In Defense of Cousin Oliver … or at least Robbie Rist!

In Defense of Cousin Oliver … or at least Robbie Rist!
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});                 My daughter is very much into the Disney cartoon “Doc McStuffins”. The premise is straightforward: little girl pretends to be a doctor and fixes broken toys. It can be anything from dirt to broken “winder-uppers” to stuck on-off switches or volume controls.
                Helping her are her own toys. When no one else is around, her toys come to life through the magic of Doc’s stethoscope. Her toys assist with the diagnoses and/or rescue of the various other toys she helps.
                These range from a wind-up surfer girl to a loving plush lamb to a hippo with a southern accent who acts as her chief nurse.
                There is also a dragon named Stuffy. He is clumsy and slips and falls a lot. He also likes to brag about being fearless. This is usually followed by something scaring him; a typical kid-TV occurrence (children’s television is not known for their unexpected plot twists. This isn’t “Chinatown”…).
                On a whim my wife checked out “Doc McStuffins” on International Movie Database. “The guy who does the voice for Stuffy played Cousin Oliver on ‘The Brady Bunch’.”
                Cousin Oliver.  If you are of a certain generation – mine – the combination of those two words just made your jaw clench.
                Cousin Oliver appeared only in the last six episodes of “The Brady Bunch” – six out of one hundred and seventeen. He had the last line of the last show of the series. Sam the Butcher and Tiger the dog were in more episodes and yet Cousin Oliver is remembered by more fans of the show than either of the former.
                …and more reviled.
                …oh so reviled.
                Why? By 1974 “The Brady Bunch” was in its fifth season. The lovable children (I am NOT going to rehash the plot for you – if you don’t know the plot of “The Brady Bunch” you are reading the WRONG blog…) were growing up and some were old enough to start college.
                The show reflected that to an extent. The attic was converted to a room – sorry, a groovy pad – for Greg. It would not do for a basically grown man to still share a bedroom with two younger brothers. Greg was a young man with raging hormones and needed some personal space to entertain Marcia his cadre of chicks now swarming all over him.
                I suppose Marcia’s flying the coop would have been next in a Season Six. Perhaps they would have converted the garage or turned Mike’s office into a separate room for her. Perhaps they would do what Mike & Gloria did later in “All in the Family” and move out altogether. We would have had scenes set in Marcia’s college dorm. It would have changed the whole tenor of the show. I doubt the program would have lasted past that season if that happened. Probably best it was not renewed when it was.
                Can you imagine the producer’s dilemma?  “Our cute kids are now handsome and beautiful adults! What do we do?”
                “Let’s add a wacky neighbor,” one says. (There is always some schmuck at meetings like this that wants to add a wacky neighbor)
                “Quiet! No, no, this show is about a group that will somehow form a family, remember?  If the kids are growing up, let’s replace them with more kids!”
                “Carol and Mike having a baby?”
                “Too realistic. This is the show where they mow Astroturf. And babies won’t help – what kind of plots can we have with a baby? We need to get back to pre-teen kids so we can have stories about trouble at school or the playground. Let’s bring in nephews or cousins or something…”
                Thus was born Cousin Oliver. He was younger than the Brady siblings (step-siblings, let’s remember) and was overall cute and lovable. Before Oliver the last season’s shows had lackluster stories and repetitive plots. During Oliver the shows had lackluster stories and repetitive plots. It’s like putting a dying plant into a different pot.
                I’ve read comic books all my life. This sort of thing happens in that medium every ten years or so. “We’ve run out of ideas; let’s change things.” Changing Superman’s suit doesn’t help change lackluster writing and overused scenarios. It only makes it LOOK different.
                Thus “The Brady Bunch” was not renewed and Cousin Oliver got the blame.
                Also thus the term “the Cousin Oliver Syndrome” was born. A dying show would add a cute kid to spark new interest among viewers and energize the writers, producers and staff. It never works. Well, it worked with Olivia on “The Cosby Show” but that was the frickin’ Cosby Show. They could have replaced the children with Jello Pudding Pops and it still would have worked…).
                “Different Strokes” brought in a new white kid after two-thirds of the child cast went to prison grew up, “Growing Pains” added Leonardo DiCaprio, “Married With Children” quickly realized their new kid – named Seven – was a mistake and made fun of him throughout the rest of its run, “The Partridge Family” added a neighbor’s kid – I think he played oboe or something, “Family Matters” seemed to add a new kid every season, and “Who’s the Boss” added another kid after Alyssa Milano became too unbelievably sexy to play a tomboy named Sam anymore. None worked.
                Cousin Oliver still elicits mob-like vitriol: “I hated that little so-and-so.” “That brat!! Why if I ever meet him, I’ll …”
                All right, everyone relax. Yes, Cousin Oliver and what he spawned should be despised with all our passion, but the actor himself … he’s had a wonderful career!
                His name is Robbie Rist and he was born on April 4, 1964. Yes, Cousin Oliver is older than I am.
                “April 4th! The day is cursed! Martin Luther King was assassinated and Cousin Oliver was born!”
                OK, stop that right now…
                After “The Brady Bunch” he appeared in most shows you would imagine in the 1970s and early 1980s: “CHIPS”, “Medical Center”, etc.
                He was in a few episodes in “The Bionic Woman” as a student.
                I remember him more for two other roles:
                He was Ted and Georgette’s adopted son on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. The scene where Ted has to spank his naughty son is one of the funniest scenes of the series – which means it is one of the funniest scenes on television. Youtube has the show available for viewing (for now): 
                It starts at about 20:00 minutes in. This was unintentionally recreated word for word the first time I had to swat my daughter.
                Although he was in one episode of “Lou Grant”, he did NOT play David Baxter.  Much like that other so-called spin-off “Trapper John MD”, the show had nothing to do with its parent program. It took the name and that was about it…
                He was also a regular on the NBC Saturday morning live-action show “Big John Little John”. I loved that show. I expect if I were to see an episode now I would be drearily disappointed; as I am with most Saturday morning cartoons I cherished as a kid but watch now with rolled eyes.
                And now Robbie Rist is known for his voice-work – from video games to animated shows. Batman, Blues Brothers, Ghost Busters, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, and Naruto.
                He played the bus driver on the bogglingly successful movie “Sharknado”. Did you see him?
                And of course he does the voice of Stuffy on “Doc McStuffins”. Which is where I started this whole thing.
                So cheers to a great career, Robbie Rist!
                And for the rest of you – love the sinner and hate the sin, would ya?
                Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

One thought on “In Defense of Cousin Oliver … or at least Robbie Rist!

  1. Mr. Rist also was the first actor to play Dr. Zee, a Colonial child with mutant intellect and insight who helped the ragtag, fugitive fleet reach Earth in 'Galactica: 1980'. Though the show was not embraced by B:G fans in force, I remember liking his character and his take on the role.

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