Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The ’90s are less of a distraction from ’70s sitcom artificiality in A Very Brady Sequel

Illustration for article titled The ’90s are less of a distraction from ’70s sitcom artificiality in A Very Brady Sequel
Screenshot: A Very Brady Sequel

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With Coming 2 America now available to rent from home, we’re offering our own belated sequel to a past Watch This theme and singing the praises of more good comedy sequels. 

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A Very Brady Sequel (1996)

Those of a certain age will be alarmed to learn (or just sorry to be reminded) that The Brady Bunch Movie, released in 1995, is now a more ancient cultural artifact than the original TV series had been when the movie came out. That distance inevitably undermines its inspired conceit, which placed the Brady family, unchanged since the early ’70s, in what was then the modern world. Juxtaposing their groovy threads and squeaky-clean sitcom personalities with hard-boiled “reality” fueled most of the jokes, which makes it difficult, today, not to be constantly distracted by elements that are nearly as dated: gigantic car phones, 90210 fashions (though some of those are back, god help us), omnipresent grunge. We’re meant to laugh at the Bradys, trapped in the wrong decade, but twin layers of nostalgia now create a strange crosstalk.

That’s much less the case in A Very Brady Sequel, hastily assembled the following year (before the kids playing Bobby and Cindy could outgrow their roles, presumably; they were already roughly the age that Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen had been when the show was canceled). Its screenwriters—including Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, who’d go on to write and direct Josie And The Pussycats—apparently decided that there wasn’t much more comedy gold to be mined from ’90s folks gaping at ’70s refugees. Sequel instead leans hard into the Bradys themselves, acknowledging that they were blatantly artificial even when they were contemporary. Carol (Shelley Long), who was little more than relentlessly cheerful in The Brady Bunch Movie, becomes a even more pointedly useless appendage here, visibly awaiting her cue while Mike delivers yet another bromide and then chirping “Your father’s right, kids.” Impromptu musical numbers are delightfully absurd for their own sake, not because we all know that kids used to sing and dance in unison on airplanes but don’t do that anymore. Most of the jokes would have worked equally well had this movie been made in 1975, just after the series went off the air. The Bradys were always ludicrous.

Technically, there’s still a modern-day subplot, featuring Tim Matheson as a con man who poses as Carol’s deceased first husband (don’t ask) in order to steal a valuable antiquity that wound up among their house’s kitschy knickknacks. The movie doesn’t really care about its ostensible narrative, though, and Matheson—unlike Michael McKean, who played the first film’s antagonist—doesn’t get a whole lot to do. That leaves more time for Gary Cole to show off his pitch-perfect replication of Robert Reed’s maddeningly measured vocal cadence, and for Henriette Mantel to rattle off Alice’s corny one-liners, and for Christine Taylor to just somehow uncannily be Marcia, to the point where it’s actually hard to believe that she’s not Maureen McCormick. Sadly, Sequel pulls back a little from its predecessor’s characterization of Jan as utterly psychotic, but Jennifer Elise Cox still pushes the ignored-middle-child neurosis to goofy, wild-eyed heights. You don’t even necessarily need to have seen the George Glass episode, though that’ll help… and this film generally indulges in many more callbacks to the original series, tossing in gags that will mean nothing to viewers who’ve never seen it. There are more such viewers with each passing year, no doubt. Time destroys everything.

Availability: A Very Brady Sequel popped up on both Amazon Prime and Hulu just a few days ago, as it happens. It’s also available to rent or purchase digitally from Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft, Fandango Now, Redbox, DirecTV, and VUDU.