Greetings once again dear readers. Thank you for joining me this week to review “The Wheeler-Dealer”. The episode first aired on October 8th, 1971. It is a fun episode that is likely well remembered by fans. The plot of buying a used car that turns out to be a hunk of junk is almost as old as the sitcom genre itself. This episode just has fun with it and doesn’t try to add any unnecessary drama. The episode also gives us the second appearance of a recurring guest star. Let’s get started reviewing “The Wheeler Dealer”!
The story opens with an almost minute long montage (48 seconds) of close-ups of Greg and Mike riding around the neighborhood. One might think this was done to show off Mike’s awesome new ride for the season, but we don’t get a wide shot of it until they return to the driveway. I am so glad they actually had Robert Reed and Barry Williams out driving the car around and not in front of a screen with the road and other surroundings projected onto it.
As Greg pulls into the driveway and navigates an obstacle course of toys and bicycles, we get a nice look at Mike’s fine, fine, fine new ride. That beauty folks is a Plymouth Barracuda. I am not certain on the year, but I am sure the readers can enlighten us. A few blogs ago, I commented on Mike’s choice of cars and how he never had a second vehicle that could accommodate the entire family. Well, if he had a shot at owning this beauty, I can’t blame him! I would like to know who is to blame for the mess of toys in the driveway. Such irresponsibility on the part of the kids to leave their bicycles and belongings so carelessly strewn about is very un-Brady like. It seems after Alice sprained her ankle on the Chinese Checkers, they’d have learned!
After navigating the cluttered driveway, Greg expresses concern about passing the driver’s license exam the following day. Mike assures Greg he will do fine. After Mike exits the car, Greg remains and does some imaginary driving. Ah, to be sixteen again and experience the thrill that envelopes a young man just sitting in the driver’s seat of a car! This episode captured that well. Greg’s imaginary ride is interrupted by the laughter of Marcia and Jan. Greg refers to them as “you kids” and chides them for leaving toys and bicycles strewn about the driveway. He boasts of getting his license the following day and Marcia takes a shot at his confidence by saying that’ll happen only if he passes the test. Greg assures his sisters he is capable of operating an automobile, but then forgets to unbuckle his own seatbelt before exiting the car. The scene ends with a freeze frame of Greg leering at his sisters and then a zoom in on his face. I never recall such direction/editing when watching this show before. Perhaps bits like this were cut from syndication?
The next scene opens with Alice looking at the driver’s handbook. A close up of the book lists the Brady address of Clinton Way. Greg enters and discusses with Alice how easy driving can be. Alice shares she never learned how to drive a car. My grandmother never learned to drive either. She was part of the Word War II (aka The Greatest) generation and relied on my grandfather for transportation everywhere. Greg tries to give Alice a lesson in the kitchen. He is playfully harsh in his instruction. Bobby and Cindy enter and are confused by the threat of being run over as Alice has her lesson. They deem the area not safe for pedestrians. This was obviously a scene used to fill some time in this episode.
The following day, Carol anxiously awaits Greg’s arrival home and the result of his driver’s test. Marcia and Jan question what the big deal is about Greg getting his license. Carol reminds Marcia she is only a year or two away from getting her own license. Here
we have the first reference for Marcia’s age in a while. She must be approximately 15 years old at this point. Greg arrives home looking dejected and angry. The red shirt was a nice touch show the anger. However, his anger is all ruse. He passed the driving test and is now a licensed driver! Carol offers use of her station wagon and is certain Mike will allow him to drive that fabulous Barracuda on occasion. However, much like many sixteen year old boys before and after him, Greg wants wheels of his own. Carol seems quite shocked and dismayed by this. Her disbelief in this is, well, not very believable. Surely she remembers Greg taking a job at Mike’s firm for the sole purpose of saving up for a car in “Call Me Irresponsible”.
Speaking of that episode, the same issue of Car Sport used then appears yet again here. The prop master for “The Brady Bunch” must have been a huge fan of that magazine, but had only one copy. Or that magazine talked about that one model of car on the cover in EVERY issue. I am curious to see if it shows up any more in the episodes to come; or maybe if it was used regularly on “Love, American Style” or “Mannix”. Readers, be on the look out!
As Greg looks over the magazine with his brothers he ponders if he should purchase the convertible or the hardtop. Peter suggesting both and calling Greg “Mr. Moneybags” made me chuckle. So confident is Greg that he will soon be a car owner that he gives his bicycle away to Peter. Doesn’t Peter have a bike all ready? Peter says his older brother is the greatest and has always thought so. He asks Bobby to confirm this and Bobby starts to share something unflattering Peter said earlier in the day when Peter cuts him off. This too was funny.
Dreams of a pink slip of his own continue as Greg talks to Mike about buying a car. As Mike looks over the ones Greg is considering, he reminds him his last name is Brady and not Onassis. It’s a dated reference, but still got a laugh from me. I suppose today Mike would say, “Your last name is Brady, not Trump”. A quick internet search reveals that a new car in the early 1970s was between $2000 and $3000 if one wanted a standard model like a Plymouth Fury, Ford Maverick or Pinto. Something bigger and fancier might run around $3500. Greg shares that funds are not a concern as he has saved the whopping sum of $109! That is around $600 in today’s dollars. As of the late 90s, that is a ball park amount for what a teenager might spend on a car. I haven’t seen car prices that low, at least for cars that run, in a long time. But inflation can be strange, so Greg’s savings remain impressive and realistic. What is not realistic is him expecting to buy anything resembling something he sees in a car magazine! Mike has Greg promise that before any car is purchased, he will allow him to view it first. Back in his den, Mike assures Carol that Greg will not be buying a car anytime soon as his expectations are too high and his funds too low. Hey, that might have made a good line for the show!
Just as Mike gives Carol that assurance, the scene changes to Greg looking at a car to purchase. I am very hopeful a car-savvy reader can enlighten us on the year of the classic Chevy used in this episode. I would guess it is a 1957, but it is missing tail fins. Greg’s “friend” Eddie is selling the car and espousing its many values and how easily it can be made to be like new. Eddie could definitely have a future as a snake oil salesman as he uses many shady methods of high pressure sales. A door that sticks is no problem because convertibles are meant to be climbed in. Free labor for body work awaits at the high school auto shop. However, Eddie makes sure Greg knows buyers are lining up and this car won’t be available for long; he wanted a friend to have first refusal! There is no time for Greg to keep his promise to Mike, he must act NOW!
Today, Eddie would have the fastest of sales as old car lovers would be fighting each other to buy that car for $600. I suppose that in 1971, a car less than 20 years old in that shape would be a jalopy and even paying $100 would be a waste of money.
Eddie was played by Chris Beaumont. This is his second of four appearances on “The Brady Bunch”. His only regular acting gig was on the 1970s sitcom “Here We Go Again” and that program lasted only a single season. He maintained an acting career until 1984, appearing on hit shows like “CHiPs” and “The Waltons” before he last appeared on the TV show “Fame”. He also served as a story consultant on the show. His most recent contribution to the entertainment world (per IMDB) was in 1997 as a writer for a show called “Pensacola: Wings of Gold”. A Google search produced very little about him. Even on Barry Williams’ website he says he knows nothing of what became of him.
The next scene begins back at the Brady home. A mysterious noise fills the air and has the family scratching their heads with concern. Alice describes the sound as the mating call of a lovesick moose. The hideous sound is the horn from Greg’s new ride!
Greg introduces his purchase to his family with the expected disastrous results. While he tries to show off his new purchase, the family laughs at him. It’s funny how the Bradys could often work so hard to conceal their true feelings to spare those of another and sometimes just outright laughed at and insulted one another. As Greg’s dignity is stripped away by his family, the car’s radiator begins spewing steam. Alice cracks, “..the dam is busted!” Greg explains to Mike and Carol how he succumbed to Eddie’s high pressure sales and just how easily he can make this a car worth owning. Mike makes a funny joke as he says the jalopy is the safest car Greg can have; one that won’t run! Carol says she will leave it to Mike and Greg to discuss but will be back in an hour to see Old Faithful spout again.
The next scene begins with all the kids pitching in to help Greg repair the car. Jan is stirring paint with a socket wrench. Peter is scrubbing off the rust, Marcia cleaning the interior and Bobby and Cindy are vacuuming the engine. We get the ray gun sound effect for the vacuum that we heard in “Ghost Town U.S.A”! Why Greg has an open bucket of paint out before the car is even prepped for painting is not explained. Also, even in 1971, I am certain cars were sprayed with paint, not given the treatment with a paint brush! Even Alice is lending her help as she boils the car’s carburetor. Apparently this is a method used to clean carburetors. I wish I’d known of this technique in my own limited experience with those dreaded contraptions as per the internet it is very effective.
Greg completes the work on the car and brings out his family for the big reveal. It is at this point in the episode we get that level of wacky we expect with “The Brady Bunch”. Before pulling off the cover, the pile of parts laying on the driveway is questioned. Greg says those are what was leftover after he “redesigned” the engine. They appear to be mostly discarded hoses and gaskets. Greg pulls off the cover to reveal a ridiculously pristine car. Seriously friends, I am willing to suspend disbelief for many things on TV, but Greg getting the car looking this sharp really challenges the imagination. The upholstery is like new, the paint job obviously done by a professional as the car now has a racing stripe across it and the chrome is flawless. This was not the result of sweat equity invested by the Brady kids! Greg starts up the car with the expected crazy results. The horn activates the wipers and wiper fluid, the convertible top starts jumping, the rough idle returns within seconds, the radiator blows and the driver seat breaks. Did Greg not test drive this thing after making all his repairs and modifications? With or without suspended disbelief it makes for a humorous scene.
As Greg looks over his wreck of a car, he gets a quick lesson salesmanship and dirty business. Mike shares how salesman lie or “guild the lily”. Mike breaks out the Latin in stating with business it can be “caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware” or “thems that don’t looks, sometimes gets tooks.” He also shares it is important that Greg learned a lesson from all of this. Well friends, we soon see just what lesson he learned. Upstairs he shares with his brothers how he will just re-use the low down techniques Eddie engaged in to sell the car again. He says he will just have to find somebody dumber than he is. In a laugh out loud line Bobby replies, “That won’t be easy.”
Greg soon finds his mark in a friend named Ronnie. Here he uses all the same lines Eddie did earlier. However, his pitch is disrupted with the arrival of Marcia and Jan. He encourages his sisters to lie and share with Ronnie what a great car it is. For some reason, with mild sarcasm, they lie for their brother and say the car is great. The ruse is again interrupted by Cindy who is carrying the box of leftover car parts. She asks Greg if she may have them. Here we learn Cindy is currently 9 years old. Greg tells Ronnie Cindy is always joking around and to ignore her question about leftover parts. He shoos her away with the gift of a candy bar waiting for her upstairs. Ronnie is still unsure about the purchase when Greg puts the pressure on him, stating another guy will soon be over to view the car. I could not help but wonder why Cindy wanted the old car parts. It makes much more sense for Bobby to ask about them.
Ronnie was played by Charlie Martin Smith. He would go on to play roles in feature films such as “American Graffiti”, “Never Cry Wolf” (he played the lead) and “The Buddy Holly Story”. His IMDB credits show a steady acting career over the years. His most recent credits are from 2015, directing and acting in the series “Motive”.
The next scene has Mike and Carol arriving home and learning of Greg’s “guilding the lily”. Marcia and Jan share how he tried to get them to share how great the car is (but not that he succeeded!) and how he wooed Cindy with a candy bar. Peter gets a funny line as he says Greg was going to “cavitt the guy’s eruptor”. Mike is very concerned that Greg learned the wrong lesson.
Inside Mike’s den, Greg shares with the most mischievous and satisfied of grins how he was convincing Ronnie of the merits of his car. While seemingly expressing such great pride in his actions, he suddenly takes on a remorseful and shameful tone as he shares how he could not go through with it. While this was good acting and a good shift of attitude, it makes little sense that Greg would seem so proud of his actions when initially describing them. Mike commends him for being an honest businessman. Greg then names the streets he was traveling when the car finally met its demise. Carol notes that he was near the junkyard. I suppose she thought Mike and Greg might not know where the junkyard was…. It was a labored line, but it wrapped up the story of the car. Greg sold it to the junk man for $50. If that car were still sitting in a junkyard today, there’d be somebody clamoring to buy it!
The epilogue shows how the Brady transportation woes will continue. Carol has left earlier than planned and Mike, not knowing this, grants Greg use of his car. With no third vehicle, Mike is stranded and will miss his golf game. Alice hands him her bus pass and gives complicated instruction on its use. That is some efficient public transportation if it runs past a golf course. I suppose the possibility of that might have been greater back in 1971. Today, most golf courses I have seen are far beyond the reach of a city bus.
“The Wheeler-Dealer” is a fun episode and for the most part solid. Greg owning a car would never be revisited again on the show. This is surprising as with a family that size, he could not rely on use of his parents’ vehicles very often. The car going haywire was fun and a typical mishap in the Brady world. The other kids did not have much to do on this episode as the entire plot focused on Greg. At least they were not excluded and we got a few lines from each of them. As always friends and readers, your comments are most welcome!
Next week we will not be reviewing an episode. Much like our favorite shows, this blog is due for a summer break. In truth, I am vacationing with my family and do not wish to attempt to watch our next episode and blog it while traveling. However, dear readers, much like our favorite shows, I will treat you to some reruns next week! Well, they are reruns of sort. On another, very limited platform, I wrote some Classic TV Blogs a few years ago. I will share those with you on Wednesday and Friday of next week. Your comments and thoughts are most welcome for those too! We will return to our weekly episode review with “My Sister, Benedict Arnold” on August 18th!