A Very Brady Chirstmas originally aired as a made-for-television movie in 1988, one of the rare times where (almost) the entire cast reunited to show the world how they were aging and prove that they still had that patented Brady Charm. Though ridiculed at the time, the special wasn't too bad. Nobody looked terrible, and everyone remembered how to nail a pun. At the very least, they all looked to be having fun. Still, there were a few interesting and odd things about the show that'll have you scratching your head and laughing for all the wrong reasons.
Many of you have probably seen the more recent Brady feature films - the spoofs with a different cast that played up all the silly nuances of the show. In truth, the Christmas special did this a whole lot better, though not really intentionally. Most of the older Brady kids have gotten married, and there's various scenes showing them in, well, 'compromising positions' with their beloved. Now on any other show, a kiss is just a kiss. But when you're watching little Peter all grown up and tonguing his boss, the effects are magnified to such a degree that you feel like you're watching a porn flick. It'd be unfair to expect them to portray grown adults in the same way they did small kids in the 70s, but it's still somehow unsettling to watch. Especially because I can specifically recall four or five scenes where one of the kids gets busy right in front of Carol. Oh yeah, about Carol...
She's the glue keeping this whole story together. Florence Henderson tried really hard and still had a ton of energy, but I'm not kidding when I say this - she comes off like a complete lunatic here, to a level where you're really gonna question whether or not this thing was a colossal inside joke meant to fuck with fans' heads. Wide-eyed and constantly animated, Carol is portrayed as a manic horndog who meddles in everyone's business constantly. They didn't try to make it seem that way, but whatever. To be honest, any complaints you'd think up about A Very Brady Christmas actually make it a thousand times more entertaining than it had any right to be.
All of the actors reprise their roles, from Mike all the way down to Alice and everyone in between. The only one who didn't show up was the original Cindy Brady, actress Susan Olsen. I'm sure there was a story behind that, but it's more fun to pretend that Susan had gone bald and didn't want the world to see her. No big deal though - Jennifer Runyon takes her place as Cindy, and does a decent enough job. Actually, she does a pretty shitty job, but I refuse to admit that because she was my favorite Scott Baio girlfriend from Charles in Charge. I wonder what she's up to nowadays. Probably doing infomercials for some magnetic face mask that makes your feet have less callouses.
The Brady cast was blessed by avoiding too much controversy over the years. The stars of most shows, particularly from their era, see all the skeletons in their closets pour out once their star power fades. Obviously, the late Robert Reed made some headlines, but did so on his own accord and effectively turned his story into a positive rather than a tabloid humiliation. I firmly believe that one of the reasons The Brady Bunch has been able to enjoy such continued success is because you don't have to watch the old shows thinking about what total fuckups everyone ended up becoming. Sure, they were some kinks, but if you've ready Barry Williams' great book, I Was A Teenage Greg, the overall picture you get of this whole phenomenon is a group of people who rode a wave of popularity, had a lot of fun doing it, and then got settled into their normal lives without too many problems.
In A Very Brady Christmas, we find Mike and Carol still living in the same house, only now it's been remodeled. All the kids are grown up with families of their own, living far away from the childhood home. The story is about getting all the kids together for Christmas again, but obviously, no Brady Bunch show would be complete without a set of 150,000 personal problems that can all be solved with a combination of psychotic group therapy and a subversive insult from an old maid who's maintained the same hairstyle for forty-seven million years.
It was released on video and isn't too hard to find - if you were a Brady fan, I'd certainly recommend checking it out. There were way too many ludicrous subplots and bad jokes for me to possibly review all of them, so here's a more subsidized review. And by 'subsidized', I of course mean '3,000 words too many.'
Mike and Carol have a dilemma. They both secretly want to surprise the other with vacations for Christmas. Mike wants to go to Japan, Carol wants to go to Greece. Neither knows of the other's plans. I think the director went a little far with the romantic aspects of the characters' lives here - I guess they were trying to illustrate the increased adult tone of the special, but instead of making them talk and dress like real people, they just make everyone kiss constantly. There are more makeout scenes in A Very Brady Christmas than every movie Neve Campbell's starred in combined. But you're not watching Neve Campbell get felt up and fondled here - instead, you're watching Carol rub Mike's leg sensually, and Jan getting sexed up by her estranged husband. ALL IN THE SAME HOUSE WHERE THEY USED TO SING KUMBAYA AND MAKE LITTLE HEART-SHAPED EARRINGS OUT OF CLAY. They probably had to spray the entire set with ammonia after filming to wash off all the bodily fluids leftover.
In a way, Carol Brady was a mother to everyone in the world. But nobody in the world wants to watch their mother lick their father's ear or grab his ass at every given opportunity. I felt like I had to say three Our Fathers and flip my mattress after watching this thing. Though in their defense, I watched A Very Brady Christmas while having sex with my grandmother and her florist who actually died a week prior. So the prayers and flipped mattress might not have everything to do with watching Greg's wife getting a pony ride.
Carol and Mike eventually find out each other's secret plans, and change their minds: now they want to have all the children back for Christmas this year, just like the old days. So they make a buncha long distance phone calls, and this gives us a chance to see what's going on in the kids' lives. Unfortunately, every single one of the Brady kids is in the midst of great personal turmoil. Let's hope all their problems get solved before Christmas dinner! Oh ho ho ho!
Here's a rundown of each of their current problems, and how this could impact their desire to come home for the holidays:
Marcia: Looks mostly the same, only somehow shorter. Wears blouses large enough to suit an African gorilla. Lost the 'I'm better than you' attitude; gained the 'I'm gonna disappear from now until the last five minutes of this special' attitude. Marcia's husband just lost his job, and doesn't want to go to her family's on Christmas out of sheer embarrassment. They have two kids, including a son who came fully prepared to give Cousin Oliver a run for his money as the most annoying lifeform to ever appear on a Brady Bunch show. They agree to come, but under the rule that nobody mentions his career troubles.
Greg: Now a doctor, he and his wife Nora are also having some trouble with Carol's Christmas Dream. Nora, by the way, is a nurse who just happens to work under Greg. Well, not literally under. She's not sticking those turkey basters into patients' asses under his foot or anything. Nora already promised her parents that they'd go there this year, but Greg argues that they've gone there the past three years in a row and HE'S GOD DAMNED TIRED OF PRETENDING TO KNOW HOW TO PLAY CHESS JUST SO HER UNCLE FRANK WON'T GET OFFENDED. Nora suggests that he takes one of their two kids to his parents, while she remains at her parents' to fulfill her obligations. Greg seems thrilled with the idea. Couples being a thousand miles apart on Christmas doesn't seem too Bradyish, so I predict a change of plans.
Jan: In the middle of a nasty split with her husband, Jan is so fearful of spoiling his family's happy holiday that she actually asks her estranged husband to pretend everything's fine and join them for Christmas. He agrees, because who wouldn't want to spend the biggest day of the year with their ex-wife's gigantic nosy family in another state.
Peter: Doesn't want his girlfriend to join him at Christmas because his family will find out that she's his boss. Peter takes great shame in making less money than his woman. He agrees to take her along, but makes her promise to keep their positions a secret. Speaking of positions, they end this scene with the two going at it like this was a cheap 2 AM Cinemax movie. Christopher Knight as an adult looks so much like Zack Galligan that I'm surprised Gizmo didn't pop out of his jacket pocket yelling 'mogwai.'
Bobby: He's a bit apprehensive about coming home, since he's been keeping a dark secret from the family: he dropped out of business school to pursue a career as a race-car driver. I love how they're dictating each of the kids' adult lives based on a vague hobby they had in one of the old episodes. I just realized that their dog, Tiger, is nowhere to be seen in the special. Does that mean... Oh I can't even think about it. Tiger is immortal. That dog should've lived for sixty years at least. A world without Tiger the Dog is a world I can't be a part of. I also can't be part of a world where a Brady kid has fangs, but sure enough, Bobby's choppers seem to have morphed into jagged shards not unlike those typically found inside a great white shark's powerful jaw. Bobby also agrees to come, but isn't planning on spreading the truth about his current career path. I don't see why he doesn't, though. If anyone makes a fuss over it, he can just use those huge teeth to bite their head off. I wish my teeth were sharp enough to split a diamond. That's all I want for Christmas.
Cindy: Cindy doesn't wanna come because she doesn't want her family to find out that she's not really Cindy, and rather an obsessive stalker who killed the real Cindy and took her place because she previously had initials that spelled out a crass three-letter synonym for 'buttocks.' Actually, she doesn't want to come because she already planned a ski trip with her graduating college class. More so than anything else, Cindy is pissed feeling that she was 'told' to go, not 'asked.' She's not a little girl anymore, get it?! Don't worry if you don't, because she's going to say 'I'm not a little girl anymore' a hundred thousand times in the next 90 minutes and I'm sure it'll stick with you sooner or later.
Despite their troubles, all of the kids agree to meet up for Christmas. Carol expresses her joy with this by dancing around the room and making her eyes move independently from each other, like a Jackson chameleon or a veiled chameleon or a really hyper tv mom who needs to stop doing smack on the set just before that guy snaps the clackerboard. Still, our cast is not complete. Their is one integral piece of the puzzle as of yet missing. It's nice that the children are coming home, and it's nice that Carol has chameleon eyes. But it's not The Brady Bunch without a pepper-haired slave baking cookies in the next room. We need Alice.
I admit it, I think I've always been in love with Ann B. Davis. She looks a lot older, which might have something to do with her being a lot older. She still retains the Alice charm, though. And the haircut. She pays a surprise visit to Carol and Mike after Sam the Butcher leaves her a Dear John note, detailing his affair with...a younger woman! Her old employers and longtime friends offer her a place to stay for as long as she wants. Alice is stoked. I think this scene could've benefited with a closing shot of Alice throwing up piles of snakes and frogs into the middle of their living room, followed up by a 'you sure you still want me to live here?' quip.
While Alice doesn't vomit up any snakes, she does manage to belch quite visibly (and audibly) on camera on at least two separate occasions during this special. It would've been great if one of the producers played a nasty trick and entered her name as 'Old N' Gassy Ann Davis' into the closing credits. The shock would've killed her, or at least made her break wind.
I've always thought that Des was way too modest about his role as 'Eskimo chief' in Morons From Outer Space.
The kids begin to arrive, and soon, the entire house is packed. Almost all are with their wives and significant others, and some came with lousy kids. There's people everywhere, and it's impossible to keep track of anything from this point forth. They all exchange pleasantries and give each other half-stories about what's going on in their lives, because everyone is keeping terrible secrets and Confucius always said that lies lead to unhappy cross-eyed Carol Brady types. I see the future / I find it frightening.
That night, damn near everyone except Mike and Carol can't sleep because they're all haunted by their problems. They handle their frustrations by sitting together in the kitchen in total silence, eating all of Alice's pies. Alice isn't known to take kindly to those who eat her pies before their intended eat-date. The plot thickens.
Carol senses that her kids aren't happy, but Mike assures her that she's just being paranoid. Then they start making out, because that's what we came to see. In true Brady Bunch fashion, the myriad problems everyone's faced with are all solved conveniently during a single dinner the next night - it's Christmas Eve!
I guess the best way to do this is with another child-by-child rundown. Here's how each of the dilemmas were solved...
Marcia: Her husband apologizes for keeping his layoff a secret, and after confessing, tells the good news about Mike's neighbor who just gave him a great new job. Marcia's husband looks exactly like Gary Larson.
Cindy: Finally expresses her frustration with always being treated like a child who can't make her own decisions. Mike and Carol agree that they've been acting terribly and promise to buy her a pony to make up for it. Cindy celebrates by tonguing one of Greg's kids because she forgot to bring someone to fuck on-camera like everyone else.
Jan: Carol enters her daughter's temporary bedroom and is shocked to see that she's not sleeping with her husband. So after patching things up, she suggests they do just that. I'm serious. The scene is thankfully cut short before things get too surreal, but you clearly see Carol lead her daughter straight into a round of monkey sex right in her own house. Jan's husband doesn't look like Zack Galligan or Gary Larson, but he sounds like a magical English-speaking duck when he talks. Just for the record.
Bobby: I think his quote sums things up perfectly. Bobby stands up, asks everyone for their attention, and lets this gem out: "Mom, Dad, I dropped out of business school, and I'm becoming a race car driver." I'm surprised Carol didn't spontaneously combust after hearing that, and in truth, a tad disappointed by it too. Bobby really got the shaft in this special; I think Sherwood Schwartz had a private prejudice against people with fangs.
Greg: He didn't really have any problems - Greg just missed his wife. Luckily, Nora missed him too, and surprised everyone by showing up just in time for Christmas. Then she went into this long spiel about 'family values' and 'loving Greg' that was so here-and-there and asinine that a cosmic entity who identified himself as 'Chorno-12' materialized in my apartment and put his hands over my television speakers until she finished, citing that his plans for our planet were too great to watch it crumble under the domino effect that would surely be caused from somebody hearing Nora's ridiculous speech in full. Thanks, Chorno-12. You're a lifesaver. A real lifesaver. I like butterscotch.
Oh yeah, Peter confesses all his dirty secrets, and then he and his galpal get engaged right at the dinner table. A lot of shit happens at that table. There was a whole other subplot going on between Carol and Mike that I should've mentioned, involving Mike being the architect for a guy who Carol sold land to through her real estate office job. The guy fired Mike after a disagreement about his insistence on costly structural changes for safety's sake, and apparently, Mike was right: the jerk who fired him went ahead without making the necessary changes, and now his building has caved in on two of his workers. This usually is something one would call the cops or paramedics about, but in line with Brady logic, the former architect gets the help message instead.
Mike tells everyone that he must leave to check on things, but to go on eating without him because he'll be back real soon. So they carve the turkey, begin eating, and notice that Mike's taking an awfully long time to make it back home. I mean, it's Christmas Eve, how much work could possibly need to be done? Just as they're beginning to get a little worried, the phone rings. Alice picks it up, and immediately, her wrinkled face sours, looking less like a prune and more like a raisin with each passing second. Obviously, something is wrong. The phone call brought dreadful news:
MIKE IS TRAPPED IN A GOD DAMNED CAVE.
No, really. Mike is actually trapped in some kind of cave where his former employer was building something. He managed to set the workers free, but got himself stuck inside. Poor Mike. The whole family, plus a series of reporters and onlookers, is at the site praying for a miracle. Somehow, I doubt they're going to kill off Mike Brady in A Very Brady Christmas Special, but this thing's just been full of surprises. I didn't expect to see Jan fuck, for instance. Maybe they will kill off Mike after all.
Nah, he gets out safe and sound after hearing everyone singing Christmas songs in a show of solidarity and faith. To illustrate that Mike's battered and bruised from the wreckage, they poured sawdust all over his head and made him fake a limp. So I guess everyone's problems are solved now, right? Nope. Not everyone, not quite yet. We've still got Alice. She's still upset because the butcher is off cutting meat with another woman. Her words, not mine.
But don't worry, Sam comes back, having seen the error of his ways. He begs for Alice's forgiveness, and the couple shares a big wet kiss. The reason he's in a Santa Claus suit is because that's not the real Sam - the real Sam died sometime prior to this. Instead of hiring someone who'd be remotely close to the real Sam's age, they used a guy who couldn't have been more than 30 years old and tried to mask that fact with a cotton beard. They tried, they failed, Alice burped again. But on the whole, the Brady Bunch got themselves a very merry Christmas this year.
Overall: I watched A Very Brady Christmas a while back and absolutely loathed it. It actually wasn't so bad this time around; I guess it's grown on me. It's definitely a must-see if you were/are a big Brady fan. If you weren't/aren't a big Brady fan, at least it's cool as a b-level porn flick. I still miss Tiger, though.