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Thursday, April 10, 2014

'Eight is Enough' S5 DVD: The Karate Kid Meets the Bradys

Eight is Enough: The Complete Fifth Season
Warner Archives' recent six-disc DVD release of the 1980-81 fifth and final season of the textbook family-hour show "Eight Is Enough" provides hope for releases of more seasons of similar Archive-adopted series. Fans are clamoring for the fifth season of "Alice" and the fourth season of "Growing Pains."

The basic premise of "Eight" is that family patriarch/newspaper columnist Tom Bradford, played by Dick Van Patten, struggles to provide the titular eight children with varying degrees of financial and emotional support while facing the same personal crises of many middle-aged folks. These include contending with a malicious hatchet job, facing the demise of the newspaper for which he works, and a shady contractor.

Second wife Abby, played by Betty Buckley, offers Tom wonderful support regarding all those efforts. Further, a talent show episode provides Buckley a chance to demonstrate the singing ability that makes her a Broadway star post "Eight."

The adage "its funny because its true" is particularly apt regarding "Eight," which is based on the experiences of real-life newspaper columnist Thomas Braden.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from the fifth season of "Eight" does a surprising thorough job of conveying many of the themes of these episodes in just a few minutes.


ABC unfairly moving "Eight" to the 8:00 p.m. Saturday night slot for the final season may have prompted the numerous changes that ramped up the chaos in the Bradford home. The most notable being bringing in a pre- "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio as Abby's troubled 15 year-old nephew Jeremy. Jeremy regularly referring to the Bradfords as the Bradys in an early episode adds to the "Cousin Oliver" vibe regarding this decision.

Abby's desire to add Jeremy to the Bradford household prompts one of two "second-wife syndrome" plots of the season. Tom's objections to this proposal triggers thoughts that not being a true Bradford deprives Abby of the right to the same consideration as other family members.

A visit from the parents of Tom's deceased wife (and the Bradford kids' biological mother) prompts related feelings that Abby is merely a poor substitute for the first Mrs. Bradford.

The writers additionally use babies as plot points to create drama. Daughter Susan, played by future alleged real-life kidnapping victim Susan Richardson, experiencing premature labor hours after another trauma gets the fifth season off to an exciting start and leads to a subsequent episode revolving around a strain on Susan's marriage to professional baseball player Merle "The Pearl" Stockwell.


These events further prompt moving Susan back into the Bradford home in an apparent attempt to amp up the sense of overcrowding.

Another pregnancy is at the center of a two-part episode titled "The Idolbreaker" near the end of the season. Aspiring 19 year-old musician and "kid precious kid" Tommy is on the brink of his big break in the form of his band "Tommy and the Action" being offered the job of warm-up act on a national tour of "The Pretenders" when a one-month stand tells him that he is her baby daddy.

The two major events in the life of young Mr. Bradford create a tough and unexpected dilemma regarding life versus career choices. One spoiler is that he does not "cry angry tears" regarding this crisis.

The following clip, also courtesy of YouTube, provides a sense of the Tommy Bradford sound that makes him at least a local heartthrob. 



Tommy is also at the center of an episode that has him starting as a fully-clothed musician at a male strip club but moving on to a more lucrative position at that establishment that may involve the "Eight" audience getting a chance to see the direction in which his willy aims. One spoiler is that Tommy definitely shows us his buddy lembeck in this one.

Tommy is also featured in a third episode with a familiar theme; discovering that a songwriter with whom he would like to make beautiful music has a young son requires that Tommy make tough choices.

Youngest son and fan favorite Nicholas, played by child star Adam Rich, dips his toes into the dating pool by working hard to make a gourmet meal for one crush and standing up to bully on behalf of another girl. The latter incident leads to Nicholas learning an alternate meaning of the expression "no glove, no love."

The romantic exploits of youngest daughter Elizabeth include guilt and subterfuge regarding moving in with her boyfriend and breaking out of the friend zone regarding a highly conceited BMOC.

Oldest Bradford sibling David continues his related struggles of keeping his construction business afloat and handling the different lifestyles and other conflicts related to his wife being a moderately powered attorney.

David also teams up with Jeremy in an episode that is memorable both for a bizarre double-dating plot and for being one of the few offerings that expands Jeremy's role beyond cracking wise while hanging with his cousins or trying to con and/or manipulate them for his own profit and/or amusement that includes promoting a shampoo that turns your hair green.

Unlike a true Cousin Oliver "Brady" episode that involves a similar hare dye, no bunnies are harmed in the filming of the aforementioned "Eight" offering.

Aside from the aforementioned "Brady Bunch" reference, this season of "Eight" has a couple of other nice homages to fellow classic family shows. The first is a revival of a tradition from "The Waltons."

The second tribute is more subtle in titling the final episode "Father Knows Best?" This relates to a statement by Billy Gray, who plays teen Bud Anderson in the classic '50s sitcom "Father Knows Best."

In an interview for another forum for which your (often) humble reviewer wrote before starting Unreal TV, Gray shared that "Father" star Robert Young lobbied to have the show titled "Father Knows Best?" to communicate that the head of a household did not always have the answers. This title is very apt regarding this final outing for the Bradfords.

All of this leads to the indisputable conclusion, which subsequent reunion specials support, that five seasons is not enough for this octet. They do not have a million stories but do have more than ABC allowed them to tell.

Anyone with questions regarding "Eight" or Susan Richardson's alleged Lifetime movie South Korean adventure is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.