In defense of Cousin Oliver on 'The Brady Bunch'

Robbie Rist deserves a lot more credit than we give him.

There are certain actors throughout television history that will live in infamy. A prime example is Ted McGinley, who's (unfairly) accused of killing off every show in which he appears.

Just because a character or actor is reviled, doesn't mean it's fair. Case in point: Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch.The sitcom introduces the four-eyed cousin during the tail end of the fifth and final season, producing no memorable moments and barely changing the plot or direction of the series. 

So why does a character with so little screen time receive so much hatred? We think it's misguided. 

The Brady Bunch has plenty of classic moments during the show's first four seasons. People still quote Marcia whaling about her broken nose and Carol's warning not to play ball in the house.

But by the sitcom's fifth season, those moments had dried up. The lackluster season repeats storylines, becomes more unrealistic and even includes a failed backdoor pilot where the Brady's neighbor adopts three children. 

It could be fans take out their frustration on the uninspiring season by focusing one something tangible. In this case, it's Cousin Oliver.

People bemoan the character's inclusion by saying it's unnecessary and frivolous, but the producers and writers didn't really have a choice.

After five seasons about stories of growth and development, the show needed a shake up. The kids were growing older, with Cindy and Bobby reaching the age that Jan and Peter had been during the show's first season. The audience had become used to each kid's antics. An unfamiliar face could have helped the program.

The sitcom's ratings also forced a change. Despite being massively popular now, The Brady Bunch never ranked in the Top 40 of the Nielsen ratings. To avoid cancellation, something needed to change. 

So, 111 episodes into the series, Oliver came to live with the family and — according to some people — ruin the show.

"Welcome Aboard" serves as Oliver's introduction, with the kids thinking Carol is pregnant after overhearing her conversation with Mike about "an addition to the family."

The episode doesn't necessarily present Oliver in the best light. He tries to help out around the house, but only causes more chaos. Dismayed, Oliver declares himself a jinx. The situation eventually gets patched up with the family, but not with viewers.

Oliver isn't nearly as bad as people think, and that's thanks to Robbie Rist. The child actor is cute, curious and a little clumsy at times — a lively addition to a cast of incredibly seasoned child actors.

If anyone is to blame for Oliver's part on the show, it's the writers. They underestimated Rist's talents and made the character into a caricature. After all, the six main Brady children are never written to be stupid, they're depicted as children learning lessons from challenging experiences.

It's a shame Oliver didn't receive the same treatment.

Unfortunately, Cousin Oliver served as a jinx on Rist's career. Although the actor went on to guest star in dozens of television shows, Rist couldn't escape the baggage of The Brady Bunch. 

It may not be a coincidence, then, that Rist transitioned to a successful voice-acting career in the 1990s.

There are no hard feelinga towards the show that made him famous. The voice actor (and musician) says he keeps in touch a little bit with everyone from the show, and he's particularly close with Susan Olsen, who played Cindy.

"I'm lucky because I knew what I wanted to do when I was a kid," Rist told OWN in 2016. "How is it possible that I was right? Because my choice before actor was fireman on the moon."

Watch The Brady Bunch on MeTV!

Sundays at 12 & 12:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


bradyguy 10 months ago
TWO things, MeTV..

The article says that The BB "never ranked in the Top 40 of the Nielsen ratings". Most of us had always recalled that the show did not rank in THE TOP 30 of the ratings. I believe it did peak at #34 one year....although I cannot find that info anywhere online.... A show that NEVER cracked the Top 40 would not likely be renewed for 5 seasons....especially since most of the BB's renewals were actually a half-season at a time.

And you say that the addition of Cousin Oliver produced "no memorable moments" during the show? Are you kidding me?? That little freak was the only CM to ever use the word "SEX" on the show!! Classic!
WesRobertWard 24 months ago
I looked up Robbie Rist on Wikipedia out of curiosity and remember seeing him in a few things other than playing Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch. Guess what, Robbie... we share the same birth date April 4th, but I was born in 1977 and you were born in 1964. 😀
WixomTFrog 37 months ago
I hated the Brady Bunch UNTIL they added Cousin Oliver. He rocks and anyone who says otherwise can rot in HeII for all I care.

JohnBates 40 months ago
WesRobertWard JohnBates 24 months ago
John Denver should have done a little duet with the little look-a-like it would have been cute to see. 😀
HerbF 46 months ago
In all fairness, ABC has already planed to canceled the series BEFORE Sherwood made this last-ditched in adding the character in an effort to freshen the show to get a reprieve.
bradyguy HerbF 10 months ago you have a SOURCE for that information? It seems unlikely, given that Oliver's first appearance on The BB was in January of probably SHOT in 1973...with the script written with Oliver's addition probably a few weeks before that. I DOUBT that a decision to cancel the show was made 9 MONTHS before the 1974 season would have begun. In fact, most sources say that the cancellation was a surprise to nearly all of the cast and crew...they all thought they would be coming back for Season 6! Barry Williams says in his book that he was told the show was cancelled TWO MONTHS AFTER the last around May, 1974.

Also...Cousin Oliver was NOT Sherwood Schwartz' idea. He did NOT want a new kid....Paramount did. So he didn't add it to try to "get a reprieve".
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?