They looked somewhat groovy and very Southern California cool, if polyester and garish colors can be cool (they were for a moment there), but their demeanor was Gee Whiz! It's all going to be OK within the next 20 minutes! What a comforting feeling that is during childhood. And I will say this, no matter how cornball or dopey the plotlines could get, the Bradys had charm in abundance. And chemistry. They seemed to genuinely get along, at least for the most part.
This episode from the third season, My Fair Opponent, is a Marcia story. Out of all the Bradys, Marcia and Greg were the ones I least related to. They were way older than me (I was around Susan Olsen's [Cindy's] age during the show's run), and way too confident for my anxiety-ridden liking. Marcia in particular was the height of perfection of 70s teen girlhood in Any-Suburb, USA. She had that California girlish demeanor down cold. She was the kind of girl who might say hi to me in the hallways of high school, but only if no one else was walking in her sight-line, and she had witnesses, so if I said "hi," she would be forced to acknowledge me. But only then.
No, I don't think about the Bradys much at all.
Mrs. Brady says c'mon in to the 70s—the Dacron's fine!
We begin this episode with an unusual establishing shot of the Brady house—from the left. An almost sinister quality to this angle, with the ominously dark foreground foliage.
Anyway, Marcia is angry. Really angry. How angry? This angry:
|Don't make Marcia mad|
Some popular girls at school have nominated Molly Weber as Fillmore Junior High's banquet night hostess. And Molly's a total loser, so they think it's funny. Since Marcia usually focuses on all things Marcia—which includes clothes, boys she likes, and school activities—to see her this riled up over social injustice is kind of a character-changing moment.
She decides to give Molly a makeover, My Fair Lady style, but in a kind, sensitive fashion, not just bulldoze over her, like some kind of mini-skirted Henry Higgins. Sounds good. As Molly enters the Brady compound, we see Marcia has her work cut out for her.
Molly is not only clinically shy, but clumsy and obviously parented by repressed people, living in a time wrinkle from the early 50s. She serves not only as Marcia's project, but to highlight how groovy the Brady-girl style is, at least in comparison. Molly can't understand why she was nominated as banquet hostess and even good-natured Peter Brady judges her a "wipeout" (although, not to her face, which isn't very realistic for middle-schoolers—in my experience). The Brady-girl bedroom decor is a blend of little-girlishness with Go Ask Alice.
Marcia offers to work on Molly's demeanor to win the coveted title of banquet hostess. Thereby follows the "improvement montage," which entails Molly balancing a book on her head for a stately walk, learning to greet people with "poise and dignity," hemming her horrible dress to mini-skirt height, and submitting to Marcia's painful hair-styling techniques.
And just like that—POW-Zing! Molly's a knockout in a granny-square crochet vest.
The Brady boys are impressed. Greg says he's going to "wipe her back in," which is some kind of dialogue writing, Bernie Kahn, author of this episode. Meanwhile, Bobby's about to pop a gasket.
Molly does an aggressive meet-&-greet with Mike Brady, which really wasn't in Marcia's lesson plan. This is our first indication (or just bad blocking by director Peter Baldwin) that something isn't quite right with this new Molly.
|The allure of high-waisted pants, amiright?|
So it turns out Marcia's an alternate nominee for banquet hostess and is called upon to fulfill her duties. After much tribulation, she decides to drop out of the race so Molly can win, even though being banquet hostess is "a great honor." She talks it over with Carol and I just included this shot to highlight their matching fabric patterns on the ugliest couch in the Western Hemisphere, to show they are simpatico, even if their formal living room needs work.
BUT THEN Jan excitedly reports to Marcia the news that there's a new guest of honor for banquet night—Colonel Dick Whitfield, THE ASTRONAUT! Marcia is all, "You mean it's not going to be the principal?" A principal being honored by a middle-school banquet hostess isn't weird at all. That's generally how it was done in the 70s.
Anyway, I always thought Eve Plumb was an attractive girl, but someone in wardrobe must have hated her because, yellow and taupe? This is not a flattering combination in any era. Or maybe Marcia was always supposed to the "the together one" with Jan the wanna-be, trailing behind. Doesn't Marcia look smart in her acrylic ensemble? It isn't fair! - as Jan often said.
Though it's a great sacrifice, Marcia tells Molly she's dropping out, Molly gets all this attitude, first making Marcia acknowledge her smart ensemble, with a twirl no less.
And then smugly claiming it would have been a close race. When Marcia says waddaya mean, a close race? Molly basically calls her a chicken for dropping out of the running. When Marcia points out that Molly had a little help getting this far in the eighth-grade society pages, Molly counters with, "It doesn't make any difference how I got there. The point is that I've ARRIVED." She then flounces away after some mythical popular off-screen girl, calling out, "Hey Sally, wait up!"
This is the part of the story that freaked me out as a child. Why was Molly being such a stone cold beotch, I wondered (or words to that effect). Why wasn't she grateful to Marcia for all her help? Marcia made her! Out of the goodness of her heart, as narcissistic as it was. What about sisterhood-is-beautiful? Underneath Molly's introverted, awkward exterior lurked the heart of a jerkwad. This scared me. Maybe lots of people were secretly jerkwads. How could I tell? What if I helped someone out, someone meek and vulnerable, and they turned on me, like Molly did to Marcia? I didn't have a lot of defenses prepared for this potential (and extremely unrealistic) scenario.
Greg explains it all, telling Jan, "That's a female for you—can't trust them as far as you can throw them. And they have the brains of a goony bird!" Jan's all agreeing with him (because it's low-self-esteem-Jan), but then realizes, "Hey, I'm one of them." But Greg makes exceptions for sisters. Again—great writing, Bernie Kahn. Way to go. Life lessons here.
So Marcia's pride kicks in (as always) and she decides to give Molly THE RUN OF HER LIFE. Because after all, it's a great honor, and also: guest of honor, Dick Whitfield, THE ASTRONAUT.
Mike and Carol are chillin' in their uncomfortable and ugly family room when Marcia asks for formal dance lessons. I think Carol would have made a great eighteenth-century lady—she sings, she dances, she does needlepoint and makes lunches with Alice—she has all the skills. And look at her lounge in that jumpsuit—pretty terrific.
RIP, Robert Reed and Ann B. Davis. This was a charming dance lesson for everyone involved.
The race is on. It's down to the final speeches. Since she helped Molly write her speech, Marcia has to make do with a not-so-strong second attempt. It's a close race all right. It comes down to the speeches.
|Smug Molly, AGAIN|
As we fade back to the Brady household, Marcia is super-dubious about her bitter defeat. Molly gives no acknowledgement of Marcia's speech-writing help. Marcia now knows what it feels like to be a ghost-writer. She's even turning into a ghost—see below. And once again, my younger self was appalled. There's no justice!
But as is the case, especially concerning Marcia, everything works out in the end. Molly explains to the principal about Marcia helping her and she and Dick Whitfield visit the Brady household to personally deliver the good news: Marcia and Molly will be BANQUET CO-HOSTESSES. Marcia is in a tizzy because after all, he is AN ASTRONAUT. And who wouldn't want to co-hostess with a backstabbing manipulator who probably has a borderline personality disorder? Fun!
I have a theory that Florence Henderson might have, perhaps inadvertently—she is very charming after all—caught the eye of the wardrobe mistress's significant other at one point. This may have caused some dissension. What is the basis of this theory? Her wardrobe, of course. Meanwhile, Robert Reed is completely stylin' in his pink turtleneck. Did you catch Susan Olsen's post on her TV Dad? It's very touching and appropriate for Pride Weekend. Susan Olsen rules.
And so we bid farewell to the 70s. That strange decade with its blend of uptight morality, loose social mores, man-made fabrics, and questionable decor schemes. Until we reminisce again.