Susan Dey enjoyed a second wave of television success as Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney Grace Van Owen on NBC’s L.A. Law when she hosted Saturday Night Live on February 8, 1992. Dey’s first stint in the spotlight occurred in the early 1970s as feminist keyboard player Laurie Partridge on ABC’s The Partridge Family.
Filling the years between Woodstock and disco with a bubble-gum rock sound, The Partridge Family ran for four years, from 1970 to 1974. In her Saturday Night Live appearance, Dey reprised her Partridge Family role in a sketch that opens with a clip from the show’s opening featuring a cartoon of partridges walking to the sound of the theme song C’mon Get Happy. Immediately recognizing the theme, the SNL audience erupts in applause and shouts. It’s a reflexive response to an emotional connection with the fictional singing family from San Pueblo, California.
Then, the sketch opens with a familiar set, the Partridge garage with highway signs on the walls. It’s where the Partridges rehearse. We see the Saturday Night Live cast in 1970s outfits: Dana Carvey as Keith Partridge, David Spade as Chris Partridge, Siobhan Fallon as Tracy Partridge, Mike Myers as Danny Partridge, Julia Sweeney as Shirley Partridge, and, of course, Susan Dey as Laurie Partridge. Chris Farley views the rehearsal as Reuben Kincaid, the family’s manager.
Then, Melanie Hutsell enters the garage with a fantastic impersonation of Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch, another early 1970s popular culture icon on ABC. When Jan realizes that the Partridges do not sing their own songs, she is offended by the lip sync fraud; she rushes to get her brothers and sisters: Kevin Nealon as Greg Brady, Beth Cahill as Marcia Brady, Adam Sandler as Peter Brady, Rob Schneider as Bobby Brady, and Victoria Jackson as Cindy Brady. The Bradys enter, also in 1970s outfits. A battle of the bands ensues.
The Brady Six versus the Partridge Family.
Sunshine Day versus I Think I Love You.
When It’s Time to Change versus I Woke Up In Love This Morning.
The conflict looks like it will continue with no resolution in sight, until Chris Rock appears at another 1970s character, Mushmouth from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. He inspires the two families to patch up their differences.
Besides the music, the sketch strikes a nostalgic chord by referencing well-known incidents from the shows. Laurie recalls that a skunk sprayed, forcing the Partridges to take baths in tomato juice to get rid of the odor. Jan explains that Marcia dumped Charlie for Doug Simpson, the big man on campus. Her explanation? Something suddenly came up.
Retro popular culture hit a crescendo in the 1990s, igniting a slew of content aimed at tapping into the nostalgia. Television shows from the 1950s and 1960s inspired remakes as movies. Examples include Dennis the Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and Car 54, Where Are You. Additionally, Nickelodeon debuted its prime time programming block Nick at Nite in 1985, airing classic sitcoms, for example, The Donna Reed Show.