Partridges were the original garage band, and they were also the Bradys’
prime-time neighbors (Friday nights on ABC from 1970-1974 – the prototype
TGIF!). However, unlike the Bradys, who were insular and innocent, the
Partridges were extroverted and world weary.
Billed as “the family who plays together, stays together,” and based on the
60s’ pop-music family group The Cowsills, the Partridges had seen it all in
their travels: smoky nightclubs, hookers, gangsters, union strikes, morality
watchdogs, a Detroit ghetto, a women’s lib rally, unscrupulous promoters, a
prison, unstable hippie chicks and most importantly of all, Las Vegas.
Bradys, cozy and content in their suburban womb, would only venture as far
as the pedestrian soft spots of Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and King’s Island
amusement park (when not fixing their bikes or drinking their milk).
Still, the Partridges, like the Bradys, were decidedly upper-middle class.
They lived in Northern California (San Pueblo) in a more-than-comfy
split-level (tasteful except for the brown shag carpeting and the avocado
refrigerator; however, the Partridge crib had nothing on the famous Brady
house). The kids, though supposedly mentioned in fan magazines, still
attended public school, scraped their own dishes and washed their own
famous touring bus was an eyesore in the driveway (The “Careful! Nervous
Mother Driving!” warning was for real: Shirley Jones really drove that bus –
she was taught by teamsters!). And no neighbors ever complained as the clan
diligently practiced their rockin’ craft with great discipline in their
garage. On weekends, however, the Partridges squawked on the wild side.
story goes somewhat like this: a widow named Shirley (Shirley Jones) quits
her bank-teller job in order to join her kids’ pop band (working mothers
were a rarity on TV in those days; our hearts were meant to sink due to
their unfortunate fate of having to toil outside the house). That most
adolescents would rather die than even be seen in public with their
parents – let alone have them rock out with them on stage for all the world
to see and hear – is not explained or addressed.
According to Shirley’s narration, her husband died six months earlier (he
was never named or mentioned again, ever) and, as a result, the Partridges
were up a pear tree, desperately trying to make ends meet. With the help of
a neurotic, hangdog, W.C. Fields-like manager, Reuben Kincaid (the terrific
Dave Madden), they land their very first gig at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas
(?!). The effect: they become a minor sensation with a good vibration,
allowing them to make both the mortgage and the Top 40.
rest of their story is far more sketchy: the episodes fluctuate between the
group being a) wildly famous and b) struggling nightclub performers earning
a modest paycheck. One week, they have a hit record on the radio; the next
week, they are toiling in relative obscurity. The writers
undecided as to the clan’s degree of fame and fortune, and they
toggle carelessly back and forth to fit the current storyline.
addition, they seem to play for The Kids in one episode, but in the next
episode their audience seems to be sophisticated, jet-setting adults in
bouffants, evening gowns and tuxedos (we’re almost always subjected to the
same footage of a nightclub crowd seated at long tables, smoking and
rattling their jewelry to the music).
so the Partridges do keep us guessing, but one thing we know for sure is
that their only huge hit, “I Think I Love You,” brings all the people
together and gives a happy ending to the turbulent sixties (in real life,
this record will outsell The Beatles’ “Let It Be”). When they’re singing and
playing, the lion lay down with the lamb; peace will guide the planets and
love will steer the stars, even though the brood does the worst job of lip
synching this side of Milli Vanilli.
kids in this household are not as interchangeable as the Bradys: there is
Keith (David Cassidy), the teen idol who looks like a chick; Laurie (Susan
Dey), the poncho-wearing, model-like oldest sister, who asks us to find it
adorable that she is a radical activist (and we do) and who never, ever
eats, even when food is placed in front of her; and Danny (Danny Bonaduce)
the red-headed scamp who is supposedly ten-years old but has a freakish
command of business, publicity and the stock market. It’s supposed to be
funny, but it’s uncomfortable.
Bonaduce is still a rascal even today, in the hilarious commentary track. In
a scene where Laurie is leaning over Danny, Bonaduce exclaims, “If she had
breasts, that would have been a pivotal moment for me!” He also observes,
“We’re five white kids dressed up like Superfly!”
of course, we have the dilemma of the problem children, Chris and Tracy
(Jeremy Gelbwaks and Suzanne Crough) who are easily the very worst child
actors in the history of television (in this golden era of breeder comedies,
how difficult could it have been to cast two child actors with some acting
chops, a la Bobby and Cindy Brady?). Gelbwaks will eventually become
the Pete Best of the group, being unceremoniously replaced by Chris Foster
in the second season. Unfortunately, Suzanne Crough was not replaced, and
she was the one who most needed to go. And like Tiger on The Brady Bunch,
the family dog is fired after the first season.
list of guest stars (and stars to be) is rather impressive. We see The
Scarecrow himself, Ray Bolger, playing the grandfather who is experiencing a
“youth kick” (we know this because he sports mutton chops and an ascot
around his neck, and takes a joyous bite of a hot dog). He jams with the
Partridges (knowing every word to their song even though it’s the very first
time he’s ever heard it). We also get pre-Charlie’s-Angels
Smith and Farrah Fawcett playing various pieces of ass, and a pre-Rookies
Michael Ontkean as a hunky high schooler.
You’ll also witness a before-he-was-goofy Richard Mulligan (Empty Nest)
as the concerned family doctor; Star Wars’ Mark Hamill as an awkward
teen with a crush on Laurie; and a hootable William Schallert (Patty Duke’s
TV poppo) as a Will-Rogers type folk singer on whom the Partridges bizarrely
obsess and are determined to make a star, even if it kills him.
However, the standout episode of the collection is the one featuring Richard
Pryor and Lou Gossett, Jr., in the 1970 obligatory Black Folks Are People
Too offering. Get this: the Partridges’ touring schedule is somehow mixed up
with the Temptations’, and the lily-white clan arrives smack in the middle
of a Detroit ghetto (really a non-menacing Screen Gems backlot), complete
with a woman in orange leather pants and an “African-American Cultural
Society” (known in real life as The Black Panthers). To make a long story
short, the Partridges get soul (“I have an idea for a song,” Keith suggests.
“It’s kind of an Afro thing.”). The tension between the races is healed
forever as The Partridges get hot pants and the neighborhood responds
word about the music: it’s fan-TAS-tic. The unsung heroes of this series
were the studio musicians who pretended to be The Partridge Family (only
David Cassidy’s voice was used for real, and they sped it up slightly in
order to make him sound younger. Shirley Jones would add her harmonies after
the recordings were finished, and it’s always a trip to watch her perky/rockin’
body language when she’s performing).
year was 1970, and the charts featured such mellow rock acts as The
Carpenters, Bread, Chicago and James Taylor (you do the math). Most of their songs
tended to use the word “together” one too many times (a very important word
-- nay, a groovy concept --
at the end of the sixties), but each tune is like three
minutes of sunshine. In fact, the DVD offers terrific Partridge songs
that should be beloved standards, monster hits and party favorites, but
never achieved that status thanks to the rock bullies who insisted that we
pay attention instead to Led Zeppelin.
DVD also features boring commentary from Shirley Jones (“What a great song.”
“I remember that very well.” “That bus!”) as well as two episodes of the
inexplicable, unhackable animated cartoon series The Partridge Family,
2200 A.D. This junky filler was created by the cheap-bastard Hanna
Barbera team, who stubbornly stuck to their Jetsons-like vision of
the future (cosmic malt shops, record stores and tape decks. And when are we
getting those flying cars?). The only positive thing to come out of this
cartoon is that Tracy seems to be more animated than she is in the original
works best besides the music is the writing, which is surprisingly cynical
and highbrow. The Partridge Family, unlike The Brady Bunch, is
more often than not downbeat and dark, but often out-loud funny, not always
automatically sinking into the adorable. Some of the jokes are dated
(references to Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock, Berkeley,
and Myra Breckenridge), but credit must be given to the writers who
were not afraid to go over The Kids’ heads.
examples: while headlining at the local prison, Shirley muses before her
captive audience, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a convict. But I
think in some real way, we are all prisoners.” Also, just like Camus, she
advises Keith, “It’s human nature. You’re unhappy then. You’re unhappy now.”
Dare Carol Brady to try that advice. Or contemplate Reuben musing, “Free
speech is great until somebody else starts talking.” And when an embarrassed
Laurie experiences radio broadcasts being transmitted through her braces,
Danny incorrectly states, “The Rolling Stones don’t make personal
appearances in a person’s mouth.” And count the kids on your one hand who
would understand the following criticism from Danny to Reuben: “If you’ve
been Toulouse Letrec’s
manager, he would have been known as the World’s Greatest Short Order Cook.”
following three seasons would see a considerable downsizing, as their
big-budget traveling and road locations would be traded in for more domestic
and less radical situations. Disco and arena rock were on their way in –
while filmed breeder sitcoms with laugh tracks were on their way out. By
1974, the Partridges were transported to the ghetto of Saturday night and
However, we’ll always have their stunning Screen Gems backlot neighborhood.
The Partridge home was only a broomstick ride away from the famous
Bewitched residence, in which all the Partridges’ boyfriends and
girlfriends seemed to dwell and confuse our television worldview by doing
so. And even though it would seem like a natural progression, Shirley and
Reuben never hooked up; rather, they remained strangely, infuriatingly
the Partridges themselves might say, this DVD is “heavy.” And they would
mean that in a good way.
All rights reserved. Posted: March 14, 2007.