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'Growing Up Brady' recounts the good times

Sunday, May 21, 2000

Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor-->

That's the way they became "The Brady Bunch."

Or so "Growing Up Brady" would have us believe. The NBC movie is not a chronicle of casting the '70s sitcom, but a behind-the-scenes look at the show's stars and creator.

A sentimental and at times cheesy rehash, "Growing Up Brady" (airing tonight at 9 on NBC) will easily appeal to legions of "Brady" fans.

It's not absurd-funny like last fall's Danny Bonaduce-produced "Partridge Family" movie on ABC. And for anyone who has read the multitudinous "Brady" books, "Growing Up Brady" reveals nothing new. But the innocence, the sheer Bradyness of "Growing Up Brady" will generate smiles and renewed goodwill toward the show, its cast and characters.


"Growing Up Brady"

When: 9 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Michael Tucker, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Adam Brody


Based on the newly updated Barry "Greg" Williams book, "Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg" ($14, Good Guy Entertainment), it's a TV movie about a TV show that generated TV sequels, movie parodies and created the blueprint of family perfection for a generation.

The cast of "Growing Up Brady" is the third set of actors to play Greg, Peter, Bobby, etc. following the original cast and the actors in "The Brady Bunch Movie." It's actually the fourth renditions of Marcia, Jan and Cindy because each of the girls opted out of one or another of the "Brady" TV sequels.

Rather than just another trip down - "Oh, my nose!" - memory lane, "Growing Up Brady" turns the camera on the actors who played the characters. But other than Williams, the young actors don't become any more distinctive than their one-dimensional characters. That may be best since the cast of unknowns may not be up to the reality-busting test of playing an actor playing a character.

The movie begins and ends with a grown Williams playing himself and fielding the same Bradycentric question over and over: Did he and Marcia ever get it on? Williams answered that question in his book, first published in 1992, and it's dramatized in "Growing Up Brady."

"Barry's got a crush on his sister," Susan "Cindy" Olsen (Carly Schroeder) lisps on the set.

"Growing Up Brady" re-creates key scenes from "Brady" episodes, including the pilot where Mike (Daniel Hugh Kelly as Robert Reed) and Carol (Rebeccah Bush as Florence Henderson) get married.

The younger Williams is played by Adam Brody, who is depicted as the ringleader among the actors playing the Brady boys. In one (of two) overly long montage sequence, they terrorize the Paramount Pictures lot during the show's first season, driving a golf cart through wardrobe and stealing props from the "Star Trek" set. The latter is an anachronistic error: "Star Trek" would have finished production in spring 1969 before "The Brady Bunch" began production for its premiere in the fall.

That's not the only frustrating flub in "Growing Up Brady." Throughout the film the Bradys are shown in their blue squares, but several times they don't get the squares lined up correctly. The boys should be on the right, the girls on the left and the parents and Alice in the middle column. It's only a pop culture touchstone, so how could the producers of "Growing Up Brady" get this wrong?

The young cast imitates the famous actors/characters adequately, but they don't resemble - in looks or acting - the original Bradys as well as "The Brady Bunch Movie" cast. There's one exception: Scott Michael Lookinland, son of actor Mike "Bobby" Lookinland, plays his father and he's a dead ringer.

Williams' affection and reverence toward the late Robert Reed is obvious in his book and in this adaptation, but the film doesn't shrink from depicting Reed's battles with executive producer Sherwood Schwartz (Michael Tucker).

"We all know you studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts," Schwartz says after a typical Reed complaint. "But we're not doing Shakespeare."

Whatever his opposition to "Brady Bunch" slapstick, Reed is portrayed as a devoted mentor to the show's young cast. But there's one scene that does Reed a disservice. The world now knows Reed was gay and died of AIDS complications in 1992, but I have a hard time believing he was uncomfortable kissing Florence Henderson for a "Brady Bunch" scene. Gay or straight, Reed was an actor and had surely acted in similar scenes prior to "The Brady Bunch."

Williams' romantic pursuit of Florence Henderson is played sweetly and pretty much for laughs (some unintended, including Williams' narration about her "womanly charms"), but his advances on Maureen McCormick (Kaley Cuoco) are sometimes more leering (one shot slowly pans up her teen-age body).

Another scene shows Williams and McCormick as horny kids unable to keep their hands off one another during "Brady Bunch" filming. It's based on a passage from Williams' book, but it's an over-the-top re-creation that bears more resemblance to the Marcia-Greg make-out scene in "A Very Brady Sequel."

The most interesting insider dirt in "Growing Up Brady" shows how the kids banded together to launch a musical career. A manager pushed them to make demands - mostly creative - for future seasons of "The Brady Bunch," and the film implies those demands contributed to the show's cancellation in 1974. In a recent phone interview, Williams dismissed the idea those demands doomed the show as much as its overall cost.

"Growing Up Brady" is sweet fluff, the TV equivalent of junk food given greater import only because "The Brady Bunch" continues to enjoy its status as an undying pop culture phenomenon. And that's fine.

Besides, didn't we all grow up a little bit Brady - or at least wish we had?

Rob Owen is the author of "Gen X TV: 'The Brady Bunch' to 'Melrose Place'" ($17.95, Syracuse University Press).

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