New 'Brady' Movie Panned

Friday, May 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — ``The true story about the filming of `The Brady Bunch,''' says NBC, ``was often times as funny, and certainly more dramatic, than the actual series.''

Maybe. But don't expect to see much of it.

Here's the story of a nostalgia-obsessed culture that can't get past its past — that belches forth big-screen versions of ``Leave it to Beaver,'' ``My Favorite Martian'' and, yes, ``The Brady Bunch.'' A culture that produces two — two! — live-action ``Flintstones'' movies.

And now we get the behind-the-scenes look at the Bradys. The two-hour ``Growing Up Brady,'' airing Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern on NBC — just days after an even more inept, more potboilerish Fox one-hour effort called ``Brady Bunch: The Final Days'' — purports to chronicle the ``real story'' behind the hit TV show.

Even giving it the benefit of the doubt — namely, that it's worth making in the first place, which is arguable — ``Growing Up Brady'' fails at what it sets out to do.

With an edge and a real premise, it might have been watchable. Its namesake, the book ``Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teen-age Greg,'' by Barry Williams, was an often readable, at times even insightful tale about kids growing up in showbiz.

Not the small-screen version.

The only remotely intriguing things about it are watching the talented DanielHugh Kelly suffer through a portrayal of Robert Reed, seeing Michael Tucker (in glasses like Uncle Junior's from ``The Sopranos'') play producer Sherwood Schwartz, and zooming in on a drooling Barry Williams (Adam Brody, who does well given the material) when the apparently hot-to-trot Maureen ``Marcia'' McCormick (Kaley Cuoco) steps out of her jean shorts and into the Williams family swimming pool.

Other than that, it's ``The Brady Bunch'' redux. It features the same improbable family slapstick (the kids run afoul of security on the Paramount lot and break things on the ``Star Trek'' sound stage), the same quasi-wacky suburban bear-huggery (we're supposed to believe the cast hummed the TV theme song in unison on the set?), and the same early '70s, post-psychedelic camera wipes and fades.

Reed is portrayed as a troubled, cantankerous, Shakespeare-trained actor who objected to much of the ``Brady'' scripting but dearly loved the kids who played his children — an accurate portrayal, by most accounts, if a sanitized one.

But Florence Henderson, in reality a vibrant, engaging actress, comes across in Rebeccah Bush's portrayal as entirely devoid of any Wessonality. Eve Plumb (Jan), Chris Knight (Peter) and Mike Lookinland (Bobby, played by Lookinland's real-life son) are nonentities, and the character of Susan Olsen, who played Cindy, is just plain annoying.

This isn't surprising. ``The Brady Bunch'' was not the best of 1970s TV comedy. It simply tapped into a theme resonant at the time — that two suddenly single parents could ``somehow form a family'' out of the angst of the age — and went from there.

It being a comedy, the potential for depth was underplayed — one of Reed's major complaints.

This was a serenely, almost obnoxiously happy family whose most trying tribulations, it seemed, were broken noses, school popularity issues and errant hair-dying experiences. At a time when ``All in the Family'' and, later, ``Maude'' were breaking new ground in family-oriented sitcoms, the Bradys were all too happy to look backward toward ``Leave it to Beaver'' while the boys grew proto-Frampton hairdos and the girls mooned over Monkees.

Nevertheless, it became a happy Gen-X staple — right down to the house that defined for so many post-Boomers how a nice white suburb is supposed to look. And what the demographic wants, the demographic gets.

So now we have kids precocious beyond their years playing kids precocious beyond their years. We have Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick fooling around, Eve Plumb and Chris Knight fooling around, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen fooling around. We even have Williams taking Henderson, his TV mom, on a date.

There are musical numbers and tension, too: Will the network renew for a second season? There are Hollywood machinations and showbiz betrayal — all nicely sanitary. And there's heartache: Tiger the dog dies during the off-season. ``Tiger's untimely demise was the first real Brady tragedy,'' Williams narrates, deadpan.

Finally, when the actors begin touring and are mobbed by fans, we have this infuriatingly Cindy-worthy line from Susan Olsen (Carly Schroeder, who nails Cindy on the nose): ``Now I know how the Beatles felt.''

This saccharine tribute to a saccharine show is fitting in its circularity. Gen-Xers loved ``The Brady Bunch'' for what it was, and for what it said about family and its role in modern life. But it's long gone; several enfeebled sequels didn't last, and two recent feature films with new casts succeeded only because of their wink-nudge take on the Brady naivete.

``Growing Up Brady,'' though, lacks any irony — just like the show it chronicles. It's something you can afford to miss. Instead, contemplate what might come next in our continual forward march toward looking back: a biopic, perhaps, about the horse that starred in ``Mr. Ed''?


Elsewhere in television ....

VP GOES `FUTURAMA': Vice President (and presidential candidate) Al Gore guest stars as himself on the season finale of ``Futurama'' Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern on Fox. In this episode of the animated cartoon series set in the 31st Century, Vice President Gore and his team of ``Action Rangers'' attempt to repair a disruption in the space-time continuum and deliver our hero, Fry, back to the future. When asked about his experience ``voicing'' the character on ``Futurama,'' Gore stated, ``I think of this episode as a bridge to the 31st Century.'' But how did they ever animate him?