Greeting readers, family and friends. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. Today, we end 2017 and season three reviewing “The Fender Benders”. The episode first aired March 10th, 1972. This episode is another dose of the ideal Brady formula. There is a believable conflict that involves some humor and actions that begin to challenge credibility. It also features a guest star who was no stranger to classic television. Let us commence to reviewing “The Fender Benders”.
The episode opens with a glowing continuity error. The wide shot of the Brady home shows the Brady’s previous station wagon pulling into the driveway. The next shot has the Bradys newer station wagon parking in the driveway; it is the newer vehicle with a smashed fender! Carol has just arrived home from the grocery store and had a scrape with another car in the store’s parking lot. Bobby and Cindy’s reaction is funny as they are going to finish their homework quickly, so they can see Mike blow his top when he learns of the car’s damage. Carol says Mike won’t be upset over something minor, but her delivery and demeanor suggest otherwise. As I watched this scene, I wondered if the set dresser/studio mechanic(?) took a hammer to the car’s fender or maybe backed it into a rock or tree over on the Bonanza set.
When Mike arrives home, he conveniently comes through the front door. Have you ever wondered what motivated Mike to sometimes park in front of the house and sometimes park in the driveway? Other than convenience of plot, there doesn’t seem to be any other reasoning behind it. Florence Henderson performs very well in this scene. She nervously tells Mike all of the day’s good news. She casually mentions a minor problem. When Mike answers back “minor problem?” she replies she knew he would see it that way. It was a funny scene. Greg enters and saves Carol the trouble of breaking the news of the “minor problem” as he asks, “Who banged up the car?” Instead of being relieved that the news was shared, Carol seems aggravated which leaves Greg confused.
Outside, Mike doesn’t seem very upset about the mashed fender. He and Carol discuss what happened. Carol places all the blame on the other driver and says they agreed to exchange names and phone numbers and fix their own cars instead of reporting the accident. As I write this review, I question if that was their agreement, why even swap information like that? Peter and Jan arrive home and immediately assume the damage is Greg’s fault. In a funny line, right in front of Carol, Jan says, “What a dumb thing to do!” Scenes like this always crack me up. Mike tells the kids they are having chicken and dumplings for dinner. Knowledge of this immediately lets them know it was Carol who is responsible for wrecking the car. This was another funny and well acted scene.
The scene that follows must not have aired in syndication as I have no recollection of it. Greg is talking on the phone to his friend Eddie and letting him know he can’t drive for a planned outing as the only available set of wheels is out of commission. In the living room, Marcia picks up the other line, not realizing Greg is on the phone, and overhears Eddie bashing women drivers. She speaks her piece and then goes to inform Greg the accident was not Carol’s fault. Upon learning that he just offended Marcia, a girl he wanted to ask out, Eddie abruptly ends the call. During this scene, one will notice a fire burning in living room fireplace. Readers, do any of you recall seeing the fire place in use before?
In the next scene, we get to meet Mr. Duggan. He is one of the more memorable antagonist guest stars of the series. Unlike Skip Farnham or BeeBee Gallini, the existence of somebody like Mr. Duggan in the Brady’s lives is believable as we have all most likely crossed paths with somebody similar. Mike answers the door and Mr. Duggan strolls right into the house. More humor is delivered as Mike says, “Come on in” as Mr. Duggan is almost into the living room. Mr. Duggan compliments the Brady home and asks if he has caught Mike at a bad time. His nice manners soon give way and reveal a sexist and greedy underbelly. He tells Mike he was hoping the two of them could settle things “man to man”. He chides Carol’s status as a woman driver as she comes downstairs. Whatever polite exchange took place at the supermarket parking lot earlier in the day has been forgotten by Mr. Duggan. He keeps addressing Mike in the conversation and states the fender bender was entirely Carol’s fault. He adds on that he was doing the marketing as his wife is too frail to do so, since she is a woman. He then tells Mike he’d like to explain
his side of the story without Carol interrupting. He reveals himself as more of a horse’s rear by the second. He shares his car wound up having to be towed from the scene to a body shop and he has come bearing an itemized bill. Among the repairs he expects Carol to pay for are a smashed tail light, crushed fender, muffler replacement, repainting the left side of the car and realignment of the frame. This totals $295.11. In today’s dollars that would be $1758.32. Mr. Duggan said there were some other things he doesn’t mind paying for himself. In one of the funniest lines of the series, Carol asks if that might be refurnishing his house. Mr. Duggan is very chapped that Mike hasn’t all ready whipped out his check book to settle the matter and asks if Mrs. Brady is suggesting he is lying. She replies that she does think he is and adds that he is doing so very badly. Mr. Duggan then laments that Mike is going to believe Carol’s version of the events and he can see who wears the pants in the family. Mike threatens to throw Mr. Duggan out by the seat of his! Mr. Duggan asks if Mike is threatening bodily harm and Mike confirms he indeed is! In today’s times, this threat alone could have gotten Mike arrested, but 1972 was a different era. Mr. Duggan leaves with a promise to see Carol in court. This scene was masterfully done and one of the series’ very best.
The second conflict of the episode is made known upon Mr. Duggan’s exit. Bobby and Cindy were listening to the entire exchange between Mr. Duggan and their parents. They question if they will be called as witnesses at the court proceedings. Upon being advised they will, they share troubling news. They have no recollection of Carol checking behind her when backing the car up. This leads to Mike and Carol begrudgingly deciding to settle the matter to spare Bobby and Cindy a court appearance where they would have to testify against Carol.
Up in the boys’ room, Bobby’s honesty has Peter livid to the point he provides the ultimate insult via a Benedict Arnold comparison. Benedict Arnold sure was an important figure to the Brady kids. Based on Peter’s ire with Bobby, we can only assume he’d be content to commit perjury in a court of law! Over in the girls’ room, Cindy is in the dumps about having to be honest and testify against Carol. Marcia is just now learning of this and seeks to set the record straight. Sometimes news travels very slowly in the Brady house. It’s hard to imagine Marcia was unaware of Bobby and Cindy not agreeing with Carol’s version of the events. Marcia visits Mike and Carol in their room and confirms Carol was not at fault in the accident. Marcia asks Mike if there is something he can do.
The next scene has Cindy and Alice having a chat over breakfast. Alice explains to Cindy some basic court proceedings. She cites the courtroom television shows The Bold Ones and Owen Marshall as her source. An internet search reveals The Bold Ones aired on a different network than The Brady Bunch, so it was interesting to see it referenced here. I had never heard of Owen Marshall, but apparently it was a highly regarded show. It did air on the same network as The Brady Bunch. Alice also mentions the granddaddy of courtroom TV shows, Perry Mason. I was surprised Alice didn’t mention the courtroom show The Defenders as Robert Reed had starred on it. Cindy asks if she doesn’t take the witness stand would she be able to fib a little. It was a cute Cindy line.
The breakfast chat is interrupted with Mike instructing Cindy to head to the backyard as soon as possible. Some of the low level craziness that made the show so memorable is about to commence. Mike has decided the best way to determine what really occurred at the supermarket parking lot is to reenact the entire event. The reenactment is to be complete with Greg backing up Mike’s car in the role of Mr. Duggan. It seems they could have done this without Greg having to drive the other vehicle. Mike instructs those in the station wagon to behave just as they did at the supermarket. Bobby and Cindy recall they were arguing over spilled ice cream. Carol never even begins moving the station wagon, but Greg continues backing up. Mike realizes Bobby and Cindy were too distracted to notice if Carol ever looked back and therefore can not state with any certainty that she did or did not. As Mike comes to this realization, he is ignoring Greg’s backing up of the car. Peter tries to call his attention to Greg inching toward the car, but Mike can’t be bothered. Finally he notices and yells for Greg to stop. Greg slams on the brakes. It was supposed to suggest that this was a close call, but in reality, it looks like there was easily another three feet of space before Greg would have hit the station wagon. It didn’t even look close to me. Also, why was Greg not looking back? Was he so into the role of Mr. Duggan he decided to mimic his actions? Mike’s great deduction with Bobby and Cindy is hailed by the family as matching the genius of Charlie Chan. Mike does an impression of the Asian stereotype to complete the compliment. At the time, the character was still quite popular in America and such an impression would have met with little criticism.
The courtroom scene that follows transforms Mr. Duggan from a nasty and unlikeable villain to a comical one. He remains as sexist and underhanded as before, but with some pathetic ruses. One will notice in this scene that the extras sitting behind the Brady family have conflicting personalities. The man gives the family a polite smile as they rise and go before the court. The lady beside him looks none too happy about it. Once the Bradys are before the court, it is discovered that Mr. Duggan is not present. A few seconds later, he enters wearing a neck brace and claims he has whiplash. He previously frail wife is now described as being bedridden.
As he demonstrates his version of the events in the parking lot the day of the accident, he tacks on the statement, “You know how women drivers are.” The judge states that the gender of the defendant is of no importance, except maybe to his or her spouse. After Mr. Duggan states for the third time he can’t move his head, the irritated judge lets him know he has made that abundantly clear. This made me laugh out loud.
When it is Carol’s turn to explain her version of the events, Mr. Duggan objects to her children being called as witnesses to the accident. His objection stems from his belief that Carol told the children what to say. In another funny moment, the judge tells Mr. Duggan the court does not need advice from him. The entire courtroom scene in this episode plays out very comically.
As Mike watches the proceedings, he begins eyeing his briefcase and has an idea. The judge is explaining his dilemma of two conflicting testimonies. As he does so, Mike tosses his briefcase on the ground, startling Mr. Duggan and causing him to turn his head. Upon seeing this, the judge states that Mr. Duggan’s neck brace is only a ruse to influence the court’s opinion and therefore the validity of his testimony is called into question. The court rules in Carol’s favor. Had Mr. Duggan not turned his noggin, this could have really worked against the Bradys. Not only could Mike have been fined for his noisy disruption, the judge could have very well said Mike’s actions invalidated Carol’s testimony. Fortunately, the Bradys have a happy ending as Mr. Duggan’s attempt to extort them fails.
Mr. Duggan was played by the late great Jackie Coogan. Jackie Coogan was a child star in the early years of Hollywood. He amassed quite a fortune starring in films as a lad. His most remembered role was in “The Kid” alongside Charlie Chaplin. Sadly, his parents squandered all of his earnings and he saw none of that wealth as he entered adulthood. The silver lining in this was that his experience saw the passing of The Coogan Act that protected the earnings of future child stars. I would be curious to know how Gary Coleman’s parents got around this bit of legislation. Fortunately, Jackie Coogan would reemerge as a television star playing the role of Uncle Fester on The Addams Family. He enjoyed steady work with multiple television appearances through the 1960s and 1970s. His last appearance on camera was in the 1984 film “The Prey”. He died the same year.
The judge was played by Robert Emhardt. He enjoyed a long and steady acting career as he appeared regularly on TV series from the 1950s through the early 1980s. Fans of The Andy Griffith Show will always remember him as the rushed and anxious traveler in the episode titled “Man In A Hurry”. Although, he would have a less memorable second appearance on the show playing a different role in a color episode of the series. Robert Emhardt is also remembered for his role in the original version of the film “3:10 To Yuma”. He died in 1994.
The epilogue has Peter and Jan forcefully arguing over a candy bar. They are really struggling to have possession of the sweet. Cindy intervenes and cites her recent court appearance as credentials to resolve the matter. In a cute moment, she uses the phone as a gavel and declares court in session. She then takes a bite of the candy bar and takes possession of it before running off.
“The Fender Benders” is a fun episode that never sees any serious talking to by Mike and/or Carol to the kids. The drama is all comical and can’t be taken too seriously. Mr. Duggan is a fun villain and was played masterfully by Jackie Coogan. The episode focuses mainly on Carol and usually the ones involving only her rank among my least favorite of the series. This episode is an exception though. As always readers, please share your own thoughts and opinions! This episode wraps up the fun ride that was season three. Next week, we kick off season four with the Brady’s Hawaii adventure. See you then!