Unmemorable Show, Memorable Episode

This turned up on YouTube last week; I was (pathetically) a bit proud that I highlighted it on Twitter a few minutes before the show’s writer, Andy Borowitz, tweeted it. It’s that strange type of episode: an unforgettable episode from a forgettable show.

Day By Day was a show created by Borowitz and Gary David Goldberg, and I don’t remember much about it except that it was sort of a reversal of Family Ties: instead of a show about hippie parents raising future yuppies, it was the story of two yuppies who decide to slow down and hippie-ize their lives. Of course the teenage son, played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, was set up as a potential breakout star along the lines of Michael J. Fox, Jason Bateman and Kirk Cameron, but it didn’t take. The best cast members were two pretty but wacky non-family-members with hyphenated names, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Courtney Thorne-Smith, and both of them went on to bigger things than the parents or the son.

Anyway, the show was of no particular interest to me at the time; I watched it occasionally when nothing else was on. But there was this one episode they did called (though I didn’t know the title at the time) “A Very Brady Episode.” The son wishes his life could be more like The Brady Bunch, the show that he turns to as his ideal of what family life should be. He falls asleep and dreams he’s a character on The Brady Bunch, “Chuck Brady” (a shout-out to the missing brother from Happy Days). Most of the Bradys are in the dream, though Eve Plumb once again didn’t show up, and the Brady set was reconstructed. The episode then becomes a mishmash of typical Brady bits – Carol drinking coffee repeatedly, Mike making lame jokes that everyone on the show seems to consider witty, plots that pit two Bradys against each other for some contrived reason – and a nightmarish look at what it would be like for a sane person to live in the Bradyverse.

This was years before The Brady Bunch Movie, which was very similar and even hired Barnes to play Greg; Borowitz didn’t write that movie but someone must have looked at this episode.

I enjoyed that episode so much at the time that when my parents asked me what shows I liked watching, I mentioned Day By Day – but specified that it was only for that one episode; I wasn’t into it at all otherwise, and I don’t think I even watched it more than once again before it was canceled. Later when internet discussion of TV took off, I discovered that many people had the same reaction: they couldn’t remember anything about the show, but they remembered that one episode with the Brady Bunch. The dream sequence is still pretty funny to me, especially the coffee running gag and Maureen McCormick’s delivery of the line “Chuck Brady, this means war!”

Are there any shows you can think of that weren’t very good overall, but produced one episode you can’t seem to get out of your head?

A historical note is that in the late ’80s, after the glut of domestic sitcoms, there was an increased tendency for shows – even conventional family sitcoms like this one – to make fun of sitcom conventions. Not just Married With Children. This Day By Day script is based on the idea that things don’t happen in real life like they do on sappy sitcoms like The Brady Bunch. Growing Pains did that kind of bit all the time (one episode was actually called “The Seavers vs. the Cleavers,” implying that the former are nothing like the latter). It’s a bit hypocritical for these writers to make fun of other shows for being unrealistic and solving problems too easily, but it was something that was in the air at the time after years of un-ironic sitcoms, and that was the atmosphere that gave rise to the two most important half-hour comedies that debuted in 1989: The Simpsons and Seinfeld.

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