[13 October 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I’ll say it right out of the gate: I’m a sucker for The Partridge Family. Not as musical as The Monkees, but better than The Brady Bunch by far, The Partridge Family somehow manages to do exactly what the opening sequence promises—“We’ll make you happy”—every time I watch it.
Airing from 1970 to 1974, The Partridge Family was a modest hit, especially among teenagers. My mother was 15 when the show originally aired, and while she doesn’t recall it inspiring anything like “appointment television”, she definitely remembers the fan phenomenon. All of her classmates wanted to date David Cassidy, and who can blame them? But even more than that, all the girls wanted to be Susan Dey, which is only a little hard to swallow watching 35 years on, given the gingham grandma-prairie skirts Laurie wore.
Sure the costumes and décor are dated, but beyond the amber and avocado in the kitchen, the show itself is a candy-colored treat to watch. Admittedly, it helps to have a serious sweet-tooth. And, although the plotlines are criminally formulaic (The packaging tells us we should get happy because, “Laurie’s in love. Danny’s in trouble. Shirley’s in debt. And Keith is flunking sex education!”), there’s still something intrinsically irresistible about the show. It’s the wholesome family fun of standard television fare, with just a hint of subversive-and-then-timely humor and it’s topped off with sugary-sweet soft-pop tunes. It’s the sitcom equivalent of comfort food, and not just mac and cheese but ice cream and Oreos, too.
The Partridge Family: The Complete Third Season DVD set contains all 25 original episodes on three discs in two slimline cases. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include any bonus features. There are two “minisodes”, one each from Diff’rent Strokes and Charlie’s Angels, which are perplexing in that they have no apparent connection to The Partridge Family. Not that the previous Partridge set had all that much in the way of extras, either.
Season One had cast interviews and commentaries, most notably the amusing and amusingly snarky track from Danny Bonaduce, the Partridge Family Saturday morning cartoon, and featurettes, but Season Two only had a music search feature in the menu. Nevertheless, something—anything—related to the Partridges would have been welcome on this set. Maybe the fact that this was the third of only four seasons means that there just wasn’t anything left over. Or perhaps it means there just wasn’t any interest from the cast. Whatever the case, it’s a little disappointing.
Also disappointing is the music itself. Each episode has at least one Partridge “performance”, but none of the songs make as much of an impression as they probably should for a show about a band. Very few generally recognizable songs show up on this set, and even fewer hits are present. The Partridge Family released 10 albums during the show’s four-year run; you’d think there would be at least enough material to avoid repeating songs across these episodes.
The episodes themselves are great, though. Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, Dave Madden, Suzanne Crough and Brian Forster gamely traipse through unlikely incidents touting togetherness, and they do so with some equally unlikely guest stars including Ray Bolger, Arte Johnson, Anthony Geary, Charlotte Rae, Johnny Bench, John Astin, Slim Pickens and Jodie Foster, among others. The Partridges personify the meaning of family as they meet a princess, get taken hostage by an escaped convict, hold a wedding for a biker gang, win a racehorse, enter politics, navigate concerts, crushes, dates and dalliances, and of course, find themselves wearing giant chicken suits.
The Partridge Family: The Complete Third Season doesn’t offer anything new, nor did it when it was new, and it doesn’t have a treasure-trove of special features, but it’s still a good way to put a smile on your face (Sing the theme. You know you want to. C’mon…).