Greetings again! Thank you for joining me today to review “The Hustler”. The episode first aired on March 1st, 1974. The title of this episode is peculiar as it does not seem anybody gets hustled. It is just discovered that Bobby has a knack for shooting pool. The b-plot brings back reminders of “Miss Popularity” as Mike and Carol find they have an ever growing guest list for a dinner party. Both plots get the job done as far as the episode goes, but the only really memorable thing about this story is the second appearance of Jim Backus in a guest spot. Let us begin reviewing “The Hustler”!
The episode begins with the Brady boys playing basketball while Oliver holds up the privacy fence. 1974 must not have had the requirement that large trucks have a beeping noise when in reverse. Somehow none of the four boys notice a large delivery truck backing down the driveway until it is just a few feet away. The item being delivered is addressed to Mike and a mystery to the family. Alice says the crate is large enough to hold a dinosaur. Oliver says this is not true as most species of dinosaur were thirty feet long. I found this funny as this is something a kid would respond with. Since Mike isn’t home yet, they must all wait in suspense to find out what was delivered.
The next scene begins with Mike and the boys opening the crate. In the past few years, I have taken up woodworking as a hobby. As the crate was opened, I could not help but think of all the things I could do with that wood. Upon the crate falling open, it is discovered the contents are a pool table. Mike has no idea who would send the him such. Alice utters a painful “joke” as she says she will be behind the eight ball if she does not get dinner racked up. Man, with a line like that, it really seemed like the writers were just phoning it in at this point.
The origin of the pool table is made known in the next scene. The president of Mike’s firm, Mr. Matthews, pays Mike a visit and is confirmed as the sender of the table. The pool table was sent as a reward for Mike landing a big contract for the firm. Maybe it was the Penelope Fletcher contract from the last episode? Mr. Matthews suggests Mike set up the pool table in the living room of the Brady home. Mr. Matthews must really have some sway with Mike as the living room is suggested to Carol as a place for the table. Carol shoots this down right away and suggests the garage. This must have just been added as filler as it is hard to imagine Mike even thinking such placement would actually be agreed upon by Carol.
Bobby’s pool shooting prowess is made known as he makes a challenging shot in front of Peter and Greg. It is briefly mentioned that Bobby often shoots pool at the home of a friend. For me this one line really helped the episode’s credibility. Bobby is not some billiards savant; he has actually practiced the game.
As Mike and Carol sit in the family room, a funny exchange occurs. Carol states if the pool table doesn’t stay in the garage, she will go stay with her mother. Mike says this is “tempting”. After five years of marriage, this may be the first unromantic line uttered among Mike and Carol. The scene continues with plans to have Mr. Matthews over for dinner as a way of showing gratitude for the pool table.
The dinner guest list grows in the next scene. Mr. Matthews shares with Mike he must decline the dinner/pool invitation as he all ready had committed to dinner with another firm employee. Mike suggests that guy and his wife accompany Mr. Matthews and his spouse. Back at the Brady house, Carol is sending Marcia and Jan to the store for the makings of the dinner. They comment on the money being spent for such an important dinner guest. A few seconds later, Mike calls and confirms with Carol they are having soup for dinner and she will need to add some water because the guest list just grew. One can’t help but wonder what fancy makings are going into this soup as Jan and Marcia just commented on the cost. Also, if it is such an important guest, a main course of soup seems unusual.
Anything remotely resembling a hustle occurs in the next scene. Bobby is bragging about how easy it would be to beat Greg and Peter in a game of pool. They overhear this and challenge their youngest brother to a game. A bet is made that the loser must shine the other’s shoes for a month. Bobby runs the table and demands some well maintained shoes by day’s end. If Bobby had walked up and pretended not to know what a pool cue was or thought that sinking the cue ball was a good thing, this would have been a fine hustle. However, Bobby earlier proclaimed and displayed his fine skills. He also bragged he could easily beat Greg and Peter, so no hustle occurs here.
The final Bobby Brady dream sequence of the series follows. All through the series, it has been Bobby’s sleeping psyche that was shared with viewers. This time around, Bobby is onstage before a royal looking audience displaying his expert pool shooting ability. It was an interesting piece of stock footage showing such a regal crowd. Cindy and Oliver, dressed in royal attire, bring Bobby his cue and chalk. Some really impressive billiard shots are seen from above. I was hoping IMDB trivia might share who was the master of the pool cue for this episode, but it remains a mystery for now. If some other fan has been made aware, please share with us who was making the shots.
Bobby’s dream inspired in him some late night practice. Greg arrives home at a late hour and shares with Mike and Carol that Bobby is out in the garage shooting pool. Mike goes outside and has Bobby come in. Mike suggests a spanking is in order as he says he will be showing Bobby what he can do with the other end of a pool stick. Physical discipline is not on the agenda by the time he reaches the garage. He tells Bobby he is proud of his dedication to practicing the game, but he has his entire life ahead of him to do that and doesn’t need to be up in the middle of the night doing it.
Marcia and Jan arrive home with additional groceries for the upcoming dinner party. They comment on how “Old Mr. Schultz” is enjoying the extra business Carol is sending his way. I always associated this exchange with “Miss Popularity” as the Brady guest list grew, but I was wrong. The guest list grows yet again. Back at Mike’s office, Mr. Matthews laments he must decline the evening of dinner and billiards as two more people had been invited to the engagement he was to attend. Without Mike even suggesting they too be invited, Mr. Matthews says he won’t hear of it, despite wanting exactly that. Mike says the other couple is welcome to attend. The suggesting while not hearing of it bit is used on sitcoms of old pretty frequently. However, seeing a talent like Jim Backus perform it was fun.
Speaking of Jim Backus, he really needs no sideline to explain what a talent he was or what a great career he had. We previously saw him on The Brady Bunch in “Ghost Town, U.S.A”. It is fun to think that maybe the old prospector’s gold claim saw him find riches enough to purchase the firm Mike works for. Perhaps when he took over, he and Mike thought they’d met before but just could not place from where.
Before the dinner guests arrive, all the other kids except Bobby (and Greg) leave for the evening. We can assume Greg was chilling in his attic abode or had left all ready. Bobby must stay home because he has accumulated a homework backlog as his studies have suffered at his billiards ambitions. The dinner guests all arrive at the same time. Either they shared one vehicle, caravanned together or just happen to all arrive at the exact same time.
The additional guests were played by Dorothy Shay, Charles Stewart, Jason Dunn, Susan Quick and Grayce Spence. Of all the guests, only Dorothy Shay had a notable career in Hollywood. She played Mr. Matthews’ wife Frances. IMDB shares that after she had worked to lose her southern accent as it seemed detrimental to her career ambitions, she later became famous singing hillbilly songs. She would appear on eight episodes of The Waltons. She died in 1978.
Speaking of acting credits, Robbie Rist got no mention in the closing credits of this episode.
Before having dinner, Mr. Matthews and the other men go out to the garage for a game of pool. He takes each one of them on in a game with a dime going to the victor. Mr. Matthews defeats all three. Bobby comes outside with his homework complete and asks if he may watch. Soon, he is playing against Mr. Matthews. Instead of the hefty sum of ten cents, Mr. Matthews will play Bobby for a pack of chewing gum. As a kid I wondered why this was the wager as Bobby has braces and kids with orthodontia should not be chewing gum. As expected, Bobby runs the table and defeats Mike’s boss many times over. By the time play is complete, Mr. Matthews owes Bobby 256 packs of chewing gum.
In a funny conclusion, Mr. Matthews blames the chirping crickets for breaking his concentration and contributing to his losing the game. Carol suggests they give up their pool table as they really don’t have room for it. Mr. Matthews was about ready to give up the game all together, but then thinks with a bit more practice he can become even better. We don’t see it onscreen, but this must have been quite a blow for Bobby who aspired to be a pool champ. Had the series made it to a sixth season, there might have been episode about the youngest brother hanging out in dive bars after school so he might get the practice he so desperately needs to someday play before a royal audience.
The epilogue has the same truck and delivery man returning to the Brady home. The delivery guy was played by Lenny Bremen. We previously saw him as the exterminator in “The Impractical Joker”. For some reason, the truck backed all the way down the driveway to hand over a small package. It is the 256 packs of chewing gum owed to Bobby. The old prospector must like to flaunt his riches as it would have been cheaper and easier to just give it to Mike to take home to Bobby.
Thank you for reviewing “The Hustler” with me. Like the previous episode, there isn’t too much to pick apart and critique. I’ve noticed that reviewing these later episodes, the same energy and feel that came with viewing the earlier seasons is now missing and it also seems to be missing in the review process. Earlier scripts seemed a bit deeper and more developed and offered themselves up to better reviews than these final few Brady Bunch episodes. Next week, we conclude the series with “The Hair Brained Scheme”. In the weeks that follow, we will all share our thoughts on “The Top Five” categories for the show.