Episode 2: Dear Libby
Episode 2 of The Brady Bunch originally aired on October 3rd, 1969. It would introduce all those locations that would become part of the Brady lore in the decades to follow. Dear Libby begins with a decent premise that evolves into an incoherent mess by the episode’s end.
The story begins in the girls’ bedroom. Included in this shot is Cindy’s doll, Kitty Carry-All, who will appear in future episodes. Marsha is reading aloud the letters written to an advice columnist named Dear Libby. A quick internet search reveals that Dear Libby is just a lazy melding of Dear Abby and Ann Landers, not an actual advice column. Marsha finds that a letter written to Dear Libby mirrors her own family’s situation a great deal. “Harried and Hopeless” has written a letter bemoaning a marriage that brought three new children into the home, in addition to the three others of his or her own. Marsha is immediately concerned that this letter was written by Mike or Carol.
The next scene opens with a shot of the Brady home we all know and love. A fun fact here is that the window on the left side of the house was added by producers for mere ornamentation purposes; the home really didn’t have one there. Perhaps on another day we can explore how the home’s interior and exterior really don’t match up that well.
Inside the mismatched home, Mike and Carol sit in the living room reading the newspaper. Both take notice of the paper’s missing section as each had stories they were reading continued on it. Marsha is eavesdropping from the kitchen and doesn’t want Mike or Carol to find the missing section and read what could have been the letter written by one of them to Dear Libby. She volunteers to go purchase a second newspaper, but Mike sends Greg to accompany her. As they walk to the closet to get their coats, Marsha and Greg engage in what is supposed to be a secret conversation, but their voices are just as loud as when they were speaking to Mike and Carol moments before and who remain only a few feet away. One might be able to cite creative license here as the conversation was needed to continue moving the story, but any credibility this has is shot as Mike says, in the same conversational voice from a few feet away , “Don’t forget to close the closet door.” How Mike and Carol could not have heard Greg and Marsha’s conversation is beyond comprehension. Perhaps Robert Reed ad-libbed the closet door instruction to point out this absurdity.
Greg and Marsha return and provide the paper to Mike and Carol. On the previously missing section of the newspaper, Carol finds a huge ink blot obliterating the Dear Libby column. How and where the kids managed to find the ink, apply it to the page, let it dry and get it back to Mike and Carol in an amount of time that did not arouse suspicion calls into the question the effort put in by the writing staff. A fun fact to note with this shot is that Florence Henderson wore a wig in Season 1 of the show. She sported a really short hairdo for a stage production she had recently performed in and the producers wanted her to look more motherly.
Upstairs, the kids all have a family confab to discuss the letter. The younger kids are briefed on the letter and we finally find out Dear Libby’s reply. Dear Libby had advised, “Give it some time. It might just work out.” That’s all. I don’t understand why the kids didn’t want Mike or Carol to see that reply. She didn’t tell “Harried and Hopeless” to drop that new family like a hot potato, call the divorce attorney or head out for that pack of cigarettes. She advised the writer to wait it out a bit longer. So, Marsha and Greg instruct the rest of the Brady kids to be on their best behavior in hopes of saving their parents’ marriage.
The next scene opens with Peter being a total ass as he walks into the family room and changes the channel in the middle of Jan’s television viewing. An argument ensues and Greg quickly mediates, before Carol enters. The next scene is basically the same scene played again with the remaining Brady family members. Marsha mediates an argument between Bobby and Cindy, only to assure Mike that all is well when he enters. The almost identical scene/scenario even takes place in the same room.
That night, none of the adults in the house can sleep and all find themselves in the kitchen enjoying a midnight snack. The kids’ well behaved ways have them all concerned and worried. Alice says, “If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a perfect kid; much less six of them.” This is funny as I recall reading in either Bradymania or Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg that the actress playing Alice, Ann B. Davis, didn’t care for children. You’d have never guessed it seeing her onscreen.
The second act opens with Greg and Marsha working out in the yard. Greg is scraping the rake around on the ground to simulate raking leaves. Poor Marsha had reduced herself to cutting the lawn with a pair of garden shears. Keep in mind I am ignoring the fact that this is obviously an Astroturf yard, but was lawn trimming such as this done before the invention of the weed eater? Trimming a lawn this way looks like something that a fraternity pledge might be forced to do or maybe some punishment detail in the military. What follows is a threat by Alice to tell Greg and Marsha’s classmates how well they have been having if they don’t spill the beans about why they have been on their best behavior. The threat moves them to talk to their parents, separately, about the Dear Libby column. Each child is assured by each respective parent that the letter was not written by him/her. Each kid reminds each respective parent that the letter writer’s gender was not made clear; meaning it could have come from either parent’s better half. Here begins that classic sitcom situation that could easily be resolved by just asking a simple question of the other character, but instead all kinds of suspicion and worry ensues. We also see the boy’s room for the first time in the exchange between Mike and Greg.
In the scene that follows, Carol asks Alice if she thinks Mike might have written the letter. Alice unconvincingly assures her that it couldn’t have been Mike that wrote the letter, leaving Carol to continue worrying about it. Shortly thereafter, we see Mike’s office for the first time and an almost identical exchange between he and Alice. Here, he asks her if Carol could have written the letter. Here is where the episode has finally crumbled into an incoherent mess. Alice could have solved the entire thing at this very moment. Carol had all ready asked if Alice thought Mike wrote the letter. Here Mike is asking Alice the same thing. At this point, Alice should know for certain it wasn’t Carol who wrote the letter, but yet she
stammers her unconvincing assurance that Carol could not have written it. At this point, she remains concerned that one of them wrote the letter! Did she suspect either Mike or Carol had secretly written it and was now acting concerned and asking about the other writing it for some reason? She could have come right out and said, “Oh Mr. Brady, Mrs. Brady was worried it was you who wrote it!” or with a sigh of relief, “I am certain if you speak to Mrs. Brady, you will know for sure it wasn’t her.” But, no, the suspicion by everybody in the house continues.
In the next scene, Mike and Carol rearrange the living room furniture and assure one another how happy they are, but neither mention the letter that now weighs so heavily upon everyone’s mind. Finally, in the next scene, the adult and sensible thing takes place. Mike and Carol talk again, this time in Mike’s office, and have a “happiness confessional” and mutually assure one another that neither wrote the letter. Finally, things make a little bit of sense, but not for long. Carol asks Mike how they will convince the kids that neither of them wrote the letter and they are both happy. Uh, the first thing that came to my mind is to simply sit them down and tell them. “Your mother and I are very happy. Neither of us wrote that letter to Dear Libby.” Maybe they could even follow that up with a PG rated kiss. Here, all the kids would whoop and cheer and the closing credits could roll. Instead, Mike tells Carol the kids are watching a TV show right now and they will tell them as soon as it is over.
We then transition to a scene of the living room. This must have been one really long TV show as Mike and Carol have changed clothes since their talk in the office. Mike was previously sporting a sweatshirt and jeans and is now wearing slacks, a dress shirt and tie. The doorbell rings and Mike and Carol race to the door. Upon answering it, they find their evening caller is none other than Elizabeth Carter, aka Dear Libby! Many celebrities would grace the Brady door through the years. The fictitious Dear Libby was the first! She was played by Jo DeWinter who maintained a busy acting career through the decades that followed. She only passed away recently in 2016 and even has a 2016 acting credit. This nonsense episode didn’t end her career.
Upon Dear Libby entering, the remainder of the household has vanished and gone into hiding. Dear Libby explains she received multiple letters urging her to confirm the true identity of “Harried and Hopeless”. It turns out that all six children and Alice had written her requesting this. She reveals that the real letter came from Kingsford, Illinois! All the kids erupt in celebration at the news that some family miles away is crumbling, but not their own! Had Mike and Carol not bothered to tell them that they did not write the letter?! Had all the kids been self-punishingly well behaved, somber and depressed all this time? Or did Mike and Carol somehow find out Dear Libby was coming to visit, change their clothes and act surprised upon answering the door? The script and continuity supervisor must have called in sick for this episode because none of it makes sense in the second half.
This is the first episode with an epilogue. It’s also the first glimpse we get of Mike and Carol’s bedroom. Here it is revealed that they too had written, but not sent, letters to Dear Libby asking her to reveal the true writer of the letter. How about you freaking ask your partner and not write some stranger asking that?
I looked it up and Kingsford, Illinois is not a real place; at least not on today’s maps. So, this debacle was not repeated by some newly merged family in that state upon this episode airing.
This concludes Episode 2 of the Brady Bunch. I hope you enjoyed reviewing it together and will share your thoughts and comments. See you next Friday when we review “Eenie, Meenie, Mommy, Daddy”.