Here's the story about how a fictional TV family has remained popular over the course of several decades.
There are many reasons why 'The Brady Bunch' continues to endear viewers. Taking into consideration how societal experiences and expectations have altered since the 1970's until today, 'The Brady Bunch' works far better as a measuring stick for taste than its contemporaries, and even better than most TV shows that came after it.
This is a list of factors which have improved our perceptions of the legendary show––and family––over time.
1. THE SERIES VS. THE ERA
'The Brady Bunch' originally aired from 1969-1974 (final episodes aired in 1975.) The show had poor ratings––and not much acclaim. It's worth noting that the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War for the entire original run of 'The Brady Bunch'. Families were far too concerned about their own sons and brothers being sent off to fight via the draft to care much about the utopian, suburban antics of the Brady family. There was also a recession. Unlike many sitcoms of the time, 'The Brady Bunch' was decidedly apolitical. The tight family-unit concept of the show also felt outdated to viewers because of the wild, counter-culture-heavy (drug-fueled) era that occurred immediately before. When the show later aired in reruns in the 1980's and 1990's, the Bradys seemed funny and cheesy. Today, the Bradys can actually seem infinitely hip. They have great values, sure––but they're also extremely kind, good-natured, highly tolerant individuals. They seem more relaxed and cheerful than today's families. The Bradys simply cared about a sense of togetherness––an attitude that's especially refreshing to observe today when people have become far too concerned about simply projecting an image of themselves and their families to others via social media. As a family, the Bradys are decidedly not 'uptight'; we'd all be lucky to have easygoing people like the Bradys around. Lastly, because we've collectively experienced plenty of turmoil over the past couple of decades (war, recession, etc.), the safe, relaxed feeling that comes from spending time with the Brady family is a welcome happening––so to speak. 'The Brady Bunch' suits our sensibilities today better than those of viewers who watched the show decades earlier.
2. HOME + INTERIOR DESIGN
The Brady home and its interior look fantastic today––especially given the past two decades saw renewed appreciation for Eichler-style homes, mid-century modern design, chintz fabrics, patterned wallpaper, etc. From the backyard, to the sliding glass doors and wide windows surrounding the TV room, to the charming kitchen, over to the dining room which meets the famous stairs; then there's the den, where architect Mike Brady was often found drafting his designs. (It's always fun to keep in mind that he designed the Brady home.) Finally, over to the front door and out to the famous exterior shot of the house. It's all so familiar. For those of us who grew up watching 'The Brady Bunch', it feels like our home.
3. THAT 'REALITY BITES' MIKE BRADY (ROBERT REED) MOMENT
In the Ben Stiller-helmed, Generation X-themed film 'Reality Bites', Ethan Hawke's character's smug commentary targeted the legacies of pop culture icons like 'The Brady Bunch'. One utterance gutted an entire generation: Winona Ryder's character says, "I just don't understand why things just can't go back to normal at the end of the half hour, like on 'The Brady Bunch' or something." His reply: "Because Mr. Brady died of AIDS." Watching the show today, it's impossible not to have a deepened respect for Robert Reed, who played the Brady patriarch. The 6'3"and handsome Reed was a fine actor who helped adjust the tone of 'The Brady Bunch', often butting heads with series creator Sherwood Schwatz. Schwartz initially wanted 'The Brady Bunch' to be more slapstick (like his previous hit, 'Gilligan's Island'.) Reed didn't want the show to be too silly, or slapstick. He helped shape the series into the heartfelt, beloved classic it remains today. To consider in retrospect how much Reed, who was gay, must have struggled to protect his private life (he never came out) adds another soulful dimension to his portrayal of the lovable, protective father everyone from various generations wished they had.
4. CAROL BRADY'S HAIRSTYLE FALLACY
That Carol Brady wore a flipped mullet hairstyle throughout the series is a great misconception. She wore her hair in the infamous style during only two seasons: Seasons 3 and 4. For every other season, she wore her hair in more palatable, short styles. Carol Brady's hairstyle fallacy was further magnified by 'The Brady Bunch' movies––in which she and the entire Brady family wore their worst-ever looks (i.e. Jan Brady's side spiral curls, which she also only wore in Season 3.) Worth noting: Florence Henderson rocks the hairstyle in question––she owns it, looks great in it. There's nothing really wrong with her flipped mullet.
5. THE CARS
Those Brady cars have a rarified, attractive look today. There's the light brown 1970 Plymouth Satellite station wagon; the stunning 1971 blue Plymouth Barracuda; the equally beautiful blue 1972 Chevy Impala convertible. There's the maroon 1965 Chevrolet C-10 that Greg and Marcia drive. All of the Brady cars are sleek and stylish. Two of the most enjoyable episodes of 'The Brady Bunch' are the ones in which Greg and Marcia (respectively) take their driving tests. It's delightful to see them drive around the neighborhood––or compete against one another in a classic trucker-style contest to determine who is the better driver.
6. THE JOKES + THE LINGO
The jokes in the show are actually funny. 'The Brady Bunch' is funnier––and more pleasant to watch––than a great many of today's sitcoms. And not only because of the nostalgia factor; it happens to be a very well-executed show, featuring wonderful comedic actors. Each actor is also natural when it comes to to playing moments of distress. From the smallest Brady to the oldest, there is great empathy in each performance. No one in the charming cast (Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Ann B. Davis, Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland, Susan Olsen) ever misses a beat. And there's a palpable chemistry between the actors. It's no wonder the fictional family became legendary and larger-than-life. The actors are believable as a good-natured family, one who cares very deeply for one another. And there's also the lingo. In the 1980's, 1990's and the aughts, the Brady family's distinctive 1970's lingo sounded corny. Today, their choice words sound hip and cool. It's highly tempting to use their 'far-out' or 'heavy' phrases after watching the show. Today it's fun––instead of funny––to reference their lingo.
7. THE CLOTHES
While the Brady family sometimes wore bell-bottom pants, patterned shirts and dresses––which seemed alarming to those who watched reruns of the show during the trend-focused 1980's (when 'The Brady Bunch' aired every weekday afternoon)––in earlier seasons, the family actually dressed in remnants of sporty, mod, classic 1960's styles. By the 1990's, even extreme 1970's styles did not seem as far-fetched. The distinctive snobbery of 1980's sensibilities (tapered or baggy were the ONLY acceptable pant styles) towards the 1970's permeated into the exaggerated Brady Bunch movies of the 1990's. We collectively view the styles of the 1970's differently today. Everyone has grown accustomed to a mishmash of eras in fashion. Nothing is entirely current, and the idea of trendiness seems obsolete. (Watching 'The Brady Bunch' today drives this point home infinitely better than words possibly can.) The Bradys dress in timeless styles that could (and should) be worn without hesitation.
8. REFRESHING EARNESTNESS
From the opening credits, it's immediately touching the way the actors look at one another. This too has been taken for granted. Watch their expressions. The father's and the mother's. The love and concern for each child––as they pretend to look at one another through separate grid screens. Look closely and you cannot keep from getting teary-eyed. Their tight, functional family seems ideal, perhaps even possible, in today's world. Yet sadly, ours has become an Instagram world where everyone seems inclined to display a calculated version of their families, and of themselves. The Bradys are a fictional family, but they seem more genuine today than far too many 'real' families do.
All five seasons of 'The Brady Bunch' are currently available to watch on Hulu.com. (Several notable episodes are missing––presumably due to music rights.)