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The Best And Worst Things About A Very Brady Christmas

Here's the story ...

Of a lovely lady ...

And her husband, a man named Brady ...

And how their empty nest felt particularly empty one Christmas, so they decided to bring all six of their children, their significant others, and their former housekeeper back home for what turned out to be one of the best TV reunions and delightful Christmas movies to grace televisions in the '80s.

"A Very Brady Christmas" brought back most of the beloved original cast and debuted on December 18, 1988. It also brought back most of its fans and gained new ones too, as it was the second-highest-rated TV movie of that year. Its 39 share rating meant "that 39 percent of all television sets in use on that Sunday night were locked in on the Bradys" (via "The Way We All Became The Brady Bunch").

The movie's magic took hold of its cast, even on the temperamental Robert Reed who played papa Mike Brady. At the time, according to the Des Moines Register, he said, "I haven't had as much fun in ages. We really are like a family, as corny as that sounds. I have more paternal feelings toward them than I do my own children." And the payday wasn't bad either, as Greg Brady actor Barry Williams later said to The Las Vegas Sun, "I made more money doing 'A Very Brady Christmas' ... than I made in all five years combined doing 'The Brady Bunch.'"

There is a lot to cheer for in this TV movie marvel, but there is also plenty to jeer. 'Tis the season to once and for all point out the best and worst things about "A Very Brady Christmas" ...

Best: The characters never change

What makes "The Brady Bunch" so lovable and re-watchable is how you can always depend on the two parents, six children, and one housekeeper to be nothing but their amazing selves. Sure, lessons are learned, everyone grows up a bit, and some things change – but Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby, Cindy, and Alice always stay essentially true and pure.

Fourteen years may have passed, but Mike is still doing what's right and helping where he can, like getting son-in-law Wally a new job. Mike and his forever perky wife Carol are always aiming to please and solve any problem thrown at them or their children.

Their kids are no longer kids, but you can tell they inherited their parents' values and do-goodness. Also: Marcia's still a catch, Greg's still standing tall, Jan's still a bit of a Bitter Betty, Peter's love life is never simple, Cindy is still never taken seriously, and Bobby is still going out on a limb (and perhaps losing one).

As for Alice? She straps on that old blue uniform for the first time in ages and it's as if time has never passed. Even Sam the butcher hasn't changed — he's still a giant meathead.

The tone of the movie rightly matches that of the original show, and feels like a warm hug from an old friend you haven't seen in years.

Worst: They replaced Cindy

One doesn't have to do much of a double take to notice that one of the original Brady cast members didn't come home for Christmas. Viewers long accepted as fact that Susan Olsen, who played Cindy, couldn't participate, according to The News and Observer, because her "elaborate wedding-honeymoon plans couldn't be changed." Turns out Olsen "wasn't exactly superduper cooperative [sic]" to begin with. In 1989, Olsen admitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer that she got a little greedy, saying, "I did ask for a lot, but it wasn't nearly what the other girls were asking. I wasn't going to do it for crumbs" (via Cincinnati Enquirer).

Stepping in for the youngest one in curls was Jennifer Runyon of "Ghostbusters" and "Charles in Charge" fame. Runyon was "nervous" about joining the Brunch, saying in a 2014 podcast episode of "Flashback with Carey Fisher," "These people have all been together for so long, and who am I to come in?" Though Alice at first couldn't figure out who she was when picking her up at the airport, Greg noted how different she looked, and she was forced to eat at the kids table, the cast, including former "Another World" soap opera boyfriend Christopher Knight, welcomed her with open arms.

While Olsen may have been sour on the movie, calling it "A Very Barfy Christmas," she holds no ill will against her replacement. She told Runyon on that same 2014 podcast, "You did me proud. I was so relieved, I was really happy when I saw that they cast you. I was like, 'Oh, what a big celebrity ... so pretty. They'll think I turned out good.'"

Best: The Brady's significant others

It was pretty hard being a kid in the Brady household, but each one of them did a good job standing out from the bunch. Imagine being one of their partners entering an already crowded family picture. Luckily all the fresh faces only add to the family fun!

We first got to meet Marcia and Jan's polar opposite husbands when "The Brady Girls Get Married" TV movie turned into a single-season 1981 show "The Brady Brides." Marcia's fun-loving, toy-selling hubby Wally Logan (Jerry Houser) and Jan's more buttoned-up professor Phillip Covington III (Ron Kuhlman) return for "Christmas," although with baggage — not just the suitcase kind. Luckily Mike and Carol are there to help set things right. Houser said in an interview with Brady World, about entering the famed family, "I felt like I had been sucked into my TV."

Greg and Peter never got a "Brady Grooms" show, but they at least got someone to love by "Christmas" ... what a gift! Greg's a doctor married to family focused nurse Nora (Caryn Richman, aka "The New Gidget"), and Peter's sweetheart is also his 9-5 boss, Valerie Baxton (Carol Huston). The boss situation has Peter worried about her being breadwinner, even though he's the boss from 5-9. The two ladies actually look similar and make for solid matches for our Brady boys. Richman enjoyed her time with her in-laws so much, she relayed to Brady World, "We joked that we should have a spinoff called 'The Brady Spouses.'"

Sadly, Bobby and Cindy weren't gifted partners. Bobby's love interest is car racing and Cindy's is skiing in Aspen with her college friends.

Worst: Sam the butcher cheated on Alice (and they replaced the original actor too)

Sam "the Butcher" Franklin was never much of a Romeo (he was more of a bowler), and even though he owned Alice's heart, she always felt like an afterthought. Apparently some things never change. We learn early on in "Christmas" that Sam walked out on her. Mike and Carol are dumbfounded that Sam could do this to Alice (an always on point Ann B. Davis), as the two were as perfect a match as "liver and onions."

Sam writes an awful goodbye note on butcher paper for our cherished housekeeper: "I lied to you. I wasn't working nights plucking chickens. I met a young woman. At first, we just traded meatloaf recipes, then one night she asked me over to season her rump roast. I guess I'm an old fool, but I fell for her like a pound of ground chuck!"

If that wasn't bad enough, the producers couldn't even coax original Sam portrayer Allan Melvin to return to the meat counter. In his place was someone who knows quite a lot about families with bunches of children – Lewis Arquette, father of David, Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia, and Alexis. Arquette's thankless role gets a bit of redemption when he shows up in the end dressed as Santa, begging Alice for forgiveness. He tells Alice that she's "top sirloin" and everyone else is "chopped liver." Oh Sam, you're such a ham. But Alice deserves better!

Best: The '80s fashion (and mustaches)

"The Brady Bunch" and their fashions were always at the height of grooviness. Large lapels for mom and pop, Hang Ten striped tees for the boys, and floral dresses and miniskirts for the gals — and don't forget about those Finnish-flag-looking get-ups. Those beauties were stowed away for the late '80s escapade and in their place were high fashion (crimes) of the day. You know we're in for a treat right off the bat when we see Mike and Carol working out. He's in a tracksuit barely covering his way-too-long tank top, and she has a silk-collared workout get-up.

Let's not forget Mike's sweet puffy hair and mustache! Like father, like son: Greg also sports his own furry caterpillar beneath his nose. Barry Williams told MeTV, "You won't see me wearing that anymore! I was going for that Tom Selleck look." 

Other highlights include Carol's fancy brown lamé dress; stay-at-home mom Marcia's pumps, slacks, and khaki-color sweater vest; Wally's Members Only-like jacket plus Nike sweatsuit, Valerie's belt that's as big as the WWF Intercontinental Belt; and Cindy's Flashdance-esque top, ringmaster outfit, and shoulder pads, shoulder pads, and even more shoulder pads!

Things get really good when night sets in, with Jan in a short satin nightie, Peter's Scrooge McDuck duds, and Marcia's son with his fun dinosaur jammies.

Worst: The Brady House's interior redesign

There is perhaps no television house more iconic than the one the Brady's called home at 4222 Clinton Way. The exterior was a real house from 1959 at 11222 Dilling St. in North Hollywood, but the interior was a set on the Paramount lot. It was both so roomy and utilitarian that other Paramount shows "Mannix" and "Mission: Impossible" used it as well (via LA Times and MeTV).

For the purposes of "A Very Brady Christmas," the house had to grow with the times and what we once loved about it became a thing of the past. Sure, the exterior still looks pretty much the same, but the inside? Shag carpeting and orange-and-brown decor begone! We wonder: Did they use the same interior designer "The Golden Girls" and "Designing Women" did? The furniture looks straight out of a Levitz furniture showroom. The guest rooms, straight out of a Super 8 Motel. And the staircase banister is now mint green. Blasphemy. Okay, so we're happy to see that some of the exposed brick is still in place and the glass brick windows are kind of a nice addition, but the rest just feels so wrong.

Maybe there will be a second season of "A Very Brady Renovation," where they retrofit the innards to look like the 1988 version.

Best: 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' (Reprise)

Beautiful old memories are constantly on the Brady's minds in this Christmas affair and we're even treated to two flashbacks of those cherished times. One of the flashbacks is of a camping trip and the other is of Carol singing a Christmas carol. Sadly "A Christmas Carol" was not the name of the touching Season 1 episode, where the Brady matriarch gets laryngitis and is almost unable to sing at church before Cindy's wish to mall Santa saves the day. In the culmination of "The Voice of Christmas" episode, Carol takes to the pulpit and belts out "O Come, All Ye Faithful" in front of the congregation and her adoring family. It's a tender, precious moment.

In "A Very Brady Christmas," when all hope appears to be lost because Mike is trapped in a construction site accident, Carol breaks out "O Come, All Ye Faithful" again. But this time it's not a solo performance. Her children join in on the singing and another classic and heartwarming Brady moment is born, as Mike escapes and survives. The newscaster on the scene notes the street name they're on, and says it's yet another miracle on 34th Street.

Worst: Ted Roberts, a very Brady Scrooge

Every Christmas tale needs a Scrooge and our Scrooge is someone who did business with both Carol and Mike — Ted Roberts (Phillip R. Allen). Carol works in real estate and helped sell land to Mr. Roberts for an industrial development property. She even recommended her husband Mike to be the architect for his project (the best one "this side of Frank Lloyd Wright"). Mike is a true professional and does what's right for his client, but safety is always on his mind. Some additional structural modifications Mike recommends turn out to cost a little more than greedy Mr. Roberts is willing to pay. Mr. Roberts then tries to put the pressure on Carol to convince Mike otherwise, driving an uncomfortable wedge between husband and wife. Mike insists these measures must still be taken and walks away from the job, saying Roberts is "the only thing ruining my Christmas."

Roberts moves forward without Mike and the modifications, but when a site accident causes a cave-in on Christmas Day, Roberts has no choice but to call his former architect in to help. Mike cuts his beautiful Christmas dinner speech short and heads right to the accident, where two security guards are trapped in rubble. Mike quickly hatches a plan to prevent a further collapse and save the two men, but in the process puts himself in danger. Through faith and family, Mike survives and Christmas is saved. No thanks to Ted Roberts, who deserves a lifetime lump of coal.

Best: Opening the door for more Brady bunching

"A Very Brady Christmas" was not exactly loved by critics — a review in Newsday called it "notably dreadful" — but fans of the show weren't expecting a David Mamet-penned masterpiece. If you loved the original "Brady Bunch" and all of its colorful cheesiness, then you would love the Christmas TV movie. A ratings winner in its initial airing, it has become a welcome annual sight on televisions every December since. The TV movie not only blew the dust off the mothballed Brady clan and reintroduced them to the world, but it also re-energized interest in the property.

In the '90s CBS green-lit a dramatic take on the family's affairs, "The Bradys," with Susan Olsen back as Cindy and Maureen McCormick out as Marcia, but the series only lasted 5 episodes. But Bradymania could not be stopped. A year later a popular stage show, "The Real Live Brady Bunch" (starring Jane Lynch and Andy Richter), poked fun and paid homage to the original, even getting the blessing of creator Sherwood Schwartz. He told the LA Times, "There are so many damn dysfunctional families in America that I think it's a longing for a more innocent, pleasant life, for that family that was very functional."

The satirical and hysterical films "The Brady Bunch Movie" and "A Very Brady Sequel" followed in 1995 and 1996 and the Brady ball has kept rolling ever since, with all six Brady kid actors reuniting to gut the Brady house's interior in 2019 for HGTV's hit show "A Very Brady Renovation."

Worst: The untaken Greece and Japan trips

If there's any wisdom that Mike and Carol Brady impart that rings true time and time again it's that family is everything, and that home is where the heart is. Their love of family and home make for a reunion for the ages, but also leaves their best-laid vacation plans in the waste bin.

In the movie, each spouse has their own surprise ideas in mind for dream holiday vacations. Carol is all about a trip to Greece, singing and dancing and shouting "opa" the entire way. Mike is all about Japan with its "pagodas, the Ginza, geisha girls." The very thought of Mike and Carol smiling their way through Mykonos or Tokyo brings smiles to our own faces. Alas, it is not to be. They'd rather spend their money on expensive Christmas plane fares for their kids than take a well-deserved vacay.

It's a missed opportunity. Who doesn't love vacation with the Bradys? Their Grand Canyon and Hawaii trips? Rages for the ages! Imagine their American optimism overseas! They'd spread happiness across the globe.

Maybe after Christmas Dr. Greg Brady returned the favor and replenished their "special vacation account." We can all dream for Mike and Carol to get away from it all, can't we?