In The Brady Bunch's fifth and final season, all of the Brady kids were looking a little long in the tooth: Marcia had crow's feet, Greg was using a walker, and Cindy traded in her ruffled socks and Mary Janes for sensible support hose and orthopedic shoes. America was sickened to see a Brady over the age of 12. As a last-minute gambit to salvage the show, eight-year-old Cousin Oliver joined the family, and oh, the hijinks and hilarity that ensued. We're guessing the kid had some repressed issues: his parents ditched him with the Bradys while they went on an archeological dig in South America.
In the course of his first day with the family, Oliver managed to ruin Jan's painting, cover Greg in ketchup, crack a terracotta pot, undo Carol's knitting, break a stack of dishes, and shatter a lamp. (Every scene with Cousin Oliver ended in the "wuh, wuh, wuh" sound effect.) Five episodes later, Oliver managed to kill the entire series (it was cancelled that season).
However, the legacy of Cousin Oliver lives on (and on and on) in shows that insist on repeating the same hackneyed Hail Mary when things get dull -- so much so that the syndrome is actually named after him. Cousin Oliver is that adopted sibling, that unplanned pregnancy, and that long lost nephew. He's the patron saint of jumping the shark, and is sometimes, but almost never, a show's saving grace. Here's a sampling of nine Cousin Olivers, beloved and reviled, from TV history. -- Courtney Hyde
The Cosby Show -- Cousin Olivia & Cousin Pam
When you think of The Cosby Show, and random children joining the household out of nowhere, most people think of Raven Symoné as the tiny, adorable Olivia. Arriving in Season 6, Olivia was widely recognized as a ploy by the producers to preserve the show's cutie-pie element, as youngest daughter Rudy was developing quite the mustache. Olivia's on-boarding was quite memorable: Denise Huxtable comes back from Africa with a new husband and a step-daughter (Olivia), husband goes away with the Navy, Denise goes to Singapore, and bam, there's a new cutie-patootie stealing the Huxtable cookies.
But for me, the real "Cousin Oliver" of The Cosby Show arrived in Season 7. This time around, the producers realized that with 3 of the Huxtable daughters out of the house, they were rapidly running out of women taller than 4 foot zero. Enter Cousin Pam, played by Erika Alexander. Cousin Pam was from a less well-off part of the family, and she functioned exactly like Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Afrocentric fashions and all).
The early part of her first episode is spent hastily explaining Pam's sudden appearance. I mean, they explain it in the first two minutes, and then pow, the chick is walking in the door. This explanation comes in its entirety from Denise while she simultaneously makes a sandwich -- the way people in pharmaceutical commercials always happen to casually mention all of the drug's side effects while chatting over lunch. "Do you want mayonnaise? And Pam is our cousin who we've never met who has a sick grandmother and her mother is moving to California so Pam is staying with us now." It's crazy. If you missed those few minutes, (as I surely did), and still don't know who this new girl is, the remainder of the episode is peppered with helpful phrases like "You must be Cousin Pam" and "Heyyyyyy... Cousin Pam". Pam made it through two seasons before the show called it quits. -- Nathan Alexander
1. Growing Pains - Luke Brower
Turns out, adding adorable children to a cast to raise ratings doesn't always work out. Growing Pains found that out the hard way when they made Mama Seaver crank out a fourth kid, 'Baby Chrissy' at the beginning of Season 4, only to age her four years over one summer hiatus when they couldn't figure out what to do with her.
Then they called in the big guns. Future super duper mega Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio arrived on set during Season 7 to play homeless teenager Luke Brower. Mike Seaver discovers Luke has been living on the street and, naturally, takes him home to live with his own parents like an adorable, stray puppy with a trendy haircut. Unfortunately, even the power of DiCaprio wasn't enough to keep the Seaver family going for another season. Maybe someone should have just asked Alan Thicke's real son to guest star and sing a sexy song about 'Blurred Lines.' -- Liz Brown
2. Good Times -- Penny
The addition of Penny to the Good Times Walker clan was a welcome respite after the show killed off James ("Damn Damn Daaaamn!") and sent Florida out of town after marrying someone. We were ready for any adorable port in the storm, and it helped that Penny's mom was beating the heck out of her. It would have been socially irresponsible not to welcome this adorable moppet into our TV each week. Pair all that with the fact that Penny was played by a young Janet (Miss Jackson, if you're nasty), and you have a trifecta of late 70's entertainment requirements: reassurance that the show will go on, no children being harmed, and if at all possible, could it involve someone from that Jackson family we like so much? And, just like that, the show lasted two more seasons so that J.J. could say "Dy-no-mite" a thousand more times. A Penny saved was a Penny earned. -- Martin Moakler
3. I Love Lucy -- Little Ricky
For most shows, Cousin Oliver Syndrome is the kiss of death, but there are rare exceptions, like I Love Lucy, where the addition of a cute young kid actually works. The show was already a hit by Season Two, when Lucy found out she was "expecting" (the word "pregnant" was taboo in 1952). When Little Ricky was born in 1953, nearly 72 percent of Americans tuned in. Unlike most TV children, Little Ricky aged in real-time (although played by different children throughout the series). Also, unlike most TV children, Little Ricky wasn't an obnoxious, catch-phrase uttering, sass-machine used to sell merchandise. In fact, audiences really didn't see that much Little Ricky. The show continued to focus on Lucy, (Big) Ricky, Fred, and Ethel, producing classic episodes like "The Charm School," 'Lucy and John Wayne," and "Lucy's Italian Movie." Plus, it didn't hurt that Little Ricky was so dang cute. -- Courtney Hyde
4. Full House -- Nicky and Alex
Two cute twins with blond bowl cuts, the spawn of Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky, were added to the late seasons of Full House. In typical Cousin Oliver fashion, Nicky and Alex didn't have a whole lot of personality. We couldn't even tell them apart -- but neither could their parents, who had them wear different colored booties. But we didn't really care, because the visual of twins wearing tiny motorcycle jackets and red bandannas is what the people wanted, dammit.
We didn't know anything about them except for the fact that they adorably wreaked havoc for a cheap laugh every now and then, like those times they wore underpants on their heads or stole their dad's Little Richard concert tickets. Yet their weird, sudden presence was all worth it when they ruined Michelle's solar system project -- their crowning achievement. -- Sheila Dischoso
5. Beverly Hills, 90210 - Cousin Valerie
In Season 5 of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, bratty Brenda Walsh was sent off to "study in England" and she never came back. And by "England," we mean "contract negotiation hell with Shannen Doherty." The show bounced right back by replacing Doherty with another comparable/interchangeable cute brunette -- evil "Cousin Valerie" (Tiffani Thiessen), the Walsh twins' younger cousin. Valerie moved to Beverly Hills when her dad back in Minnesota committed suicide after she threatened to expose him for molesting her (ugh.) While Brenda rarely indulged in any intoxicant stronger than a banana daiquiri, 90210 let viewers know they were in for a much wilder (ok, mildly wilder) ride with Valerie, ending her first episode with her rolling a fat joint and smoking it out Brenda's bedroom window. A California college kid who smokes weed? Now that's the kind of cutting edge realism that put 90210 on the map. That, and the episode where Color Me Badd randomly showed up at the Peach Pit to wish Donna a happy birthday after they heard she was upset that her mom was cheating on her dad. Realism. -- Liz Brown
6. Barney & Friends -- Cousin Riff
There was once a giant purple Tyrannosaurus rex named named Barney, who spent 15 years smiling, singing, and sharing with his siblings B.J. and Baby Bop, and a whole bunch of ethnically diverse, happy children. That is until cousin Riff, an tiny, excitable orange hadrosaur, invited himself to the party 13 years later. Barney & Friends suddenly became Barney & Friends & that guy. Expecting viewers to accept that a triceratops and protoceratops have any relation to a hadrosaur? Preposterous. The show creators claimed that they wanted to add a new splash of color to the show with Riff, but instead upset the dynamic of the original gang. Talk about jumping the megalodon. If they wanted to switch things up, why does Riff share the exact same interests as Barney? They both like marching bands? Really? And how exactly Seems like someone got lazy and tried to pull a fast one, Well, we saw this Cousin Oliver coming, and despite the show being all about love, Riff gets none of it. -- Razmig Arabian
7. Gimme a Break! -- Joey Lawrence
It only took Gimme A Break! two seasons to realize that the three teenage girls Nell Carter was charged with raising just weren't cutting it when it came to the "cute kid" factor essential to ultimate sitcom success. Enter little orphan Joey, played by 7-year-old future teen heartthrob Joey Lawrence. Season 3 saw Police Chief Carl Kanisky catching the cherubic little Joey trying to steal from passersby to support himself while living on the mean streets of Glenlawn, California. The Chief scoops Lil' Joe up off the street and brings him home so he can sing duets and choreograph tap dance numbers with Nell Carter while he comes to grips with his own issues of abandonment and loss. Because it's a comedy.
'Gimme A Break!' gets extra points in the Cousin Oliver trope, because in Season 6 they doubled down and did it again -- bringing Joey Lawrence's real life younger brother Matthew Lawrence in to play his cuter, smaller little TV brother. In all fairness, Joey Lawrence was like ten at that point, so he was pretty much over the hill in Hollywood terms. -- Liz Brown
8. Supernatural -- Adam
There was probably a collective groan from Supernatural fans when a third Winchester brother was brought in during Season 4. Adam Milligan's existence came as a shocker to Sam and Dean, too: he was conceived during one of dear old dad's solo hunting trips. But fans needn't have worried, because Adam was kaput before the end of the episode. Technically, he was dead and dismembered before it even began -- the "Adam" that had the boys dredging up their daddy issues was actually a ghoul who had taken on Adam's form and memories. But this being "Supernatural," nobody's ever really gone for good. Adam was resurrected later on by angles, only to be rapidly possessed and pulled right into Hell. Kid cannot catch a break.
This was all long after TV audiences had begun to catch wind of the extra family member cop-out, so the producers were sure to assert their self-awareness by calling Adam's first episode "Jump the Shark," and naming the cafe where the boys meet their brother "Cousin Oliver's." Still, no Winchester stays in Hell forever. We're betting we haven't seen the last of Adam. -- Naivasha Dean
9. The Facts of Life -- Everyone
"You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and create an entirely new show each year for The Facts of Life. Yes, The Facts of Life. First season didn't work? Eliminate half the cast. Bored with boarding schools? Move the show to a gourmet food shop, "Edna's Edibles." We meant a tchotchke stop called "Over Our Heads" because that's what the writers must have been feeling. Bring in the be-mulleted, sexy handyman George Clooney and little orphan Andy, because it can't just be about the girls anymore. Swap out Mrs. Garrett for Cloris Leachman and, in the final season, bring in an Aussie exchange student, Pippa, because of a bizarre Australo-American treaty formed after Crocodile Dundee. Phew! The Facts of Life wasn't about Cousin Oliver. It was about Cousin All of 'em. -- Martin Moakler