Here it is. The infamous series finale of The Brady Bunch.
And much of that infamy had to do with Robert Reed finding this episode so offensive and nothing more than rubbish that he refused to take part in this "Hair-Brained Scheme."
Basically, Reed had lost patience with a writing team that had time and again, in his view, created completely unbelievable situations and nothing more than mere inane slapstick that would entertain only a mere idiot, and that his complaints weren't being listened to. On the flip side, both Sherwood and Lloyd Schwartz used their biography to insist that such story ideas, as crazy as they might seem, were based on actual events and tried — without success — to show Reed news clippings and other proof that there were consumers who were victimized by such things as non-FDA approved products and "get rich quick" schemes (such as what Bobby falls prey to after he responds to a advertisement in a youth magazine, seeking gullible salesmen to sell overstock of what turns out to be a shoddy and/or discontinued product), among other things. And by now, Paramount and network officials were basically ignoring Reed, often taking his meticulously typed memorandums criticizing in detail every aspect of a given script ... and pitching it, unread, into the trash bin.
For now, the intended lessons were what this episode focused on: buyer beware and to not be suckered into schemes to sell unsold stock of discontinued products that were ordered off sale. So it's on with the show ...
... where preparations are made for Greg's big graduation day. As one of the top academic achievers of Westdale High's Class of 1974, he's got many scholarships pending and can't wait to go off to college, for bigger and better things.
Meanwhile, the two youngest kids have been stung by the entrepreneurship bee and — as they claim — want to make millions. Bobby, reading one of his magazines, sees one of those "get rich quick" ads ... this one for a product called "Neat and Natural," a hair tonic that promises a groovy hair appearance and renewed health. Eager to embark on his career as a successful salesman, he tells Carol about his plans, but Carol is skeptical. Despite her admonition that this is likely a scam, Bobby proceeds to invest $24 for a 24-bottle case and then, in turn, sell each bottle door-to-door for $2, thereby doubling his investment.
Meanwhile, Cindy decides to breed rabbits and buys a pair from the pet shop, whose owner, Mr. Kirby, offers to buy back any babies. This takes a back seat to Bobby's salesmanship attempts — he's rudely shut down at every turn — as Cindy fails to notice (and apparently, so did the pet shop owner) that both rabbits are male. We'll get back to this later, but in one of the aside acts, it is Oliver who remarks that his Aunt Carol — when she tried to excuse herself because she was busy — seemed to have difficulty explaining the birds and bees ... the one and only time the word "sex" is stated in any Brady script.
Because now Bobby is moping at everyone refusing to buy his hair tonic; apparently, they were wise customers who recognized this was a product that was taken off the market after being condemned by the FDA, but anyway ... . After Carol gives Bobby a pep talk (which does little to lift his spirits), Greg — who is busy giving Peter pointers about being cool in high school — takes pity on his little brother and buys a bottle. Greg non-verbally but clearly has no intent to use it, which Bobby immediately picks up on and goads him into using it. Bobby smears the goo into Greg's hair ... until he realizes that something has gone terribly wrong.
He covers Greg's head with a towel and runs off. Greg laughs him off ... until he happens to glance at the mirror, and sees that he's got ... ORANGE HAIR!!!! OH, NO!!!!! (dramatic music sting) AND TOMORROW'S GRADUATION!!!! (All this while the audience laugh track — which Reed was insisting, in at least one of his many "memos" that Barry Williams reprinted in his autobiography, was "balking" at what he viewed as unfunny, asinine bullshit — was rolling over with laughter unlike nothing ever seen on a previous Brady episode.)
Greg is now really pissed and wants to beat an explanation out of Bobby. He eventually finds him, cowering under Mike's desk. Carol, who fortunately is in the den as Greg storms in, somehow manages to step between the siblings before Greg does something he'd really regret (as in, spending graduation in jail, awaiting a felony assault charge for beating Bobby to within an inch of his life) and gets him calmed down enough to allow her to call the Neat and Natural Hair Tonic's office. No luck ... the phone's been disconnected. Carol, after telling Bobby she was worried something like this might happen, then calls the Better Business Bureau ... only to learn that the company had been shut down by the FDA (apparently, after multiple complaints similar to Greg's). Meantime, Greg attempts to wash the tonic out of his hair but without success, and the only alternative left is to go to the hair salon and have a hair stylist perform an emergency dye job; a completely embarrassed Greg bluffs an explanation after being spotted by two girls from his class (who, by the way, were played by Sherwood Schwartz' daughter, Hope Sherwood; and Florence Henderson's daughter, Barbara Bernstein).
Meanwhile, after Cindy learns about both of her rabbits being male, Bobby is forced to concede defeat once and for all ... after Carol told him to dispose of the remaining stock - which he does by pouring it down the drain. Before he can completely dump the toxic tonic into the water supply, he gets distracted when Greg walks in, explaining that the hair surgery was a success. The tonic gets poured onto the rabbits, both of them white ... and they turn their fur orange. Cindy is horrified at first, but Bobby sees it as a solution to their "millionaire problem."
Cut to the final act, where Bobby and Cindy excitedly announce they sold their rabbits back and that Bobby was able to get rid of the rest of his hair tonic. So things were, more or less, a break-even proposition.
Cut to the tag scene, where all is well for Greg's graduation ... though Carol mentions that it was unfortunate Mike was out of town and missed it. note And now, apparently, it's up for Marcia and Peter to see who will get Greg's cool attic pad. Except that Oliver suggests that he could get it instead and rent it out as a guest room.
As far as the show's fate goes, this episode was aired on March 8, 1974. Despite Sanford and Son easily decimating Brady in the Nielsen ratings, there was still speculation that ABC was planning to renew Brady for a sixth season. After all, even though its audience share was diminishing, there was still a loyal audience and a demand for family friendly programming. Reports were that some scripts were even being drafted for the sixth season ... likely around Greg moving to college, possibly Alice and Sam getting married, Cindy maybe going on her first date ... and then that little matter of why Mike wasn't around anymore (or failing that, why a different actor was playing the Brady family patriarch). Speculation had it — and various sources and books have also suggested — that Robert Reed was being fired and could now pursue other endeavors. But then ABC — after weighing their own options — decided everyone was going to be fired. That all had absolutely zero to do with Reed's impending fate, either ... rather, with dismal Nielsen ratings having decided its fate, it was decided it was simply time to end the show with dignity and try something else.
And on that note, that's all folks.
But that's not the end of this story about a Man Named Brady or his Lovely Lady. The Bradys would return in seven years, when Marcia and Jan are having a double wedding ... or 2 1/2 years, for those fans who enjoyed watching The Brady Bunch Hour. Or for those who really couldn't wait, there was still another year or so of reruns on ABC's daytime schedule note , followed by a quiet introduction in syndication in September 1975 wherein the show's popularity — a respectable but never-top-30 Nielsen hit in its prime — would increase to legendary proportions.
Tropes present in this episode (YMMV goes here):
- Absentee Actor: It's been stated, ad nauseum, why Robert Reed was absent from this episode.
- Curb-Stomp Battle and Domestic Abuse: What Bobby fears he is about to become the victim of, when he is seen cowering in Mike's den. Narrowly averted when Carol manages (somehow) to restrain a much larger and enraged Greg. The Domestic Abuse trope is mentioned due to assaulting a sibling being classified legally as such, which Greg stops short of doing.
- Here We Go Again!: Bobby and Oliver decide at the end of the episode that they can make a fortune selling worms.
- Hilarity Ensues: In the clinching scene, where Bobby is trying to get rid of the hair tonic. First, pouring tonic down the sink would be frowned upon by the municipal public works department because of possible contamination of the water supply. And, when Bobby absent-mindedly pours some of the liquid on the rabbits (to temporarily color their fur), animal rights activists would have a field day.
- I Warned You: Carol, in between restraining Greg, tells Bobby this when she sees the eldest Brady boy's hair ... that the products he was selling was likely part of a scam, or in the very least, an attempt to sell off unsold stock of a discontinued product.
- Shout-Out: Carl Mahakian, who was mentioned by Carol, was in real life the show's post-production coordinator.
- Stock Series Finales: Although this was not intended as the finale it was still undecided in January 1974, when this episode was taped, whether The Brady Bunch would be returning for a sixth season, despite being pummeled in the ratings by Sanford and Son the common series finale plot of a character graduating from high school is used to frame the episode's infamous plot.
- The Talk: Lampshaded when Oliver suggests Carol has a problem talking about sex (during the scene where Carol doesn't go into detail as to how you can tell if an animal is male or female).
- Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Inverted. When Cindy and Oliver are told by the pet shop owner that both of the rabbits are male.
- Zany Scheme: The attempts by Bobby and Cindy to earn a million dollars Cindy not so much (she's just raising rabbits), but Bobby moreso by selling hair tonic.