TV Time Travel: Married...with Children

Joe Holloran looks back at the pre-cursor to the modern family sitcom

Joe Holloran
14th November 2018
Image:IMDB
The American nuclear-family has been a mainstay of US TV going back to the birth of network television in the 1950s. Shows like All in The Family, The Dick van Dyke Show and The Brady Bunch were immensely popular and filled the small screen for decades. Then, in the mid ‘80s, FOX came along. The network would go on to reinvent the televised family unit in shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, but it all started in 1987 when two young writers piloted a show called Married… with Children.

Featuring the talents of dramatic actor Ed O’Neil (Modern Family) and former jazz singer Katey Sagal (Futurama, Sons of Anarchy), the pilot was met with a level of enthusiasm that shocked the network who had no faith in it. Married…with Children’s ‘dysfunctional’ family group - consisting of mom Peggy, dad Al and their two teenage children Kelly and Bud living their upper-working class lives in suburban Chicago - touched a nerve with the nation.

For the first time on television a huge number of American families could see themselves represented on screen, warts and all.

The Bundy kids Bud (David Faustino) & Kelly (Christina Applegate). Image:IMDB

The show ran for eleven seasons from ’87-’97 on the FOX network. It never received much critical acclaim, with many critics criticizing its vulgarity and ‘toilet’ humour. However, its viewing figures never wavered and its influence is undeniable. Put simply, none of the modern family-centred sitcoms from either side of the pond would exist without the exploits of the Bundys.

So, why is the show so great? There are many reasons, but the most vital is the performance of Ed O’Neil as the depressed, sardonic, sarcastic, and glorious Al Bundy. Al is a women’s shoe salesman in a mega-mall who dreamed of becoming a running quarterback, a dream ended by a busted knee in senior year. He married out of high school to his materialistic and slow-witted wife Peggy and soon two kids came along.

Toilet humor at its most literal. Image:IMDB

Suddenly the youthful dream was dead and the reality of mundane life ground on. So often on television is there a strict paradigm to follow regarding the working man. He is to be a buffoon, unintelligent, tired but generally happy with his limited lot in life. In Al Bundy, audiences saw a more realistic portrayal of the drudgery of adult life. This attitude is exemplified as when Peggy asks Al whether he's missed her after coming back from a shopping spree, he responds “with every bullet so far."

The truth is that life for most of us can be a slog. Marriage, job, mortgage, and kids provide comfort for some, but not all. That is why Married…with Children is so brilliant, because it can show the truth of this life and do so with tremendous humour. Today, it is likely that the show wouldn’t be made for censorship reasons, but its spiritual successors are clearly influenced by its legacy. If you find sitcoms to be too wholesome and unlike your own family then do yourself a favour and hunt down Married…with Children immediately.

The whit & wisdom of a America's most apathetic & curmudgeonly dad.
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