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. They did the right thing, but the show did not prosper quality-wise from running for ten long years.
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 generally 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. Steve left Marcy after two years and was replaced by Jefferson (McGinley), a charming and very lazy fortune hunter. Peg also got pregnant, just like Sagal in real life… but that storyline was quickly abandoned when the actress miscarried. Then 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 were back to normal. Al went on taking cheap shots at Marcy for having the physiology of a small boy, and Marcy went on cracking jokes about Al for simply being… Al Bundy. Kelly just got dumber, and Bud more pathetic (although the writers finally allowed him to get laid). There was no ambition to portray these people as real human beings; they were cartoon characters. 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 actors never disappointed, however. O’Neill and Sagal were simply wonderful as the couple who would never admit that they actually did love each other; they knew how to play these losers and the audience loved them for it. Especially popular was Al’s never successful but hard-fought battle against female supremacy. Applegate got her breakthrough on the show and there was something endearing about her character’s lack of brains. 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, I enjoyed the show; it was funny sometimes and made great use of the old Frank Sinatra classic “Love and Marriage” in the opening credits. But it suffered in comparison with smarter fare like The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Well, maybe that’s an elitist opinion. And we all know what Al Bundy would do with an elitist.
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)