Susan Olsen, who has long since accepted the fact that the world will always know her as the lisping kid sister of the Brady family, says she had never bothered to go look at the house on Dilling Street in North Hollywood.
One day, in 2011, something weirdly magical happened. Her friend, the songwriter and artist Allee Willis, called Olsen and said, “I’ve got the Wienermobile tomorrow,” and asked if she wanted to tool around in it with her.
Why not? One thing led to another on their drive, and the famous Oscar Mayer promotional vehicle eventually ended up at the Brady house — so-called because it’s the house originally seen in the exterior establishing shots of the TV show, which premiered 50 years ago this month. Tourists seem to always be there, taking selfies and lurking around.
“Allee says, to her dying day, she will never forget the look on all the tourists’ faces,” Olsen said, “when the Wienermobile pulled up and Cindy Brady got out.”
After hearing Olsen tell that story to a roomful of rapt TV critics in July, I wished for an enormous, gilt-framed, realist painting of this wholly American moment.
Instead I will settle for a home-renovation show.
On the irresistibly nostalgic four-episode miniseries “A Very Brady Renovation” (premiering at 9 p.m. Monday on HGTV), the Brady kids reunite to assist some of the network’s stars with a massive, six-month remodeling of the house. To put it back precisely as the audience perceived it. The original “Brady Bunch” ran for five seasons, followed by a permanent loop of reruns, revivals and remakes in the pop-culture consciousness. Those kid actors are now in their late 50s to mid 60s. (Imagine: Marcia on Medicare.) Robert Reed, who played their father, Mike Brady, died in 1992. Florence Henderson, who played their mother, Carol, died in 2016. Ann B. Davis, who played their beloved housekeeper, Alice, died in 2014.
Cheerful and inviting as the show might be, its mission is to put everything back the way it was, the way Mom and Dad had it — a final attempt to see if we can Make Brady America Great Again, down to finding the right pattern for the tastefully garish living room sofa, or using 3-D printing technology to restore the horse statuette that sits on a credenza, or hunting for the correct finial knobs that go on the backs of the dining room chairs. A significant part of Monday’s episode is spent debating whether it will be acceptable to rebuild the famous Brady stairway with 11 steps instead of 12.
To bring up the fact that none of it was ever real — that “A Very Brady Renovation” is indeed a costly and pointless attempt to put a layer of new fake on top of the old fake — is to look for logic where it need not exist. As the house comes together, the Brady cast’s faces reflect an almost profound wonder at the passage of time. The show is covertly speaking to us about mortality. It tells us something about the surprising degree to which the past can be retrieved, to say nothing of the lengths that 21st-century TV producers will go to retrieve it.
Much was made of the house’s availability when it went on the market in 2018, as-is, for the first time since 1973. (Asking price: $1.88 million.) The house has for years been a drive-by curiosity; the former owners’ attempts at privacy included painting it pale pink and erecting a decorative, knee-high brick wall on the lawn’s perimeter.
Still, it is unmistakably the house. Hundreds of purchase offers poured in (including one from former boy-band singer Lance Bass), but HGTV prevailed, and set about recruiting the very Brady actors to participate in this very corny effort. Several of them, it turns out, were dutiful yuppies who became savvy real estate investors, gaining some hands-on renovation experience along the way.
With the help of a design chief, a contractor and a construction crew, a grand plan emerges to make the inside of the house conform precisely to “The Brady Bunch” stage interiors — from the orange Formica in the kitchen to the Jack-and-Jill bathroom shared by the six kids, to the groovy attic that a teenage Greg Brady (Barry Williams) claimed for his own, to the resentment of his stepsister Marcia (Maureen McCormick).
Shepherded by HGTV’s favorite camera hogs, “The Property Brothers” (Jonathan and Drew Scott), the project involves turning the one-story house into a two-story house, to add some 2,000 square feet of new living space without changing the essential street view.