Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Partridge Family Revisited

I was a "Brady Bunch" and "Partridge Family" fanatic as a tween and teen. Absolutely loved those t.v. shows and still do. I actually wanted to name one of my sons Brady but my husband refused, although I know of quite a few boys named Brady or Braden.

Both shows were in the news recently. Evidently there is a feud going on between Maureen McCormick and Eve Plumb (Marcia and Jan Brady). And today some of the Partridge Family cast reunited on the Today Morning Show.

This got me to reflect on the programs and I recall that the Partridges lost their father to death, although I'm not sure the details were ever related - just a kind of hazy hint that was the reason why this family was out singing songs to earn a living - the dad had died. The same kind of haziness was in The Brady Bunch. This was a blended family because the prior spouses had died. But again, no details, nothing specific and in all the following shows, nothing mentioned about these characters previous lives.

Now I know that this was a convenient plot line for Hollywood to launch off these programs. Back then divorce was still rather unacceptable. I remember when a couple of women in our subdivision got divorced and moved in together. People used to drive by their house to point and stare. Looking back, what pioneers these poor 1970s housewives became, paving the way for less stigma toward divorced woman forced to start wearing pants and work outside the home. (Girls were not even allowed to wear pants to school in our town until 1974 unless it was terribly cold and snowy!)

So these shows were created from a situation involving the deaths of parents and spouses because that was easier than having the characters be divorced. Convenient but sad. I think that even as a kid I had some interest in the Partridge's old life. What did the dad do? How did he die? Maybe back then such a show could never be envisioned. Maybe it still can't be. Almost 40 years have passed and we still don't feel comfortable talking about or even acknowledging death beyond a nod.

What I find even more extraordinary is that as the feminism movement really started to swell and women were becoming more independent, Hollywood could not portray a widowed mother surviving on her own. They had to add a creepy band manager to the cast to be around for Shirley Partridge to lean on.

Today I propose a new and updated Partridge Family. Based on my own experiences I can provide the pilot story line and even some additional plots for future episodes.

Keith Partridge returns to his childhood home with his five children, all of whom are the same ages as when the original series aired. He has lost his wife to breast cancer (we'll be specific here and not leave the audience guessing). Keith is a physical and emotional mess, overcome with grief. He needs the help of his mother to care for the kids. We see him hiding bottles of Vodka around the house and he starts smoking again. There are days he is incapable of getting up out of bed.

The two older kids in high school start acting out, fighting and skipping school because they didn't want to move from their hometown to live with their grandmother. The younger kids are all experiencing nightmares and miss their mother terribly. In one episode the police have to be called because a fight breaks out between a drunken Keith and the two teens. In another episode, Shirley goes to the younger kids' school to meet with teachers and staff. We can go two ways here - either have grandmother be sympathetic or not able to handle her son's grief - the "get over it" mentality which causes friction between mother and son.

As the shows continue, Kelsey Grammer will join the cast as the family therapist. Each week's episode will open with a counseling session involving some conflict or issue involving the family which will be elaborated on during the hour (too much stuff going on for a 30-minute show). At the end of each episode, the family will meet with Kelsey and discuss their progress, or lack of progress if we want to be honest.

I see a lot of potential for this Partridge Family Reunion. But hey, there would have been a lot of potential 36 years ago if someone had written a Brady Bunch episode where the Brady boys and Brady girls each end up in a showdown between the parents, shouting "You can't tell me what to do because you're not my real mom/dad!" And then when the parents respond,"But your parents are dead and now we all have to get along and move forward," the kids all break down, unleashing all the emotions they've had to hide. Alice will come in with cookies and lemonade and lead the family in an impromptu healing session where order will be restored without missing a beat. See, it could have been done, even in that wimpy example. Even some acknowledgment would have been better than nothing.

I am grateful:

1. For blasts from the past that allow me to remember my wacky 1970s.
2. That next month is April.
3. For the Easter wreath I saw on a house today, the first one of the season.
4. For the promise of spring.
5. That short, shag haircuts for women have never come back in style.


  1. I've been following your blog for a few weeks, and this is the first time I've commented. I watched those same shows too as a kid, but I have to admit I took them at face value and never wondered about the back story. But I love how you've twisted it on its head! And it is great to see you writing with humor (albeit dark!) and imagination.... I feel for you and your situation, and I wish you all the best. --ARB

  2. i found it interesting that girls were not allowed to wear pants to school in '74 in your town. my senior year in high school was '75 and our dress code was non-existent. we had 875+ in my graduating class due to the bussing. it was all the "establishment" could do to handle the frequent fights and riots. clothes were the defining statement. i embroidered and painted and beaded my jeans in an effort to be outside the box. i was the artist hippie. dress codes weren't even discussed unless someone was half naked.

    i knew of these family shows but never really watched them. television was strictly controlled in my childhood home so i mostly stayed in my room. i think back then television still tried to present small problems that could be wrapped up in 30 minutes. there were so many problems during that decade, as in every decade, yet still things were not addressed "outside the home." sex ed had to be voted on and permission slips signed for it to be taught in health class. addressing the trauma of watching someone die, facing the drama of divorce, suicidal children, alcoholism, etc. was still mostly censored. television was, for the most part, escapism.

    television today has reality shows like "Hoarders" and "Intervention" and all the other medical and special victims unit and criminal minds shows to pick up the slack for the voyeur of the human condition.

    it is an interesting concept to have a reunion show where the entire Partridge family has fallen apart and there are no quick resolutions. or to have the writers script the show where Mike Brady decides to divorce his wife because he cannot live a lie and to see how they write each family handling this new journey in the lives.

    still, i think it would only be what the writers hope would make "good television" and not sincere efforts to script reality. how can one television family be able to portray all the possible paradigms? it would definitely be interesting to see though, especially if they got Bill Mahr and Ron Howard on the same writing team.

  3. I think you should pitch your TV show idea to a network ... seriously! I'd buy a ticket to that.


  4. Once again you gave me the giggle I needed tonight. I remember no pants in elementary school, but by the early 70's we were allowed to wear them full time. I can still remember having to wear the pants UNDER the dress when it was really cold.
    The good old days of television when nothing unpleasant was ever really talked about or even hinted at. It was a different time.
    Today everything is so in your face. Granted, it does reflect the times accurately but sometimes a pair of rose colored glasses would be nice. If only temporarily.

  5. I loved your new and improved realistic Partridge Family. I would love to hear the kind of music they would actually create out of grief. I find it quite telling that Laurie could not be bothered to assist her mother with Keith and all his grieving children. I would expect that Danny would be a recovering alcoholic himself, and would spend many episodes trying to get Keith to a we step meeting, or at least to update his 70's hairstyle. The two younger kids, who nobody remembers their names, would have moved far from the family due to years of feeling neglected a rejected. Perhaps in the end Keith would meet Marcia at a bereavement group and strike up a potential new relationship. Because remember, you always have to have a happy ending.

  6. ARB - Thank you for reading and reminiscing. It was fun to think about how these sit com families may have been reacting if they'd encountered the loss of a loved one.

    wNs - As always, I appreciate your interesting feedback. I remember the embroidered jeans too. You are right that t.v. was and is now too, largely escapism. Loved the reference to Mike Brady living his lie. I don't have cable and miss Bill Mahr!

    CCC - These ideas have probably already been presented to the networks and nixed!

    Kelly - I forgot that we had to wear the pants under a dress too! Since my husband's death I am just so anti-unreality. I really think reality and comedy/escapism can be combined as it was done so brilliantly in the movie "Love Actually." But I know what you mean - sometimes a mindless comedy or romance story is all that will deliver. Thank goodness there is always some of that around.

    Dsn - Your ideas are absolutely hysterical! Sounds like you are familiar with these shows. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and making me laugh so hard!