“The Orson Welles Show” (1979)

Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier than ever to follow a celebrity’s decline. Even celebrities no one cares about, such as Kardashians in-laws or former cast members of The Bachelor, get 24 hour coverage, and the more often that coverage catches them doing something undignified, the more entertaining it is. Britney Spears looking fit and happy at the People’s Choice Awards? Borrrrrrring. Britney Spears crying in a Carl’s Jr. parking lot while power eating a Thickburger? Now you’re talking. We’re nothing if not a bit sadistic, particularly when it comes to misfortune befalling the people we envy.

Though tabloid culture certainly existed sixty years ago, it didn’t have that play by play discussion of every failed relationship, coke binge, and nip slip that exists today. Without Perez Hilton around to draw spurting penises on their foreheads with MS Paint, yesterday’s stars fell a little more slowly and quietly, but with no less sadness.

Orson Welles’s career trajectory wasn’t so much sad as it was puzzling. How do you go from writing, directing, and starring in Citizen Kane to narrating a song on a Manowar album? Despite being one of the finest actors and filmmakers in the golden age of movies, Welles, particularly in later years, couldn’t get a nickel tossed in his direction for his projects, most of which, if they ever got off the ground at all, were never completed due to either lack of finances, interest, or both. It’s mind boggling to imagine Orson goddamn Welles having to scrape together his own resources to finance projects, when today producers continue to throw enormous piles of money at people like Adam Sandler, despite ever diminishing returns. Nevertheless, old Hollywood, while more glamorous, was also rather more cutthroat, and Welles, while a critically acclaimed auteur, was never a smash at the box office. If he wanted something done at all, he had to do it himself.

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“The Cracker Brothers” (1984)

It seemed appropriate to close out Variety Show Month with a true obscurity, a show that even I, a self-proclaimed expert on the television of my youth, did not know existed until about three weeks ago. 1984’s The Cracker Brothers, which aired once on NBC and then was apparently stuffed in an ammo box and buried deep in the sand somewhere off a highway in Needles, California,  was Sid and Marty Krofft’s final, valiant attempt at keeping the variety show genre alive. Half-assed and astonishingly unfunny, it doesn’t breathe new life into the genre so much as set it on fire and cast the ashes into the wind.

Through a deal that could only have involved either a briefcase full of gold bars, or nude photographs of an NBC exec’s wife with the gardener (or perhaps the exec himself with the gardener), the Kroffts managed to score a prime Friday night timeslot for it. Given how little evidence of it remains, it’s safe to assume that The Cracker Brothers’ ratings fell somewhere between a rerun of a bowling competition from 1967 and a test pattern. Not even fondly remembered as an epic flop, like the following year’s Misfits of Science, it just disappeared, never to be spoken of again, like a fart at a garden party.

Even the usually reliable IMDB can offer up no more information than an incorrect airdate and a cast list. Only one recording of it exists on YouTube, a badly done video transfer with just over 1,000 views. That means that only 1,000 people in the entire world, myself included, have experienced this thing, and that’s assuming each view is unique, and not counting those who may have watched it more than once, trying to make sense of it.

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If anything positive can be said about The Cracker Brothers, it’s that it has a unique premise, and that’s all that can be said. The gist is that three brothers named Cracker are former window washers who were given their own variety show, despite having no discernible talent for singing, dancing, or comedy. The brothers–Derek (Derek McGrath), the smart one, Mark (Mark King), the dumb one, and Kevin (Kevin Scannell), the tall one (Kevin is also occasionally dumb when the need calls for it, but tallness seems to be his primary defining characteristic–are a bit non-plussed when the show begins, pretending to not understand what they’re doing there any more than the viewer does. They eventually warm up to the idea, though, and decide to put on a heck of a show. The studio audience, after discovering the crisp one hundred dollar bills taped under their seats, delight in their antics.

Most of the show consists of a disjointed series of comedy sketches, all of which lack both endings and punchlines. The brothers, fearful of a tax audit, destroy an IRS employee’s office. Derek plays a character called “The Maharishi,” telling bad jokes in a thick, incomprehensible “Indian” accent. Kevin is a doctor who performs emergency surgery on a clown, and is rewarded for his hard work with a pie in the face. Mark plays a chipmunk who sues Kevin on “The Person’s Court” for chopping down his tree. They mash together E.T. and Gandhi, not in any sort of clever way, but just because apparently the sight of Gandhi crawling out of some bushes and frightening a child (or rather, a grown man dressed like a child) is hysterical (note that this is one of two times in this show that Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist leader of the movement for Indian independence who was assassinated for his beliefs, is used as a sight gag).

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Some of the sketches are introduced by a baby-voiced “Cracker Girl,” who recites her dialogue like she’s reading it off her hand. Everything comes off like it was created by aliens who asked a random Earthling “What is comedy?” and then proceeded to only half-listen to the answer. The grainy, choppy look of the video transfer doesn’t help, making the whole show look like something you’d see in a found footage horror movie. If you watch long enough, eventually you’ll catch a glimpse of a bug crawling out of someone’s mouth, or a scowling girl with long black hair.

The show has the audacity to end with the Crackers being visited in their dressing room by comedy legends Danny Thomas (who looks like he left his limousine running outside the studio), Milton Berle, and Harvey Korman (who, presumably while held at gunpoint, directed this thing), who all tell them how great they were. The childlike Mark dons a top hat, as if embracing his impending stardom.

The Cracker Brothers is the last credit on Mark King’s filmography. Depending on what kind of person you are, that is either poignant or hilarious. Either way, it’s definitely funnier than The Cracker Brothers itself.

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It doesn’t seem fair to criticize something that doesn’t appear to be finished. After all, one doesn’t review a play that’s still in dress rehearsal, or rate a movie that doesn’t have a soundtrack yet. Perhaps after the jokes had been added, they would have had something. Not necessarily something good, but at least there would have been something. However, since NBC saw fit to let The Cracker Brothers air as is in a prime time Friday slot (in the fall, nonetheless), rather than burn it off in the middle of summer, I feel better about giving it the hatchet job it richly deserves.

As stated in virtually every review I’ve done for Variety Show Month, it begs the question: why? Who is this for? Where is the audience for a TV show in which actors play regular people who are inexplicably given their own television show? Why cast actors who don’t look alike, and whose chemistry suggests they just met for the first time the morning of filming, to play brothers? The extremely limited amount of information I could find on The Cracker Brothers suggests that, despite one unmitigated disaster after another, despite America collectively saying “Thank you, but no,” Sid and Marty Krofft, bless them, just simply could not let the variety show format go. The quiet, mob hit style disappearance of The Cracker Brothers seemed to do the trick, though. Nevertheless, the Kroffts continued to make baffling decisions, including their very next project, the short-lived Pryor’s Place, a Saturday morning children’s show starring, yes, you guessed it, Richard Pryor.

“Donny and Marie” (1977)

In the interest of fairness, I must take some time to focus on at least one variety show that was implausibly a success. Despite the fact that, by the mid-70s, the genre was taking its last few ragged, dying breathes, there were a couple tough little scrappers determined to hang on, including The Sonny and Cher ShowThe Captain and Tennille, and, perhaps most unlikely, Donny and Marie, which ran for three modestly successful seasons.

If the Jackson 5 were just a little too “urban” for your tastes, you listened to The Osmonds. Originally consisting of five interchangeable brothers, The Osmonds briefly achieved bubblegum pop idol status in the early 70s, with youngest member Donny, along with only sister Marie, becoming the breakaway stars. Both managed to churn out some solo hits, but were eventually repackaged as a team and given their own variety show, a remarkable achievement considering they were all of 18 and 16 at the time. Donny and Marie featured America’s favorite things: light comedy, watered down covers of hit pop songs, celebrity contractual obligations, ice skating, and Paul Lynde, all with that apple-cheeked wholesomeness that made the Osmonds popular in the first place.

By the time the third season rolled around, however, the show’s ratings were starting to sink. Supposedly this was because Donny’s female fans were upset that, at age 19, he had the audacity to start dating, but more likely it was because the audience had simply grown tired of the show’s aggressively old fashioned corniness. And, oh boy, is it corny. That shouldn’t come as a shock, considering that the Osmonds built their empire on a mountain of cornpone and hokum, but this really has to be seen to be believed. It’s sort of charming at first, but quickly turns stifling and uncomfortable. To witness Donny and Marie’s relentless drive to show the audience at home a good time is to experience secondhand anxiety, made worse by the fact that, really, these are a couple of teenagers who should be at home going to high school (it doesn’t help that Marie’s unflattering hairstyle and wardrobe are more suitable for a woman twice her age). You can’t help but like them, while at the same time hating whoever it was (their parents, their agent, ABC president Fred Silverman, who knows) that convinced them this was a good idea.

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After a surprisingly groovy credits sequence, the episode I watched opens with Donny and Marie doing a cover of Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights.” In keeping with the show’s theme of taking something already pretty bland and wringing even more of the juice out of it, it eventually turns into a Busby Berkeley-style dance number featuring an ice skating troupe called the Ice Angels, who end up forming a kick line. After that, Donny and Marie play pool with Redd Foxx, whose presence on the show I can only assume was agreed upon after a blank check and a carton of cigarettes was exchanged. Much of Foxx’s dialogue is spoken in an incomprehensible, muttering growl, and Donny and Marie just smile a little harder to compensate for it.

Next, Kris Kristofferson, who must have emerged from the womb bearded and grizzled, appears to perform “Living Legend,” a song that seems to be about the plight of Vietnam veterans, and thus couldn’t be more out of place on Donny and Marie if Donny himself covered a Johnny Thunders song. After that, Donny, wearing an unbelievable mustard yellow suit, duets with Marie on their signature tune “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll,” although Marie is really a lot country, and Donny is so far removed from rock ‘n’ roll that he couldn’t find his way back with a map and binoculars. Despite his best efforts to convince the audience that he has “Motown in his soul,” even while wailing on a saxophone in the presence of a trio of black backup singers, there is no discernible rock ‘n’ roll to be found.

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We finally get to some “comedy” in the second half of the episode, when Paul Lynde appears as an unemployment office clerk who has to help Farrah Fawcett (played by Marie) find a job. Again, because this is supposed to be more wholesome than a loaf of Sunbeam bread, the jokes are so light as to be almost undetectable, and you can see Lynde all but champing at the bit to improvise something more bitchy.

After a puzzling bit where pre-filmed footage of unidentified teen skateboarders is cut with shots of the Ice Angels skating around in hot pants, we get to the highlight of the show, when the brothers who got left behind when Donny and Marie were made into solo acts, still collectively known as “the Osmonds,” perform a cover of “Shining Star.” Obviously four dorky Mormons singing and dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire is absurd, and yet, they give it their earnest all, and it doesn’t seem nearly as soaked in flop sweat as the rest of the show. It’s like watching a bunch of middle-aged dads just throwing all caution to the wind and letting themselves go at a wedding reception, and ends up being kind of adorable.

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It’s a swift decline from there as Kris Kristofferson appears again to duet with Marie on Lou Rawls’s “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” Despite their near 25 year age difference (let alone that Marie is only 17 here), they stare longingly at each other the entire time, a bizarre blocking choice considering that barely a minute earlier Marie introduces Kristofferson’s then-wife, singer Rita Coolidge, and their young daughter, who appear to be watching this eye-fucking spectacle from just off stage.

Nearly the last fifteen minutes of the show is devoted to an atrocious musical parody of Star Wars, written by people whose knowledge of Star Wars seems to extend no further than vague familiarity with some of the characters. In addition to being woefully unfunny (Redd Foxx shows up as a character named “Okefenokee”), it’s cynical–you can almost hear the conversation in the writers’ room that went “What do these rubes like? That Star Wars thing, right? Let’s do something with that.”  They don’t even bother to make sure what they’re parodying is accurate, having Darth Vader refer to “my force” and escaping in the Millennium Falcon.

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Paul Lynde appears in the sketch as well, his facial expressions and body language shouting, as he must have thought before filming each episode of Donny and Marie, “What am I doing here?” Both Donny and Marie were likely thinking the same thing, but just did a better job of hiding it.

“Ringo” (1978)

The question that lends itself to virtually all variety shows, particularly from the 70s, is “why?” “Why was this made?” “Why did anyone participate in it?” Those questions can be easily answered with “cocaine” and “$$$$,” but that still doesn’t make their existences any more reasonable. They’re all strange beasts, trying unsuccessfully to inject a hip, modern flair into a very old-fashioned genre, featuring performers who are either trying way too hard or not at all.

1978’s Ringo aired at a time when the Beatles had been over long enough to qualify as “oldies music,” and Ringo Starr was struggling with both a considerable drinking problem and approaching irrelevance. Faced with dwindling record sales, a decision was made by adults who really should have known better to promote the release of Starr’s seventh solo album with a prime time variety show, featuring that classic “picked at random from someone’s Rolodex” celebrity casting, including Carrie Fisher, Art Carney (both of whom would relinquish a bit more of their dignity in The Star Wars Holiday Special later that same year), John Ritter, Angie Dickinson, and Vincent Price. It was a clunker from the very beginning, and nobody seems to be aware of this more than Ringo Starr himself, who spends the entire show glumly dragging himself through every scene, leaving his co-stars to do all the heavy lifting.

Ringo (how they resisted going one step further and adding an exclamation point to the end, I have no idea) presents itself as a paper-thin adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper. Introduced by George Harrison, who sports a magnificent head of Ted Nugent-like hair, we first get a look at the life of Ringo Starr, ex-Beatle turned solo artist. Starr has grown weary with being a world famous musician, surrounded by piles of gold records and hot babes who walk into traffic just for the opportunity to light his cigarette. Driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by his pushy manager (John Ritter), he longs for the opportunity to take a break from his hectic life for a little while.

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Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there exists a man who is a double for Ringo. A shy, lonely nerd, Ognir Rrats (siiiiiiiiigh) earns a pittance selling maps to the stars’ homes. Put upon and picked on by everyone he meets, including his abusive father (Art Carney, so over the top he comes off like a character in a Dickens novel), Ognir has elaborate fantasies of fame and fortune (which includes a restaurant selling a “Rrats Burger,” which, when you think about it, probably wouldn’t be all that big a seller).

When Ringo eventually encounters Ognir, his immediate reaction isn’t “Hey, isn’t it weird that this guy looks exactly like me?” but rather to strongarm Ognir into agreeing to temporarily switch lives with him. Ognir agrees after being forced to participate in an interpretive dance set to an instrumental version of “Yellow Submarine,” because, hey, if you’re forced to participate in an interpretive dance set to an instrumental version of “Yellow Submarine,” you’ll agree to goddamn anything.

Ringo eases into Ognir’s life without a hitch, paying off a thug to let him drive his hot rod around town, and romancing Ognir’s girlfriend Marquine (Carrie Fisher), with whom he duets on “You’re Sixteen” (Fisher was actually 21 to Starr’s 37, which makes this scene only mostly repulsive). Things seem to be going swell, until Ringo is dragged off and locked in a room by Ognir’s father, who, for whatever reason, treats Ognir as though he’s a teenager as opposed to nearly forty.

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Ognir, unable to believe his sudden good fortune, mostly walks around in a daze, nearly has an emotional meltdown in the presence of Mike Douglas, and, not surprisingly, proves unable to play the drums. An attempt to hypnotize him into believing he’s Ringo Starr briefly seems to be successful, until he wanders off stage at the beginning of a concert to try to sell maps to the audience. Thankfully, the real Ringo, having escaped Ognir’s brutish father and the police, shows up just in time, offers Ognir a job as his road manager, and well…that’s it. Nearly the last ten minutes of the show is given over to Starr and his band performing songs from the new album, which was the sole reason this show was made in the first place.

There’s a certain sadistic pleasure in watching a variety show featuring stars who make no attempt at hiding how beneath them they think it is. Ringo Starr looks so miserable in this that it seems almost cruel to make fun of it. That being said, declining album sales aside, Starr was still a member of the biggest pop group of all time, and it was unlikely that he was forced to go along with some PR department wonk’s demand that he do the show. What’s more likely is that he agreed to it as a lark, only to realize what a huge mistake he had made once he finally got a look at the final script. Instead of making the best of it, he mopes his way through it, relaxing only long enough to do a mildly amusing bit of physical comedy with Vincent Price as a hypnotist.

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Perhaps it’s a good thing that Starr wasted not a drop of energy on Ringo, as it ended up one of the lowest rated programs of the week it aired, and the album it existed to promote, Bad Boy, flopped hard. There would be bigger failures in Ringo Starr’s solo career to come, but eventually America was able to do for him what we refused to do for the Bay City Rollers, an early 90s comeback was warmly received, and a now 75 year-old Starr is probably out there somewhere still singing “You’re Sixteen” as you read this.

“The Krofft Superstar Hour” (1978)

Once upon a time, back in the mid-1970s, America discovered that Scotland existed, thanks to a modestly talented pop group called The Bay City Rollers. One of many, many bands that would be marketed as “the new Beatles,” only to immediately fade into obscurity thereafter, the Rollers, capitalizing on the exoticism of being from a different part of the U.K., had exactly one genuinely good song (“Saturday Night,” not coincidentally their biggest hit), one passable cover of a Dusty Springfield song (“I Only Want to Be With You”), and several albums worth of bland, unremarkable pop-rock.

“Rollermania” in the U.S. lasted all of about a year and a half, and was already petering out by the time Krofft Productions retooled a struggling Saturday morning variety show around them. Renamed The Krofft Superstar Hour, it was a hodge podge of music, comedy, and pre-recorded sketches, and managed to be both dull and frenetic. Like all variety shows, there’s a cheerful desperation to it, like watching a party clown make the same misshapen balloon animal over and over.

This episode opens with the Rollers performing a song that is not “Saturday Night,” so who cares. They then have some painfully stiff banter with comedian/impressionist Louise DuArt, playing gossip columnist “Mona Jarrett” (a parody of Rona Barrett, someone I’m not sure the typical Saturday morning television viewer would have even heard of). None of them are natural comedians, and all seem cowed in the presence of DuArt, who serves up more ham than a delicatessen clerk.

Each of the Rollers have names, which I immediately forgot after the opening credits. Never has a band had members less distinguishable from one another, the primary difference being one of them has blonde hair. Other than that, they all look alike, dress alike, have matching shag haircuts, and even sound like each other, all speaking in Scottish accents as thick as a slab of shortbread dough.krofftsuperstar2

After they pretend to do wacky things like move furniture and get chased around by rabid fans, the Rollers introduce the first pre-recorded sketch, “Horror Hotel,” which features Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf. Essentially a live-action Scooby Doo episode, complete with a hallway chase scene (not to mention a “walk this way” joke), it goes on for more than ten very long minutes. Whoever was in charge of controlling the laugh track was evidently drunk with power, as there’s not only canned audience guffawing after punchlines, but also before punchlines, and when there aren’t any punchlines.

“Mona Jarrett” shows up again for a scene set up solely for a “Scottish people are cheap” joke, followed by a montage of the Rollers being just regular fellas, going on roller coasters, jogging, riding in a stagecoach, and pretending to pan for gold. After that, we’re treated to a performance by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, the Kroffts’ bizarre attempt at introducing glam rock to kids, minus the drugs and homoeroticism. The original version of the show was intended to be a vehicle for them, but when it struggled for ratings they were shoved aside for the five lads from Edinburgh, which is a bit like a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream being turned down in favor of “vanilla frozen dessert” instead. To add insult to injury, they don’t even get to finish their song.

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In another signature Krofft moment of putting disturbingly sexualized puppets in their shows (see the semi-clad showgirls in The NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue), the Rollers flirt with and ask a minidress wearing lady marionette which one of them she would take with her on a desert island. Speaking in a breathy French accent she eventually decides “I’ll take all of you!” Before we’re threatened any further with the suggestion of a Bay City Rollers-puppet gangbang, we go to the next pre-recorded sketch, “Lost Island.” Here’s where we finally get a taste of what the Kroffts do best–weird, random shit that looks like the collaborative writing effort of a six year-old and the local weed guy.

Positing that H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost, and various other characters from earlier Krofft shows are all just hanging out together on an island somewhere, the sketch involves island spirits, magical stones, stop-motion dinosaurs (which are repeatedly referred to as “dragons”), a villain named Dr. Deathray, and his henchman, played by Billy Barty. Though no effort was expended in creating a plot that makes sense, “Lost Island” never reaches the balls-out druggy incoherence that we’ve all come to love and expect from a Sid and Marty Krofft production. Like the Bay City Rollers’ career, it’s a lot of potential ending in crashing disappointment.

After that, one of the Rollers attempts to flirt with a hot pants and tank top wearing blonde, who is described as being “Stu’s girl” (and who, frankly, comes off as though she might be a hooker). We have no idea who “Stu” is, other than a surfboard toting thug who threatens to beat up said Roller. To save their bandmate, the other Rollers invoke a horrifying, obese puppet named Mr Munchie, who takes a bite out of Stu’s surfboard and chases him off the stage. Finally, they close the show with a medley of songs, all of which mention the phrase “rock ‘n roll” in the chorus, none of which are “Saturday Night,” so again, who cares?

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As is usually the issue with variety shows, and why the vast majority of them fail, it’s not clear for whom The Krofft Superstar Hour was made. The studio audience consists largely of teenage girls, presumably both Bay City Rollers fans and the original audience for H.R. Pufnstuf nearly a decade earlier, but probably not watching too much Saturday morning television by that point. Boys and younger audiences weren’t likely tuning in to watch anything involving the latest teenybopper idol, and no one under 18 was likely to be getting jokes about gossip columnists and the legendary thriftiness of Scottish people.

Even all that aside, by the time the show aired in 1978, the Rollers were already fast on the decline, with an album released that same year not even cracking the top 100 chart (their next five–yes, five!–albums didn’t chart at all, anywhere). It’s unclear who needed who more here, but what they ended up with was a plodding, charmless mess. Once it was realized that no one was watching it, the show was cut down to a half hour (“Lost Island” was removed, eliminating the only interesting, albeit incomprehensible segment) and renamed The Bay City Rollers Show. That met with even less successful results, however, and the whole thing was scrapped a month later. The Bay City Rollers went on to remodel themselves as a new wave band, while the Kroffts went on to produce Pink Lady and Jeff, and whoever ended up embarrassing themselves more is a debate for the ages.

 

 

“The Brady Bunch Hour” (1977)

There are some things in your childhood where you know they existed, but you simply can’t believe they existed. “Pac-Man Fever,” for instance. This was a song about a video game performed by adult men, from an album consisting entirely of songs about video games (other tracks included “Ode to a Centipede” and “Do the Donkey Kong”), and it ended up being among the top fifty pop songs of 1982, ranking above “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Then there’s 1980′s The Apple, a musical Biblical allegory set in a dystopian future where disco lives forever, and only a pair of Canadian folksingers can restore the world to its purest state. When we get all moist-eyed and wistful about our clearly superior childhoods, where kids could play outside from dawn until midnight, and we could step on all the rusty tin cans and broken glass we wanted because it helped build character, goddammit, we never mention this kind of shit.

I don’t remember when the The Brady Bunch Hour (originally called The Brady Bunch Variety Hour) was in first-run, but I know it existed. Other people have written about it. A coffee table book dedicated to it, co-written by Susan Olsen, was published in 2009. Episodes of it are available on YouTube, and I watched one. I still can’t believe it existed. I can’t believe this was a thing that people got paid to work on, for which set builders and makeup artists and caterers were hired. Actual writers, who wrote many other, less bafflingly terrible things, wrote it. It shouldn’t exist, and yet it does, like the pop culture equivalent of a platypus.

After an appearance by some of the cast members of The Brady Bunch on an episode of The Donny and Marie Show proved to be a ratings hit, network brass decided to give them another shot at a series. It should have been an easy enough concept–the Bradys, three years after the original show ended, when the kids are dealing with the travails of young adulthood or the difficult teenage years, and Mike and Carol are faced with impending empty nest syndrome. It wouldn’t have been the most exciting TV show, but then again, neither was the first one.

However, that was not the route that was chosen. Sid and Marty Krofft, producers of many other TV programs children born in the 60s and 70s are pretty sure they only hallucinated in a fever dream, were brought on board, and the new show was packaged as an hour long variety show. Let’s be clear, though–this wasn’t a variety show featuring the actors from The Brady Bunch singing and dancing as themselves. They were in character performing for a “live” studio audience, evidently after Mike, Carol and the whole family (Alice included) were just randomly offered their own TV show, which was very common in the 1970s. Everybody got a variety show in the 70s, you see. I have such fond memories of my father performing a cover of “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” with Dinah Shore, Paul Williams, and Madame.

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Anyway, The Brady Bunch Hour promised to be all things to all viewers, with the stars performing both old standards like “Baby Face,” as well as the latest hits, like Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You, Baby,” a disco song pretty transparently about fucking, so not at all weird when covered by a musical troupe that’s pretending to be a family. As far as the performers’ appearances, it’s all very of the time (that time being 1977), with some impressive white guy Afros, sequined cocktail dresses, exposed chest hair, gold chains, and Farrah wings, and yet a considerable amount of screen time is also given over to the “Krofftettes,” a group of aquatic chorus girls who perform endless Busby Berkeley style routines in a swimming pool. If you guessed that one of the Bradys gets pushed into the pool at some point, go buy a scratch-off ticket, because it is your lucky day!

In trying to make a show that could be enjoyed by the kids, Mom, and even Grandma, they ended up with a show enjoyed by no one. A singing and dancing Brundlefly, it’s a perfect illustration of why there is nothing more painful to watch than forced jocularity. Half the cast looks like they’d rather be literally anywhere else than on that stage, and the other half overcompensates with terrifying, glassy-eyed grins, the type that you see before someone gives you a cup of Flavor Aid and imminent demise.

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Meta before meta existed, The Brady Bunch Hour breaks up interminable musical numbers with faux “behind the scenes” banter, as well as the cast introducing the studio audience to pre-recorded scenes at home. The at home scenes are merely stiff, with all of the action taking place in one crowded room and consisting mostly of the characters making the lightest, most inoffensive wisecracks possible, still playing to the audience despite ostensibly being off the clock. In the episode I watched, Rip Taylor makes an appearance as a moving man/real estate agent/con artist that Mike Brady inexplicably doesn’t immediately have removed from the premises, returning in later episodes and eventually striking up a romance with Alice (!!!!).

Later in the episode, Taylor tells the Bradys that he “accidentally” rented out their home as a weekend vacation spot to a “nice young couple,” who turn out to be–holy cow, can you believe it??–Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, who show up for less than ten minutes, smile wanly, and then are never seen or mentioned again. Other celebrities that fulfilled contractual obligations included Redd Foxx, Charo, Rich Little, Rick Dees, and the cast of What’s Happening!!

The musical numbers are where The Brady Bunch Hour really shines, though, and by “shines” I mean this is what Alex DeLarge was actually forced to watch as part of his “therapy.” If you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of white people, including Rip Taylor, perform “Car Wash” while dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz, this show fulfills that dream. If you’ve ever awoken in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat, after having a nightmare in which Florence Henderson sings “Send in the Clowns” while various Bradys dressed as sad clowns perform mime in the background, I need to tell you that that isn’t a nightmare, it’s a flashback, because that actually happened.

gregclown

This is also a close approximation of my face while watching this scene.

It’s sad to see how much money clearly went into elaborate costumes and set design, for a TV show that’s a labored, incoherent pile of shit. Nothing works in this show. Nothing makes sense in this show. Why are Alice and Rip Taylor suddenly part of the stage show? Why are they singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in a show that’s supposed to take place in January? Why can’t Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett-Majors just stay at a goddamn hotel somewhere? Why are the Brady kids still squabbling like a bunch of 10 year-olds, when almost all of them are old enough to vote? Why is Rip Taylor? Why is Rip Taylor???

One bittersweet nugget o’trivia to share before I wrap up this abomination and hopefully put it to sleep forever: though he never felt comfortable playing family patriarch Mike Brady, evidently Robert Reed loved doing this show, despite clearly being among the least adept at singing and dancing (Mike Lookinland is probably at the bottom, but only because you can just see the spirit draining out of his pores as he clubfoots around on stage). Though you’d think “Hey, remember that time we had our own TV show” would often come up in family conversation, later incarnations of the Bradys, including The Brady Brides and The Bradys, never mentioned it, not even in the slightest passing. It seemed that for everyone but Mike, it was as much a horrifying experience to remember as it was for us to watch it.