When you're in a family of six children, naturally, there's going to be disputes over such things as who gets to watch a certain TV show and when, who gets to use the phone and when and so forth. Or, in the case of "54-40 and Fight," who gets to pick out the ultimate item out of a merchandise catalog when redeeming trading stamps of a company that's about to close.
While companies such as S&H Green Stamps stuck it out well into the 1980s, many smaller trading stamp companies were going out of business by the late 1960s ... making "54-40 and Fight" timely for the era. One of those companies going belly-up was the fictional Checker Corporation, whose bankruptcy and looming liquidation is announced in an article in the daily newspaper, The Daily Chronicle. The boys and girls had separately all these years collected stamps and gotten leftover stamps from their respective parents, and once they put all the books together, they find they have 94 books (the boys had 54, the girls had the remaining 40).
Well, what to buy? The kids peruse the premium catalog and realize that only by putting their books together will they have something worth getting. Problem is ... the boys see the rowboat and envision days of going fishing and relaxing on the water. The girls spot a deluxe sewing machine and can make all sorts of groovy dresses and other outfits to show off to all their friends.
So why not buy something all of the family can enjoy? Well, they could do that and they eventually do, at episode's end but there's still 20 minutes to go and we'd not have a plot or a reason for Mike and Carol to try to preach compromise and sharing.
So that's where things start. The kids argue over what to get, the folks try to suggest looking at the catalog further to see what else they could get that everyone will be satisfied with, but the boys want that rowboat and the girls have their hearts set on that sewing machine.
Finally, conventional wisdom is thrown out the window when there is no sign of coming to a compromise. Instead of following Greg's and Marcia's suggestion of just having the parents decide for them (although it could be argued that it would be unfair to the kids since the books were the kids' in the first place), Mike and Carol permit them to follow their next plan of settling the dispute in a winner-take-all competition.
That competition: Building a house of cards! Well, whatever ... the kids do just that, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. And, as it turns out, they build quite a structure!
Just before everyone runs out of cards and the whole thing is termed a draw, who should run into the room but Tiger! He got loose, Alice was unable to restrain him ... and Tiger wants to play. He jumps onto Peter, and Peter is pushed onto the table and into the house of cards!
CRASH! End of house of cards, and end of competition. Peter complains, but Mike rules that per the rules of the competition, the girls win and get to pick out the premium with everyone's books.
At the Checker Trading Stamp store, the girls argue over what sewing machine to buy ... but then dissolve to back home, where the boys are sulking over their misfortune. The girls and Carol come home with a large box. Cindy reveals that the box contains not a sewing machine ... but a color TV. And a portable color TV and, for 1969, a nice model at that!
Y'see, when the chips were down, it was the girls who after hours of arguments and haggling over what to get show the sense of compromise and sharing that everyone had been hoping for in the first place. And of course in the years since, just as the role of trading stamps has been replaced by credit card rewards and company loyalty programs, the Bradys would indeed demonstrate compromise and sharing.
And by the way, Marcia's interest in the sewing machine might be a bit prophetic: By the time The Brady Brides rolled around 11 years later, in 1981, she had become a fashion designer, and was using a sewing machine all the time!
Tropes present in this episode (YMMV goes here):
- Fall of the House of Cards: Thanks to Tiger, who knocks Peter into the card table and causing the girls to win by default.
- Take a Third Option: The girls ultimately pass up a sewing machine for a color TV, something the whole family can enjoy.
- Worst News Judgement Ever: Not so much by the bankruptcy announcement of the Checker Corp. and the urgent request to redeem trading stamps within 30 days or they become worthless, but the poorly written article that appears in the Daily Chronicle. The article obviously written by an intern who was failing the class on how to rewrite a basic news release for a newspaper rewrites the article as though it were for a radio or TV newscast, given this line at the end of the story: " ... (T)o repeat, the Checker Trading Stamp Corporation is going out of business in 30 days."