The house was always secretly the 10th character on The Brady Bunch.
The Southern California ranch-style home signified contemporary design and the epitome of middle-class living in the 1970s. Even if the house itself contained the kind of anomalies that any astute 8-year-old could identify almost immediately. Why was there just one bathroom for six children? That bathroom didn’t even appear to have a toilet! Mike’s study is huge but the three boys and three girls each have to share a room? Until Greg took over the attic, that is. Somehow it never occurred to Mike—an architect!—that he could have converted that space into additional bedrooms.
Ah, the simple pleasures of picking apart the logical fallacies of what was supposed to be a disposable sitcom and not an enduring work of cultural significance that is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
What better way to commemorate this occasion than a reality series in which the Brady kids, with the help of several HGTV stars, renovate the actual home whose exterior stood in for their TV abode? And even better, recreate the TV sets kids like me internalized over repeated viewings of the series’ 117 episodes, a decor this actual home never had?
Generation X’s TV family
The Bradys never really went away on television, because we wouldn’t let them. The Brady Bunch was never a hit when it aired on ABC from 1969 to 1974, but thanks to TV networks needing cheap programming and the kids who would become known as generation X (of which I am one) needing the processed comfort food the Bradys offered, the TV family survived their cancellation.
The first revival was the surreal The Brady Bunch Variety Hour in 1976, at which point they’d hardly been gone long enough to be missed. But then the nostalgia train kicked into gear.
The Bradys have returned to TV in 1981, 1988, 1990, 2000, and now 2019 with the debut of A Very Brady Renovation Monday on HGTV. (In 1991, a group of young comedic performers, including Jane Lynch, Andy Richter, and Jill Soloway, satirized the Bradys in a stage show called The Real Live Brady Bunch, commodifying my generation’s ironic appreciation for the show and leading to two popular films.)
A Very Brady Renovation begins with the home located at 11222 Dilling St in Studio City, California, up for sale. HGTV becomes a character in the show, seeing the opportunity in owning and making over the Brady house rather than letting its prime real estate be acquired by someone who would tear down the old structure—or seemingly worse, as the show presents it, have it fall into the hands of former NSync member Lance Bass, who was also an avid bidder for the property.
Network execs say that they wouldn’t have gone through with it if all six actors who portrayed the Brady children (now ages 58-65) weren’t interested in participating. Lo and behold, they were, and we’ve got ourselves a show. (With this format established, I look forward to the six Friends reuniting in 25 years to buy the Greenwich Village building that was supposed to be their home and recreating their actual apartments.)
The project is a massive undertaking, and one has to admire both the HGTV crew’s commitment to verisimilitude and the faux seriousness with which the Bradys take their roles as the ultimate arbiters. The subplots in the first episode (a special, extended 90-minute one) are fantastic, because they’re the reality-series equivalent of the kinds of overwrought, easily resolved dilemmas that plagued the Brady children on The Brady Bunch. Christopher Knight (aka Peter) is tasked with matching the house’s paint color to its original, and he treats it as if he’d been ported into an episode of CSI circa 2004, using forensic analysis and the doggedness of a detective to get it right. My wife watching with me couldn’t believe that the answer wasn’t to take a picture of the original house down to Home Depot to match the paint. Maureen McCormick (aka Marcia) resolves a dilemma involving the iconic Brady staircase, because the Property Brothers have to build it in what in reality had been a single-story ranch home. The brothers face a problem when they realize that they either have to have one less stair or alter the angle of the staircase to make it work, and Marcia has to decide which minor concession maintains the spirit of the TV original.
Just as in the old series, these conflicts resolve themselves gently and with good humor, most of it provided by the HGTV hosts. The Bradys are a soothing presence who mostly exude warmth as they cheerfully pitch in on the renovation and gamely try to match every detail of the TV sets where they spent their childhoods. The show is a wonderful synthesis of the 1960s sitcoms that aired in reruns incessantly for a generation and their modern analogues, the reality shows whose beats are inherently predictable but no less comforting than those sitcoms in their repetition.
If you spent any, much less all, of your childhood’s weekday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. watching episodes of The Brady Bunch, A Very Brady Renovation will tickle all of your nostalgia receptors in just the right way.