Sitcom Bait & Switch


Yesterday, I actually felt my brain experience two separate moments of cognitive disconnect. Humor is the result of unexpected words or events, the absurdity of which causes us to laugh. Cognitive disconnect, though not an official psychiatric term, will be defined here as the same basic thing sans the laughter-inducing qualities. In other words, that moment of suspended thought or blankness of mind that occurs when suddenly faced with something unexpected in place of what had been expected – taken for granted, even – particularly in the course of familiar activities. Think of flicking on a light switch and finding yourself still in the dark. It only takes a second or two to realize that the power is out or the bulb is dead, but that brief confused moment between the initial action of flicking the switch and the understanding of the problem is precisely the feeling I’m describing here.

I spent Sunday on the couch. Naturally, when I indulge in such an activity-free day, the television is essential in bringing my mind to a state that’s just entertained enough to avoid succumbing to boredom. Since the idea is to keep my mind as relaxed as my body, I don’t seek out educational programming, and news is out of the question, so I begin by scanning the TV Guide channel for any and all sitcom reruns, cartoons and children’s shows. I’m rarely disappointed.

But yesterday, MeTV, a channel dedicated to airing reruns of “classic” TV shows, fucked up my perfectly lazy afternoon not once, but twice in the course of two hours. It all started with The Brady Bunch. If anyone reading this is too young to remember Sherwood Schwartz’ brainless 70s sitcom (the one that didn’t take place on a desert island), kindly stop reading this post.  Now.  Shoo.  I’m serious.  Piss off.  Go find something to read that’s more age-appropriate, you little brat.

Okay, sorry about that. Kids, right? So anyhow, as expected, the intro’s pacifying light blue backdrop began filling up with the faces of Mike and Carol and Greg and Peter and Bobby and Marcia and Jan and Cindy and Alice all in their own little boxes as the Brady kids sang the insufferable theme song in cheerful unison. Usually, I try to guess the episode within the first 5 seconds based on which of the Bradys is approaching the back door of the house, what they’re wearing and what their mood seems to be. I’m incredibly skilled at this, which is, of course, pathetic. But it’s just one of the myriad ways I entertain myself on days when I refuse to remove my ass from the sofa cushions, so don’t judge. The familiar strains of early episode incidental music were as they should have been, but something was amiss. Not only was I not seeing the somehow mowable Astroturf of the Brady backyard, I wasn’t at the Brady house at all! For some reason, I was staring at Ken Berry and some woman discussing the fact that they wanted to adopt two more boys – one black and one Asian – to keep their pre-existing adopted son company. I checked the Guide channel again — yep, it still indicated that I was indeed watching an episode of The Brady Bunch. And I was. You see, apparently, Sherwood Schwartz in his infinite wisdom decided to introduce an entirely different family into the Brady universe, but just for one episode. Was this an attempt at warming the Paramount studio heads to the idea of a multi-racial spin-off of their insipid cash cow? Probably. And it was a seriously shitty attempt, at that. Once or twice, these unfamiliar characters showed up at the Brady household for completely unnecessary reasons. I suppose Sherwood felt the need to pacify the viewers every once in a while with a glimpse of the terrible actors they had actually tuned in to watch only to find themselves staring at an unvetted cast of terrible actors they hadn’t tuned in to watch. But he was clearly trying to dip his toe into the pool of socially conscious comedy recently ushered in by Norman Lear. There was even a confusingly bigoted neighbor that showed up at the door of this non-Brady family to express her vague disapproval of their adoption choices. Sherwood Schwartz was no Norman Lear. And this episode sucked. 30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from unfamiliar sub-par actors is no replacement for 30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from America’s favorite sub-par actors. And Ken Berry’s no Robert Reed. Fuck you, Sherwood Schwartz and fuck you, MeTV for this disturbing sidetrack in my planned day of television-induced coma.

About an hour later, MeTV showed back-to-back episodes of The Facts of Life. This time, I was eased into the day’s next moment of cognitive disconnect a little more gently, but once it occurred, it was just as confounding. The opening scene had Mrs. Garrett answering a phone call for Jo on the pay phone that was inexplicably affixed to the wall of the posh Eastland girl school dormitory. Tootie and Blair and Natalie were milling about in the background. Nothing out of the ordinary. She then hands the phone off to Jo who loudly accepts an invitation to New Jersey to visit her uncle and cousins. Once again, I found myself transported into a world of shitty acting far removed from the Eastland campus. Apparently, Jo has an Uncle Sal and some other ridiculously ethnic Italian cousins despite the fact that her last name is Polniaczek. And once again, I was expected to give a shit about the budding love life of her 14 year old tomboy cousin even though I had tuned in with the expectation that I would be watching a proper episode of Facts of Life. Much like in the faux Brady episode, every once in a while the young cousin would knock on Jo’s door and ask for some advice, just to remind us what show we were ostensibly watching. This was even more unacceptable than the introduction of Blair’s palsied stand-up comedienne cousin Jerry in later episodes.


Do you recognize any of these people?

jo's family

Of course you don’t. Because the Facts of Life episode that attempted to endear viewers to them was arguably more awful than the similar Brady Bunch attempt at endearing us to their progressive adoption enthusiast neighbors.

Needless to say, my day of planned deep relaxation was ruined. I spent the next several hours fuming on the sofa and muttering obscenities under my breath. Life is nothing but a bleak and dreary march to an inevitable demise, and there’s not even anything worth watching in the meantime.  So suck it, MeTV.  You have betrayed my trust for the last time.

17 thoughts on “Sitcom Bait & Switch

    1. Normally, that’s good advice, but Netflix is too interactive to have a place in Planned Coma Day. Interesting stuff or quality stuff isn’t quite what’s called for. Idiotic sitcoms are ideal — that is, as long as they actually stick to the crummy characters with whom I’m familiar.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Paul, I am seriously laughing out loud right now. Never did I expect to read a blog post of yours that referenced Tootie, Jo and Blair from the Facts of Life. HA! I love it when you get all fired up about such things. But, I am with you…wtf were they thinking?! Sorry your Sunday was blemished by these 80’s atrocities, but, hearing all about it was kinda funny as hell!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My cognitive disconnect this weekend came from the unexpected vision of the Rams pulling out a decisive victory on the road against a team with a winning record. The human brain is not prepared for such an anomaly. Luckily, I had already been working all morning on a different kind of cognitive disconnect at the local tavern. That helped ease the stunning, albeit welcome, shock to my afternoon system.

    I was entirely unfamiliar with the bizarre Ken Berry/Brooke Bundy nigh-alternate universe Brady Family until you mentioned it, and I grew up on the stuff. Now, despite your protestations, I want desperately to see this abomination.

    I had hair like that once.

    The middle sentence in your closing paragraph left me slightly depressed. Then I remembered the missus and I are three episodes into a new Netflix show that is absolutely. blowing. our. minds. And I realize, all is right in the world once again.

    Until the Rams lose next week in London. 😉

    Another stimulating read, Paul. Your gift is astounding, on so many levels!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tom! Perhaps this will further whet your appetite for seeking out that episode of the Bradys: the adopted white kid was played by Todd Lookinland, who I can only assume is the brother of Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady) since they were virtually indistinguisable from each other. So perhaps it was Mr. or Mrs. Lookinland who first came up with this shitty idea for a plot twist.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can confirm the two are brothers. And, according, to IMDb, Todd has 22 movie acting credits, including being the guy dressed like a chicken that cracks an egg on Ralph Macchio’s head in Karate Kid.

        And nobody else can every say that. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from unfamiliar sub-par actors is no replacement for 30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from America’s favorite sub-par actors.” I love it. Also, is it just me or does the guy in the bottom-right corner look like Mr. Rogers?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I can see where you’re getting Mr. Rogers…though he was made to act like some Tony Danza-Rocky Balboa hybrid just in case anyone wondered about the ethnicity of this clan with the inexplicably Polish sounding last name.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s a name on the TV Tropes website for these type of weird one-off episodes that take the focus away from the main characters, but I can’t remember what it was. A lot of sitcoms from the 70’s and 80’s had at least one of these, and they were usually lameass attempts at a pilot episode for a spinoff. Most of them failed and look really awkward in a rerun lineup these days. Even Norman Lear did do this with All in the Family, though… I think the pilots for both The Jeffersons and Maude were actually episodes of AitF…

    Liked by 1 person

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