Greetings readers, friends and family. Thank you for joining me to review “Sergeant Emma”. Years ago, my sister pointed out how this episode seemed to air less often in syndication than other Brady episodes. If any other readers noticed this (or perhaps did not), please share your thoughts. This episode allowed Ann B. Davis to show her acting prowess and portray a different character. She did a fantastic job too! Cousin Emma did not seem to me like Alice pretending to be someone else, but like a totally new and different character. Despite the comedic opportunities presented with a plot like this episode’s, it isn’t played for over the top laughs. Cousin Emma is not some overly gung-ho military lady who dresses like Patton and lives each moment ready for battle. She is simply a rigid personality that is accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Let us being reviewing “Sergeant Emma”!
The story opens with Alice leaving for a destination unknown. Her travels will take her quite a ways as she mentions being airport bound. She will be leaving the Bradys for a week and mentions how it was hard telling the kids goodbye that morning. She takes comfort in knowing the Bradys will be left in the capable hands of her cousin Emma. We then see Cousin Emma approach the Brady house. She is all ready putting things in order as she uprights a bicycle and sets a football on the edge of the planter. She and Alice exchange a brief hello before a honking horn summons Alice outside and off to the airport. Cousin Emma’s arrival shows how she is all business and thrives on work. One would think she’d arrive early for a chance to visit with her cousin and maybe have lunch at least. Nope, she comes in the door as Alice goes out! We learn during her introduction that Emma served 20 years in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The WAC was disbanded in 1978, but prior to that was how women served in roles other than nursing in the United States Army. Some classic TV viewers may recall Laverne and Shirley serving in the WAC.
Emma’s authoritative ways are made known very quickly. Bobby and Cindy come home from school, running through the house and neglecting to close the door. Emma shouts “HALT!” and orders the pair back to close the door, with a “hut-two, hut-two”. She tells Mike and Carol it is just a question of control. If it is control she wants, Mike and Carol’s standing idly by while she orders Bobby and Cindy around shows she has it! While Cousin Emma should be afforded the same respect as Alice while she serves in her place, I doubt Mike and Carol would have tolerated Alice speaking to the kids like that.
Cousin Emma’s upset of the Bradys’ life continues in the next scene. It is 6 AM and the sound a shrill whistle rings through the Brady house. Is Emma so detached from civilian life that she thinks this is how a household starts the day? She enters the boys’ room and rousts them from their beds. As they question the early hour, Emma shares a saying I am a fan of myself, “Rise with the sun, get your day’s work done.” She orders the boys to fall out to the yard. She then tells the girls it is time for calisthenics and she means calisthenics! Personally, I would welcome such motivation to get up early and exercise. I really enjoy starting the day with a good workout and a hot shower afterward. It sets a great tone for the day. Understandably though, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t for the Brady kids. They should have been given some warning of this the night before or Emma should have discussed with Mike and Carol her plans for the kids’ morning workout.
Out in the yard, the kids suffer jumping jacks. They must be really miserable as the clothes they are wearing are by no means those one would wear while exercising. Trying to do jumping jacks in a pair of jeans would really suck. The same goes for the deep knee bends the kids must do next! The exercises however are fantastic. Calisthenics burn fat and kill excuses! They use only one’s own body weight and can be done most any place at anytime. One can’t claim lack of a gym or fancy equipment as a reason for not exercising when he or she is capable of doing calisthenics. Mike and Carol look on from the family room and Carol expresses concern at the kids doing forced exercises. Mike says it will be good for them.
With exercising complete, Emma inspects the boys’ attire and their bedroom. She has them lined up elbow to elbow for inspection. She declares Greg’s bed “mushy” and drops a quarter on it. She instructs that the quarter should bounce like a spring on a tightly made bed. Bobby speaks up with the profound question of “Why?” Bobby’s very valid inquiry gives Cousin Emma pause and she can answer only with that it is regulations. Score one for Bobby for questioning her directly about the nonsense she is subjecting the Bradys to! In the girls’ room, Emma adorns a white glove to inspect for dust. She instructs the girls to get rid of the dust and exits the room. Jan gives a funny line as she suggests they keep the dust and get rid of her. I wonder if Emma called Alice out on the dustiness of the room at the end of the week.
Mike arrives home to find Carol sitting at the foot of the stairs concerned about Emma’s way of doing things. She questions if Emma is too hard on the kids. Mike says she is just organized. Carol shows him a duty roster created by Cousin Emma detailing the kids’ chores. Carol adds that Emma threw her out of her own kitchen too. Mike approves of the duty roster and sees little reason for concern. The episode doesn’t make clear if the duty roster listed chores the kids were not accustomed to doing or just listed those they all ready did in a more organized fashion. Carol is not so sure Mike will continue supporting Cousin Emma’s regimen after he experiences dinner.
One of the sumptuous and relaxing meals we’ve seen the Bradys enjoy before is certainly not being experienced here. Emma has prepared Potatoes McArthur, Beef Eisenhower and Succotash Pentagon. A Google search of these dishes produced no direct results, but did return Eisenhower Steak or Beef Stew. The kids line up with plates in hand. Since Jan has KP duty, she will eat first. Emma’s dinner preparation set the tone for a meal that will be eaten quickly, military style. As the kids suffer the chow line, Carol tells Mike, “Hut-two, three, four, I don’t like this anymore”. This would have been the perfect time for Carol to approach Emma with, “Emma, we enjoy sitting around the table every night, relaxing and reflecting on our day. We are all going to sit down and I will serve the kids.” Instead, Mike and Carol just silently tolerate Emma’s militaristic ways.
The next scene has Greg and Marcia approach Mike and Carol seeking relief from Emma’s household management. They question if they must continue to tolerate Emma’s ways. Greg especially laments the exercising. Mike tells Greg exercise does the body good. Emma walks in as he says this and overhears Mike’s encouragement of exercise. With her being in such close proximity, she surely heard Greg refer to her way of doing things as “gung-ho jazz”. He certainly wasn’t whispering his grievance. She may have heard it, but her tough as nails demeanor includes deflecting criticism easily. Mike’s pro-exercise stance sees Emma give the expectation that he and Carol will be joining the kids on the lawn the next day. In one of the episode’s few funny moments, Greg and Marcia delight in their parents being roped into morning calisthenics.
The next morning has the entire family doing pushups using terrible, terrible form. Only Greg appears to be doing them correctly. If the rest of the family is doing them this way, they won’t be doing them much longer as they are ripe for injury with their poor form. Friends, I hate doing pushups with every fiber of my muscles. They are a curse that anybody looking to improve their fitness must endure. However, they are very effective and a great exercise, so I suffer through them. If you do too, please do them correctly! Again, with full knowledge that exercises await, the family wears jeans to do them! Do the Bradys not own sweatpants? With the completion of the pushups, Emma informs the family they will not being doing calisthenics the following day. They all revel in this good news, but soon find themselves jogging through the neighborhood. Again, they wear jeans to do this. During this scene, I could not help but notice how much nicer Carol’s hair looks when it was put up and not in that lady-mullet.
The next scene has an exhausted Mike and Carol laying on their bed, questioning how to rid themselves of Cousin Emma. Two days of working out have taken their toll on them. This scene is very realistic as somebody who hasn’t jogged for any length of time will be very sore and achy in the days following. Greg and Marcia enter to discuss their displeasure with Emma’s presence too. Here, one will notice that Robert Reed appears to be wearing nothing but shorts under his robe. This may be the least dressed we see any Brady during the show’s original run. Yes, there is a scene down the line where Bobby and Cindy are apparently in the buff under their robes, but I don’t recall the camera being as revealing as in this scene. This scene also makes clear the Bradys tolerate Emma’s way because she is Alice’s cousin and they want to spare Alice’s feelings. However, if Alice were present and suffering unwanted exercises and Emma’s other harsh standards, she’d probably be just fine with her being dismissed. Dismissed politely, but none the less dismissed.
Mike and Carol suggest Emma take a three day pass, like she would have been given in the army. She refuses. She enjoys the hard work and never took passes while in the army. Bobby and Cindy attempt to frighten Emma away. They place a friend’s white mouse in the garbage can and declare a rat is loose in the house. Emma is completely unphased by the rodent’s presence and suggests the kids make a pet out of it. She says a good soldier fears nothing. My mind played out a much more tragic scenario where Emma ends the poor pet rodent’s life with the heel of her shoe and says, “I’m putting an end to mess and pests!” The loan of a friend’s pet could have ended very badly for Bobby and Cindy!
The other kids attempt to gaslight Emma into thinking her health is bad. Peter and Jan suggest she is stooped over with dark circles under her eyes and looks feverish. Greg and Marcia then enter and continue the ruse. Greg says Emma looks flushed and Marcia adds her eyes look glazed. Emma’s falls for their faux identifying of symptoms and diagnoses the problem right away; she has been too easy on herself and the following day will see double calisthenics. It was a comical backfire for the kids’ scheme. The scenes that follow are a montage of shots of Emma exercising the family and giving instruction on household operations.
The next scene begins with Mike and Carol waking to the realization that the wrath of Emma will end that day. Alice is due to return home! It is decided that a celebration is in order and they will be having Alice a welcome home party.
Greg arrives home from school with the cake for the celebration. Emma enters the kitchen and sees the ornate and tasty looking pastry. Cousin Emma misidentifies the occasion for the cake and thinks the cake is for her going away party, not Alice’s coming home party. Instead of Carol saying the cake was for Alice’s welcome home, she lets Emma think the cake is for her. I suppose Carol telling Emma the truth would have made things too awkward. If the writer of the episode sought to provide one more reason for the Bradys to want to be rid of Emma, it would not have been hard. She could have said, “Folks, we haven’t worked so hard exercising all week and eating healthy just to throw it all away with a party cake. I appreciate the thought, but this thing is going in the garbage.” as she dumps the cake in the trash can.
The next scene has Emma giving her farewell speech. Here she shows a hint of emotion and sentiment. She remarks how the army is a lonely life and she has loved every minute of her time with the Bradys. The going away party is the nicest thing to happen to her since she won the General Haggerty Award for a barracks beautification initiative. It was nice to have a brief glimpse of a kinder and more sentimental Cousin Emma. A Google search for General Haggerty returned only the name for a character on M*A*S*H. At first I thought to myself that use of the name was a clever tie-in among writers of sitcoms, but then I realized the episode with the character didn’t air until 1978. I suppose the 1978 writer might have recalled this passing reference on The Brady Bunch some six years prior.
As Emma concludes her speech, Alice returns home. The family is elated to see her. So welcome does she feel, that she suggests leaving and coming in again. She and Emma visit briefly. With the knowledge of how well things went, Alice says she will not feel guilty taking trips in the future, with the knowledge that Cousin Emma can come in her place. With this the family gives concerned nods and half-smiles. It would have been funny if Cindy chimed, “Oh no Alice, please-” only to be grabbed by one of the parents or older kids and shushed.
The epilogue has Alice blowing the whistle at 6AM to roust the family for calisthenics and adherence to the duty roster. The family completely ignores Alice in her attempt to mimic Cousin Emma and goes back to bed.
Thank you for reviewing “Sergeant Emma” with me! This episode doesn’t quite fit the Brady formula that was perfected in season 3. None of the Brady’s face a dilemma of their own; they all suffer together an upset to their lifestyle. The whole plot of people suffering to spare another’s feelings was common for sitcoms of the day. I found it just as annoying on other shows as I did this episode of The Brady Bunch. A few polite words from Mike and Carol could have made clear to Emma the way they wanted things done. Alice would have surely understood their reasoning if Emma got chapped and left. As always, your own thoughts and opinions on this episode are most welcome! I look forward to you sharing them. Next week we will review, “Cindy Brady, Lady”. See you then!