It seems unfair to use the word “insipid” against A Very Brady Christmas, because it implies that that wasn’t always going to be the case. As if there’s anything surprising about the fact.
Actually, there is a real soft spot in my heart for the Brady Bunch. Growing up as I did with Nick At Nite, and eventually TV Land and its weekend-long marathons of old sitcoms, I must have absorbed every episode of The Brady Bunch at least a half-a-dozen times. When I think of low-stakes, feel-good schlock television, though, I think of a friend of mine who has a deep, personal attachment to Full House. I certainly don’t have that kind of love for the Bradys, but still, we’ve had our fun together and I think of them fondly.
In a way, A Very Brady Christmas is a perfect encapsulation of what the Brady Bunch always was: bland, low-stakes, multi-threaded family fluff, where everyone managed to have their own thing going on in every episode, and every issue was wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end thanks to some last-minute good fortunate.
The difference is that in A Very Brady Christmas, everyone is grown up and either having sex with someone they work with, or struggling with the expectations and reality of American corporate culture.
Let me see if I can remember all of the bits and pieces:
Mr. and Mrs. Brady, played by the wonderful Robert Reed and Florence Henderson, are empty-nesters with just enough money and shared ideas for Christmas gifts to afford one vacation for the holidays. Problem is, there’s two vacations on order! Who will empty the special vacation account first to surprise the other? When this all comes to a head about ten or fifteen minutes in, they decide to do what the audience wants instead, which is to invite all the other Bradys home for Christmas.
Greg Brady is a doctor, and having sex with his wife, who is a nurse at the same hospital. Barry Williams is as charming as ever, and if you were 12 when Napster and KaZaA were in their heydays, then the name ‘Barry Williams’ made you think of this song.
Peter Brady, played by Christopher Knight, is a Business Man at the Business Business, and he is having sex with his boss, who is the Head of Business at the Business Business, and he’s having some really weird feelings about the fact that she is more powerful and succssful than him. Bobby Brady, played by Mike Lookinland, gave up on business and indeed higher education altogether to become a race car driver, and it seems like it’s going well for him, even though it doesn’t seem like there’s anyone to have sex with who also works for Racing.
Meanwhile, the Very Lovely Girls are all some shade or another of having less desirable lives.
Marcia, played by the under-appreciated and somewhat tragic Maureen McCormick, is married to an absolute loser who just lost his job (what else is new?) at the Toy Factory That Starts With a T. By the end of the film he’ll be offered a job at the Toy Factory That Starts With a P. Not only did he lose his job, but he is acting like a total sore loser about it. He won’t stop complaining about how his life is over, and he is a failure who cannot provide for his family. He does this while their daughter is present, and one has to imagine there will be consequences that manifest later in her life, like struggles with anxiety and perfectionism.
Jan, played by Eve Plumb, is married to a loser as well, and also has children with him. But this guy has a job, so for once Jan is actually doing pretty well for herself. They’re not getting on well anymore, however, because they refuse to talk to each other like adults and come to an understanding that will lead to make-up sex–not until literally the entire family is there to see it, however. And Cindy, who is not played this time by Susan Olsen, but instead by some other human being, has the least going on, and that’s why she’s getting squeezed into the Jan paragraph. She is going to college, and feels like she is still the disrespected baby when rather than be invited home for the holidays she is simply commanded to.
Also, Alice, played by the inimitable (except this one time, but they’re both great) Ann B. Davis, was left by her butcher husband Sam, which seems like a rather lazy way for the writers to get her back home and into the movie. The only thing lazier is how they undo that plot detail at the very end of the movie so that no one has to go home with any loose plot threads or bad feelings.
I am being flip about all this because, well, it’s entirely trivial. There are still plenty of plot details I’ve left out. For something as slow, pointless, and predictable as A Very Brady Christmas, this thing definitely moves at a rapid pace (after the first 15 minutes or so). It’s only in the final five minutes of the film that anyone is put into, and immediately plucked out of any real danger.
But that’s okay. The Bradys are okay. It exists to be pleasant and easy, and you’re either down with that, or you’re not. I usually extend a greater margin of forgiveness to Christmas films and forgive shortcomings I otherwise wouldn’t–that’s what the Christmas-Adjusted Rating is for, after all.
But it’s really hard to give the Bradys more credit on this one, because this movie doesn’t feel very Christmasy. The music is there, the scenery is decorated…but between the two Brady householders, six Brady children, three Brady spouses, one spouse-to-be, three Brady grandchildren, Alice, Sam, and a minor villain…well, shit, there’s just no room for Christmas in this movie!
And I mean that. While I’m willing to give this an eye-rolling pass on most things, the one spot where I expected something of it was that it should feel like Christmas. And for a family of characters and the actors that play them as beloved as the Bradys…I sort of resent this film for not making the best use of its time and opportunity. It should have been cheery, cute, and warm-hearted. But instead, it just felt like a movie where roughly two or three dozen people complained about the state of their lives and then Mike got stuck in a collapsing building for about five minutes.
And by the way, there was a guy on the construction site wearing jeans and a tight black t-shirt. Immersion broken, dumpster fire movie.
GBU Christmas-Adjusted Rating: 4/10
At the time of writing, A Very Brady Christmas is streaming on Hulu.