Anthony's Film Review
Married With Children
(TV Series, 1987-1997)
The racy anti-family sitcom with humor that has no limits...
There is one reason why Married With Children stood out easily when it first aired. The 1980s was a decade of idealistic portrayals of families on TV, from The Cosby Show to Family Ties, and this sitcom featuring a different kind of family was a satire that came at just the right time. Instead of a rich happy family, we have a more realistic American family: a family that is poor, unhappy, and dysfunctional. It was a hit because it allowed many ordinary folks to relate to people just like them. Plus, it pushed the envelope when it came to content, allowing for cheers from the live studio audience in addition to the traditional laughs.
Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) is a hateful shoe salesman who hates his home life just as much as his job. His only proud moment in life is scoring four touchdowns in one high school football game. Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal) is unemployed, does not cook, and watches TV all day. Bud Bundy (David Faustino) is the son who just has a very hard time getting girls and sex. His sister, Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate), is a hot chick but dumb as hell. Aside from this family, there is the neighbor Marcy (Amanda Bearse) along with two separate husbands over the years: Steve Rhoades (David Garrison) and Jefferson D'Arcy (Ted McGinley). And let's not forget Buck and Lucky, the two Bundy dogs seen respectively in earlier and later seasons of the show.
I sort of look at Married With Children not as one TV show but three different sitcoms that just happen to feature the same characters. Consider the first third of the whole series, say from 1987 to about 1990. This is where you see the Bundy family as what they truly are: a family of four who are poor and dysfunctional. A lot of these episodes really make fun of being in the lower class. I remember scenes where Al, Bud, and Kelly are scavenging the house for bits of food since Peg doesn't cook. There is some sexual innuendo in some episodes, which is, after all, what the show was famous for from the start. There is an episode where Al and Steve look for a discontinued bra for Peg at a lingerie store and an episode where Marcy fantasizes about Al. There's still a little bit of silliness in the first few years, best illustrated by an episode where a parachuting Santa falls to his death in the Bundy backyard.
From about 1990 to about 1994, the show leans more towards silliness and an increase dose of sexual innuendo. At this time, Bud and Kelly are older, so they themselves get into quite a variety of sexual situations, with him having a hard time getting girls and her getting a ton of guys. As for Al and Peg, it's now more evident that Peg wants sex often when Al doesn't, and sometimes she complains about his lack of performance. When the show is not about sex, it gets into funny and bizarre situations, like when Al and Jefferson are putting together a workbench and get into a lot of accidents or when Al goes on vacation in front of the TV with barriers on both sides of the couch.
Then for the last several years of the show, which was when I watched the show the least, it's a lot of everything, including outrageousness. I define that as humor that is more sexist and over-the-top, as if it were something out of Jerry Springer. In fact, it all seems to start with an episode in which Springer is a guest star as the host of the "Masculine Feminist." This is when Al and his friends form NO MAAM, the National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood. From there, this group of men do men stuff, from drinking to going to the strip club. Al Bundy is definitely not the unhappy man he was when the show started. It's as if he's transformed into someone who lives a life of debauchery. Then again, maybe it's because he's been depressed long enough. The show also gets outrageous because Al and Marcy now hate each other. Years before, Al would simply go blind from seeing Marcy nearly naked. Now he makes chicken jokes out of her.
Before I forget, here are some of my favorite episodes in no particular order: the Bundys vacationing in a supermarket because of the air conditioning, Al and Jefferson building a workbench, Al getting a new toilet, the parachuting Santa who dies, Al getting visited by a guardian angel played by Sam Kinison, Al spending the whole night on the phone with a ridiculously-long automated menu, and Al in a slow-motion football match with Bubba Smith to the theme from Chariots of Fire.
So overall, I really like the first two-thirds of the whole show more than the last third, but I still like the show enough to say that I was entertained by much of it. It's one of those shows where the humor isn't subtle. It is flat-out goofy and will make you laugh out loud. There are no lessons to learn, unlike other family sitcoms. In fact, you can have some really crazy things happening on the show and not have to refer to it in the next episode. For example, Al sets off a nuclear explosion in an attempt to exterminate a rabbit in the backyard, and the house in the next episode is standing as if it never got destroyed). The whole show is often like Dada art on an Etch-A-Sketch, because you can be as irreverent as you want and start over in the next episode. At the end of each episode, the audience applauds and cheers for about ten seconds, a sign that everyone watching is really enjoying themselves.
For more information about Married With Children, visit the Internet Movie Database.