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Recap / The Brady Bunch S 5 E 17 Welcome Aboard

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This is it – the episode that gave birth to a term that's become part of television lexicon:

The Cousin Oliver.

As many TV Tropers and others well know, the Cousin Oliver is young child whose main intended purpose is to be cute and to draw younger viewers to the series. Instead, the strategy backfires by annoying and possibly alienating the current viewers because it upsets the original dynamic of the show (that is, the reason viewers tuned in in the first place).

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On The Brady Bunch, the hapless character of Oliver Tyler was played by Robbie Rist, a 10-year-old Los Angeles native who had some previous roles, but his six-episode shot on The Brady Bunch would make him a household name, albeit not in a necessarily flattering way. In fact, the Cousin Oliver character wound up being the template of numerous younger actors/actresses were added to family sitcoms as original child and tween members of the cast matured into adolescence and adulthood, with those results rarely successful.

In the meantime, the Bradys were telling Cousin Oliver ... "Welcome Aboard."

Cousin Oliver, Carol's nephew, is left to live with the Bradys after his parents – Carol's brother, Jack, an archeologist, and his wife, Pauline, are traveling to a dig in South America. Because of his age and to allow him to continue at school, Mike and Carol agree to take Oliver in. (Of course, this is revealed to everyone only after Carol – perhaps still trying to finalize details about her and Mike being Oliver's temporary guardians – is at first vague to everyone about what's going on, leading the others to naturally conclude that Carol is pregnant.)

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At first, the Brady's children are eager to take him in and help him feel welcome. Rather than just sit back and relax, however, Oliver tries too hard to show off his skills or be helpful ... and he winds up doing more harm than good. (For instance, he breaks Marcia's pottery project and – while playing basketball with Peter and Bobby – breaks a window after an errant basketball throw, ultimately ruining a mock-up of a downtown high rise Mike had meticulously assembled to show a client.) Greg and Marcia plead with their younger siblings to be patient with Oliver, but the other four are convinced he's a jinx and wish he'd go away ... not knowing that Oliver is listening in.

Oliver tells Mike what Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy have said about him, and Mike assures him they're wrong (gently to Oliver, more firmly to those four Brady kids). Later, to get Oliver to feel more welcome and to bond with the other kids, Carol arranges for everybody – except Mike, who had to work – to visit a movie studio. Oliver – who had just caused another accident - says he isn't going, but then everyone suggests that if he isn't going, the trip is off (Bobby tries to balk, but Carol immediately sets him straight). Oliver then agrees to go ... and lucky them, because he's the 1 millionth customer.

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And what does the 1-millionth customer (and those accompanying him) win? Bit parts in the studio's latest production – a comedy short based on a 1920s vaudeville short, where two angry motorists throw pies at each other. The Bradys (and Oliver), as extras, get into the act and have loads of fun ... before dousing Oliver with cream pies.

While "Welcome Aboard" and subsequent episodes weren't necessarily as bad as some – Robert Reed among them – have suggested, the consensus has been that this episode and the five that followed would seal the show's fate. Although Barry Williams (in his previous books) and other authors have also pointed out that The Brady Bunch had been soundly beaten in the ratings by its direct competition, Sanford and Son, throughout the 1973-1974 season and that led to the show's ultimate cancellation in the summer of 1974, Cousin Oliver is often cited as the catalyst for the show's demise.

Tropes present in this episode:

  • Cousin Oliver: Does it really need to be explained?
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Literally, which Greg builds for a between-meal snack.
  • The Jinx: Cousin Oliver. In the plot sense, because he's trying too hard to help out and gain acceptance from his cousins and causes several accidents. From a series standpoint, the fact that the character was ultimately seen as not really needed and was the final catalyst in the series' decline and ultimate cancelation.
  • Pie in the Face: The last five or so minutes is an extended pie fight, with everyone getting in on the act. (Except for Mike, since Robert Reed – as hinted by Barry Williams in "Growing Up Brady" – opted out of the scene because of what he saw as a ridiculous segment "tacked onto a weak script.")
  • Superstition Episode: The kids – especially the four younger ones – think Oliver is a jinx when, through his trying too hard, involves them in a series of accidents.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Greg seems to be partial to sandwiches. Here, he builds a large Dagwood sandwich ... with a little (unneeded) help from Oliver. (Back in season 1's "Is There a Doctor in the House," he wanted a bologna sandwich).
  • Umpteenth Customer: Because Oliver is the 1 millionth tourist at the movie studio the family is touring, he and the others get to be in a movie.
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