There were those who led angry boycotts against Married… With Children. There were those who simply thought it was crass. But in the late 1980s, it was the biggest hit on a new little network called Fox and the executives were not about to cancel it. It became part of TV history, but the show did not benefit from a ten-year run that felt very long.
A funny way of expressing love
Perhaps in some perverted way the Bundys were your average working-class family. They lived in the Chicago suburbs and spent most of their time demeaning each other. There was love, yes, but it had a funny way of expressing itself. Al (Ed O’Neill) was a shoe salesman who made very little money and basically hated his life. Peg (Sagal), his wife, had no job and wouldn’t lift a finger around the house. Bud (Faustino), the son, dreamed of becoming a rapper and maybe even have sex sometime in the future, and Kelly (Applegate) was the attractive and utterly clueless daughter.
In the first episode, the Bundys were introduced to their new neighbors and it didn’t take them long to corrupt newlyweds Steve (Garrison) and Marcy (Bearse). Things didn’t change that much over the years, but Steve did leave Marcy after two years and was replaced by Jefferson (McGinley), a charming and very lazy fortune hunter. Peg also got pregnant, just like Sagal did in real life… but when the actress miscarried the storyline was quickly abandoned. Some time after that, a six-year-old child, Seven, was introduced; he was related to the Bundys who felt obliged to care for him, but that didn’t take the show to new heights and Seven disappeared without a trace a few months later.
A lack of imagination marring the show
Things went back to normal. Al continued taking cheap shots at Marcy for having the physiology of a small boy, and Marcy went on cracking jokes about Al for being a sexist idiot. Kelly just got dumber, and Bud more pathetic, even if the writers finally allowed him to get laid. There was no ambition to portray these people as real human beings; they belonged in a cartoon. But that was OK. The problem was the lack of imagination that began to mar the show after a while, as well as the deteriorating quality of the jokes in its autumn years.
The cast knew what they were doing. O’Neill and Sagal eased into their crowd-pleasing caricatures; this was a couple that would never admit to actually loving each other, but you could tell there was some sort of understanding between them. Al’s entirely unsuccessful but hard-fought battle against female supremacy became a running joke that seemed popular with the show’s hardcore fans. Applegate got her breakthrough on the show and she made Kelly’s lack of brains look amusingly endearing. Bearse was also a lot of fun as the seemingly repressed neighbor; a fire was burning inside this bland banker.
In spite of obvious shortcomings, there were times when I enjoyed the show; it did have laughs and made great use of the old Frank Sinatra classic “Love and Marriage” in the opening credits. But the show suffered in comparison with smarter fare like The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Still, Al Bundy himself wouldn’t have been such an elitist. He would have been perfectly fine watching this, hand down his pants.
Married… With Children 1987-1997:U.S. Made for TV. 262 episodes. Color. Created by Ron Leavitt, Michael G. Moye. Cast: Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy), Katey Sagal (Peg Bundy), David Faustino (Bud Bundy), Christina Applegate (Kelly Bundy), Amanda Bearse, Ted McGinley (1989-1997), David Garrison (1987-1989).
Trivia: Followed by a spin-off, Top of the Heap (1991).
Quote: “Feed me, or feed me to something. I just want to be part of the food chain.” (O’Neill getting hungry)