."