How TV References Reveal the Brady Bunch Impact

Here’s the story of a man named Brady, his sons, his adopted daughters, wife, housekeeper and a legacy that far outweighs any expectations. You know “The Brady Bunch” in its original incarnation as a sitcom. You know the extended life of syndicated reruns. You know about the infamous variety show. Then there is the Brady girls getting married, the Christmas movie and the “Thirtysomething”-esque dramedy. Not to mention the movie reboot. “The Brady Bunch” is like Visa; it’s everywhere you want to be. As well as everywhere you wish it weren’t.

The X-Files

Yes, that’s right, an entire episode of “The X-Files” is built around “The Brady Bunch.” Okay, it’s not a Mulder-era episode of “The X-Files” but it still counts. In fact, “Sunshine Days” recreates the interior of the Brady house, touches upon the obsessive love of the show that has made it a pop culture icon and also manages to sneak in some philosophical musings on the nature of solipsism.


You know how sometimes you use pop culture references to replace central concepts in rhetorical discourse? Trust me, you do. You do it all the time. Like in an episode of “Cheers” when the sarcastic waitress Carla takes a standard rhetorical question and infuses it with an instant tweak of familiarity that somehow makes it feel a little more immediate. Carla asks the rest of the gang hanging around the bar who would eat who first if the Brady Bunch crashed in the Andes.


The rather dim-witted airplane mechanic on “Wings” manages to come into ownership of a run-down wax museum after hitting it big with a trust fund. One of the figures in the wax museum is that of Marcia Brady. This is an especially funny reference to “The Brady Bunch” courtesy of two great lines that Lowell, the mechanic, says. First he says “I’m not going to tell you again, bring me the head of Marcia Brady.” When that request goes on too long without being met, he then delivers the wonderfully resonant lines “How hard could it possibly be to fix Marcia Brady’s head? I mean it’s not like she’s Jan.” That is such a terrific moment in the history of Brady Bunch references because we all get it. Marcia was perfect. Jan was not.


You don’t get much farther from the central emotional core of “The Brady Bunch” than “Daria.” Whereas irony was all but completely absent from “The Brady Bunch” it is almost impossible to find any prolonged moments of sincerity on “Daria.” You could make a good argument, in fact, that “Daria” represents the zeitgeist of the 1990s in much the same way that “The Brady Bunch” represented the zeitgeist of the 1970s. Neither show can be said to be an authentic reflection of its times, but as a representative of the changing register of the emotional tenor of the times, they are in almost perfect unison. Which makes it all the more appealing that the best reference to “The Brady Bunch” on “Daria” occurs during the musical episode when the Morgendorffer clan are placed into the tic-tac-toe formation from the opening credits of “The Brady Bunch.”

The Big Bang Theory

The uber-nerds from “The Big Bang Theory” get schooled in the value of what is really important to American society at large in an episode that seems them competing in a Physics Bowl filled with questions that if asked on “Jeopardy!” would serve to highlight just how smart most contestant are not. At the end of the episode Penny the perky blonde neighbor who fell asleep during the Physics Bowl sits Leonard and Sheldon down to quiz them on knowledge that makes Americans what they are. In addition to questions about who has been named People’s Sexiest Man Alive most often and what band replaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar, she asks what TV family had daughters named Marcia, Jan and Cindy. The fact that these exceptionally intelligent men stare at her blankly perhaps says much as much about the real influence of the Brady Bunch on American society as any academic paper ever written on the show.