"The Ugly Duckling" is one of those stories that has a moral everyone can relate to the ugly child that one day sheds her "ugliness" and becomes a beautiful swan. It's one that Jan Brady certainly could relate to, as like her older sister Marcia, she was forever dealing with her sense of vanity.
But as vanity came into play here, so did a situation that involves most girls Jan's age. As by fifth grade, most girls are starting to notice boys (and vice versa) ... and they want them for more than just a "friendship," even though things rarely go beyond that step at this point. And such is the case with Jan when she notices classmate Clark Tyson, a nice, cute boy in her class whom she wants for her very own ... only for Clark to pay her no mind. It's got her convinced that there must be something wrong with her, but she'll soon learn she's ... "The Not-So-Ugly Duckling."
So Jan develops this crush on Clark, only he seems to not really be interested in her. Yes, they're friends and talk in class, but other girls seem to trip his trigger, including Marcia (who is two years older than either Clark or Jan and in junior high(!)). Jan becomes convinced that it must be those freckles on her face, and grows spiteful of something she cannot change, even with as many lemons as she's taking to the bathroom to try to change her complexion. Eventually, Jan overhears Greg and Peter having a conversation about how they saw Clark with a female classmate who had even more freckles far more noticeable and numerous freckles at that on her face. Jan bursts into tears as she realizes she'll never get Clark.
So then comes the coup de gras. Disappointed that Clark simply has no feelings for her, and because she's unable to appreciate that boys are just simply are that way sometimes ... Jan announces at dinner that she HAS a boyfriend. "George ... um, uh ... ." There is a pause as Carol asks what George's last name is ... and then Jan sees a glass on the table. That's it! "George ..., George Glass!" Constantly, she talks up George and how they spend all their time together. Mike and Carol are relieved that Jan apparently has a boyfriend, and are even more convinced as Jan constantly takes phone calls (it's really just the operator calling).
In the meantime, Jan's birthday is coming up and the folks want to help build Jan's spirits by throwing her a surprise birthday party! And one of the guests should be ... George Glass. The illusion of Jan having a boyfriend starts to unravel, and it isn't long before it is clear to the others that George Glass exists only in Jan's mind. Mike then decides that, to help build her self-worth and self-esteem, she should get a couple of new dresses and change her appearance somewhat. Clark who admits he was turned off by Jan's tomboyish clothing is turned on and finally starts noticing her, which makes Jan so happy!
And then, the big birthday bash comes up, and Jan has a great time as the guest of honor. Clark's her boy-toy, all of her friends are there ... and "George Glass" doesn't matter anymore.
Tropes present in this episode:
- Broken Aesop: At first, the lesson Jan could have learned seemed like "it's no big deal if a boy isn't into you that way, or if you don't have a boyfriend," and that just because a boy you asked out declines it doesn't make him a shallow, vain jerk. (By all accounts, Clark seems to be a nice boy.) But when Jan puts a dress on and turns up the girlish charm, Clark's all over her. While there was nothing wrong with Jan getting all dolled up because she wanted to look pretty, the lesson seemed to be "boys only like girls based on their looks, so you better have the right look" which is especially sad when you consider how insecure Jan is.
- Butter Face: Discussed between Jan and Greg when she asks him why a friend of hers (actually her) cannot get a boyfriend. Greg answers that either her face is ugly or that she is too skinny or fat; Jan figures she is neither too thin and she isn't heavy, so she blames it on her freckles.
- Here We Go Again!: In the tag scene, which is a continuation of Jan's big birthday bash, Mike and Carol talk about how they don't have to worry about Cindy wanting a boyfriend for several years. Pan over to see Cindy and a young boy her age whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears!
- Tropes related to George Glass:
- Boyfriend in Canada: Why nobody can seem to track down George Glass.
- Invented Individual: The creation of George, by Jan to help her with her inability to deal with Clark's disinterest in her.
- Line-of-Sight Name: George is the first name that comes to Jan's mind. Struggling to come up with the last name, she sees an empty glass. Volia instant boyfriend with a reasonably plausible nickname.
- Phoney Call: Jan has the operator call the house, then offers to get the phone and fakes a conversation to make everyone believe she has a boyfriend named George Glass.
- An Idiot Ball award to Mike and Carol — and one that fans can be sure Robert Reed wanted to sock onto the writers, since he'd point out that there were multiple phones in the house connected to one phone line — for not picking up the phone in another room during one of these "calls" to confirm suspicions that Jan's "boyfriend" is imaginary.