Hello again groovy friends, family and readers! This week we review “And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor”. If first aired on November 5th, 1971. This episode ranks among the least enjoyed for some fans. While it certainly doesn’t make my top five, it’s not among my bottom five either. There are a few major credibility strains towards the end, but we will get to that later. As many fans of the show know, Robert Reed wrote a very scathing memo of this episode that Barry Williams included in his book “Growing Up Brady”. Time and space prevent me from including it here, but if any fans out there have never read it, it is an interesting look behind the scenes of “The Brady Bunch”. Let us begin reviewing “And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor”!
The story opens with the Bradys on location at a supermarket. The establishing shot shows the parking lot of some supermarket with the name obscured by the camera framing. Man oh man! Look at all those vintage cars in their prime! What was a parking lot in 1971 would today be a top-notch car show! The Brady supply train is shown leaving the supermarket with all the kids either pushing a cart or carrying groceries. Automatic doors must have still been a technological wonder in 1971 as Bobby seems to be very entertained by those at the supermarket. Bobby is chided by Carol to get moving and catch up! Another new innovation from 1971 must have been the 24 hour supermarket. This place sure is proud that it is open around the clock as there are many signs touting this.
As the Bradys exit the store, the episode’s guest star is introduced very early on. A mysterious stranger has followed the family all around the supermarket, looking at them through his hands. Carol has decided to go the nonconfrontational route and just avoid him and leave. I would agree with this until the man was standing right beside my car! If some stranger were this close to me and my family, then it would be time to address the issue. As it turns out, this man is Skip Farnum and he is looking to cast the family in a TV commercial he is producing for Safe Laundry Detergent. He tells Carol he wants her husband in the commercial, even though he has never seen the man! The kids are understandably excited at the prospect as the scene concludes.
Before we move on, let’s take a another minute or two to review this on location shot. One can only hope that real estate broker did not pay much to advertise on that bench! It lists only that the business being advertised is a real estate broker with exclusive listings. There is no phone number, address or even the name of the broker! It can be assumed that was just a generic ad placed over something that might have been objectionable for family television at the time. Do any readers know the purpose of that water kiosk in front of the supermarket? I wonder if the “The Bagpipe” was an Irish pub or a bar or a place where people could go for bagpipe lessons? That Fish and Chips place probably had some really good fried grub. Seeing how it was 1971, those fish filets and fries were probably fried in 100% butter or lard. One business who clearly got some national exposure in this episode was Victor’s Liquor. The delivery van can clearly be seen and a viewer with sharp eyes might have been able to make out the phone number on it. Maybe Victor noticed the filming for the Brady Bunch taking place across the street and quickly parked his van there in hopes of it being on the show. Another scenario was the director of this episode asked him to park it there to conceal all the winos and other stumbling patrons leaving The Bagpipe!
Mike must have agreed quickly to his family doing the commercial as the next scene has Skip Farnum at the Brady home discussing the project. Not only has Skip found the perfect family for his commercial, they also live in an ideal filming location. Instead of using a soundstage inside a studio as would be used for most any other commercial, this advertisement will be filmed inside a suburban home. Skip sets out to roam freely about the Brady home and size the place up. As he does so, he encounters Alice leaving the family room. Upon meeting him, she is perplexed at who this strange man is standing in the kitchen. Surely Mike and Carol mentioned the TV producer would be stopping by and have not just let some strange man wander into their home! She quickly realizes he is Skip Farnum. So entranced is Skip by Alice’s beauty and organic appearance, he immediately casts her in the commercial too. As he gazes through his hands, Skip appears to be saying something to Alice, but the scene abruptly cuts.
Back in the living room, Greg has come downstairs to speak with Mike and Carol about compensation for the commercial. Mike shares that there will be a payday for their acting efforts but quickly adds, with a point of the finger, that all that acting dough is going into their savings. Dang Mike, why do you have to be such a stick in the mud? This rare and fantastic opportunity at an easy windfall must not be enjoyed except in knowing that money is being saved. Greg presses that maybe just some of their earnings can be used on something special. Even Carol is on board with Greg on this as she prods Mike to allow some of the money earned to be used for fun. Mike agrees that some of the loot can be spent. I can certainly understand Mike wanting some of the money saved, but to initially say that all of it MUST be saved was overly prudent.
The scenes that follow must have been cut in syndication as I had no recollection of them. In the boys’ room, Greg shows Pete and Bobby the amplifier he is going to buy with his earnings from the commercial. From here, the boys dream big of the future acting opportunities and riches they will bring. In the bathroom, Marcia and Jan perform mock commercials in the bathroom mirrors. Cindy does one of her own citing her curls get frizzled. Check out that tube of toothpaste Marcia holds while doing her faux advertisement. It must be from the same company that made that supermarket bench as the brand is apparently known as “toothpaste”.
Back in Mike and Carol’s bedroom, Mike is looking over the contract for the commercial and can’t make heads or tails of it. One must ponder why he didn’t just ask Skip Farnum when the man was at their home earlier in the evening. Mike says he is going to have the Bradys’ attorney look it over. Did they have one on retainer? From here, Mike and Carol’s conversation moves to the history of the family’s laundry detergent. Carol is all about the dramatics when sharing this with Mike as she feels the need to identify the brand “Help” by practically yelling “Help!” As the seasons progressed, Florence Henderson projected her lines and voice more and more. This is an early example of that. Here Mike learns that the family doesn’t even use Safe laundry detergent and is aghast at the idea that they will be saying they do in a commercial. In a very naïve moment for Carol Brady, she asks Mike if all the other people in TV commercials actually use the products. At the knowledge of this, Mike decides that the family should not do the commercial as they would be frauds if they did.
A rollercoaster of emotions follows. Outside the boys stand beside one very unkempt garage and lament the lost riches that were to come from the commercial. That is the messiest I have ever seen the Brady garage! Inside, Carol and Alice seem just as downbeat about the news of no commercial. However, Mike calls with good news! The product they have been tasked to advertise is a new and improved Safe detergent! If the family feels it outperforms their current washing powder, the commercial will be back on! What follows is one of those lines that always annoyed me on “The Brady Bunch”. Carol says there is going to be a “a Brady wash-a-thon” with a “showdown at the old washing machine” and “may the better soap win”. I know it is TV and we are supposed to suspend some disbelief, but it is such a stretch to imagine somebody talking like this on the fly.
What follows is one of the major irritation points Robert Reed mentions in his scathing memo. The Brady kids are allowed to go outside and soil their clothes to levels not experienced in any daily task. When the clothes are washed, if Safe out performs Best, the commercial can be made! Peter squirts oil on Greg in a most wasteful fashion. Peter, Bobby and Cindy engage in a mudfight of epic proportions. How difficult was it to clean that mud off the Astroturf yard? Jan and Marcia start out dabbing paint on one another with paintbrushes before going full on and pouring out jars of it on each other. If either Best or Safe can remove paint from clothes, it’d certainly be a selling point for either brand!
With the dirtying of clothes and their washing complete, it is time to determine which laundry detergent out performed the other. Upon deeming one pile of clothes cleaner than the other, it is discovered that Alice made a gaffe and did not name the brand associated with each pile when classifying each. The winning brand is a mystery and the kids must go out and dirty up their clothes again! A second round of dirtying, washing and Alice being more prudent in clothes identification sees that Safe is the better detergent. The commercial will commence!
In the next scene, Mike, Carol and Skip sit at the dining room table and work out the final details. One will notice here that Mike and Carol enjoy coffee while Skip is drinking a glass of milk. It was a nice subtle nod to Skip’s eccentric ways. As he leaves, he tells Mike and Carol that they just need to learn the lines in the script and leave the rehearsing up to him. As he and his assistant, listed in the credits as Felder, leave Skip is commended on his “natural” angle when shooting commercials. He wants untrained and unrehearsed actors pitching the products his company advertises.
Skip Farnum was played by Paul Winchell. Before I watched this episode, I had no idea what a larger than life guy Paul Winchell was. He started his showbiz career as a ventriloquist. From here, he would go on to act in several roles to include being a regular on “Laugh-In”. His many voice acting credits include the role of Tigger in “Winnie the Pooh” and Gargamel on “The Smurfs”. If this impressive acting resume wasn’t enough, he was also an inventor! He patented an artificial heart among other things! I was sad to read that he had a contentious relationship with his children later in life. Typically I would not post a link like this, but the link below gives more details on Paul Winchell’s interesting life. Paul Winchell died in 2005.
The Bradys seek acting direction from the cousin of a friend as Mike doesn’t want to look stupid when the cameras role. Carol describes the lady who is to help them, Myrna Carter, as “not important or anything”. Myrna was a very brief but fun character in the Brady universe. She is the type you’d imagine to live in a house full of cats, crazy art and past due bills piled up on the table. She is in love with her craft and tries to motivate Mike and Carol to be too. She keeps encouraging them to do their scenes in a bigger and better fashion. She wants them to think outside the scene itself and imagine what goes on the rest of the day that makes Safe detergent so special to them.
Myrna Carter was portrayed by Bonnie Boland. After first appearing on “I Dream of Jeannie” in 1968 she enjoyed appearances on hit shows like “Julia” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”. After having a recurring role as Mabel on “Chico And The Man” her IMDB acting resume stops. A Google search produced a Facebook page for a singer by the same name, but I can’t be sure it is the same Bonnie Boland we see here.
When it is time to film the commercial, the shaky ground on which the episode was all ready standing opens into the crater of absurdity. Apparently Skip and his camera crew set up the commercial without looking over its cast’s wardrobe, hair or makeup. With a single camera and two lights, Mike and Carol’s scene is filmed much to Skip’s chagrin. Mike and Carol are as rigid and stiff as any first time actor would be and then give each other a romantic smooch to end the scene. Did Skip really think they’d be able to just walk in and do the scene without issues? Even without Myrna’s input and the fallout it caused, such an expectation is ridiculous.
With just a move of the camera and the lights, Skip is ready to film the kids’ part of the commercial. Skip summons the kids who enter caked in mud and filth. With stiff and forced smiles, except for Jan who has a comical gleeful smile, the kids stare at the camera. Skip questions their level of dirty and when Greg says they were supposed to be out playing, in a laugh out loud moment, Skip asks, “In a swamp?” My question is if the kids were scripted to just walk in and smile. They just walk in and stare at the camera. Was that all they were supposed to do? Bobby shares that they were motivating.
With another movement of the camera, the crew is ready to film Alice’s part of the commercial. She enters from the service porch adorned in a nice dress with well styled hair. Her entry is overly dramatic as she spins into the room carrying clean clothes. With this Skip has had enough and declares the production off! He says his nice normal family that was to star in his commercial are now a bunch of dingalings. He then orders everybody to get out of his house. This was another laugh out loud moment for me. Mike reminds him that the house is not his. As the crew leaves, Skip and Felder recall a similar bad experience with an actress named Myrna Carter. It was a funny conclusion to the scene.
Felder was played by Art Lewis. He enjoyed a long and busy career mostly playing one-off roles on TV shows. IMDB does not list a recurring role among his acting credits. His final role was on the TV series “You Again?” in 1986. He died in 2005.
The epilogue has Carol and Alice looking over a special delivery letter from Skip Farnum Film Enterprises regarding payment for their services. A truck then backs into the Brady driveway with a mysterious delivery. Here, Carol and Alice learn that the payment referenced in the letter is 2000 boxes of Safe laundry detergent! The delivery man was played Lennie Bremen. He previously played the exterminator in “The Impractical Joker”.
“And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor” was intended to be just a fun episode and it succeeded in that. It was a strange follow up to last week’s dramedy “Juliet Is The Sun”. While I know many did not, I enjoyed the character of Skip Farnum. He is one of the few outsiders on the show to acknowledge the level of crazy the Bradys could ascend to at times. He was also fed up to the point that the Bradys did not get a happy ending. No commercial and no big payday was the fate of the Bradys this time around. In a friendlier sitcom world, the owner of Safe would have been on hand during filming and found the Myrna Carter acting methods employed by the Brady family to be fantastic and different and just what the Safe Laundry Detergent company wants! Instead, Skip Farnum fired them all! Readers, your own thoughts on the episode, love it or hate it, are most welcome! Next week, we review “The Private Ear”. See you then!