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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
The show about the Bundys, the family that makes the Simpsons look like the Waltons.
Ed O’Neill, Katey Sagal, Christina Applegate, David Faustino, Amanda Bearse, Ted McGinley.
“Al, the kids are away. You know what that means…”
“Yeah, okay, let me just get my Xanax first…”
Al Bundy (O’Neill) is a Dodge-driving, former high school football all-star cum shoe salesman who has suffered the worst fate he could have ever imagined: growing up to be a husband and father. His wife, Peg (Sagal) is the queen of white trash, suburban domesticated bliss with a bouffant that rivals any ’80s hair metal band and a penchant for making Al’s life a living hell. And his two kids, Kelly (Applegate) and Bud (Faustino) are an over-sexed, dimwitted tramp and a nerdy, virginal loser respectively. Together they’re the perfect dysfunctional family.
“Oh yeah, my blow up doll ain’t gonna know what hit her…”
What can you say about Married, With Children that you couldn’t glean from the first five minutes of any episode: it was a crude, lowest-common-denominator, toilet-humor comedy with almost no redeeming social value whatsoever and a penchant for pissing off the Family Values demographic of America. Which is why I liked it. It turned practically every convention about family sitcoms that I loathed on its ass and made you root for essentially a family of malcontents.
First of all, the only “family values” being taught in the Bundy household are that you have to survive your family rather than celebrate it. Al is driven to the brink of suicidal depression on a regular basis by Peg, Peg is the eternally suffering wife, who has to practically corner Al in order to get him to touch her, and Kelly and Bud drive each other up the wall as much as they drive their parents through the wall. Barbs are tossed back and forth between the family members about one another, but generally to the effect that Al is a loser, Peg is an aloof wife who doesn’t know the first thing about homemaking or mothering, Kelly is a slut and Bud is a total loser. Definitely no Huxtable action happening in this household.
FYI, Applegate was 22 here, so it’s okay to, well, you know…I’m just saying, no need to feel guilty about…
The Bundys are petty. They’re shallow. They’re at times conniving and they have little to no illusions about being anything but. What’s also nice about the Bundys is that they’re stagnant. There’s very little if any character growth within the family and the dynamic was essentially the same for nearly the entire run of the show. They’re the same belly-aching, disgruntled, unhappy and dissatisfied lot that they’ve been since the beginning of the show. From Season 1 right up through the final season you know exactly what you’re in for. They’re trapped in a dystopia of their own design. Frequent targets and victims of their discontent and schemes are their neighbors, Marcy (Bearse) and Jefferson (McGinley), the sickeningly upbeat next door couple.
Nevertheless, even though there’s buckets of misery on a regular basis, the Bundys don’t let it get them down for long, in fact they seem to thrive in it. And there are glimmers of hope for them as a family and human beings in general. Al in particular dreams of better things for himself and, if there’s enough left over, even for his family. The only thing worse than his life at home is his job, and that’s frequently a source of hilarity. He’s tempted, almost daily by beautiful women he’d love to nail, but he’s resigned that he’s made his choices to be a husband and a father and doesn’t ruin that no matter how much he’s tempted.
“Hey Peg, I just got a copy of Chained Heat. You interested?”
Peg is perfectly satisfied being a ditzy stay-at-home wife. Not a homemaker mind you, because she sucks at all domestic work. But when the chips are down, she’s got Al’s back when he needs her, and she’s got the rest of him when he doesn’t want her. Kelly and Bud aren’t happy unless they’re tearing down each other’s self esteem and insulting each other. But deep down, there’s no real animosity and they help each other, and their parents, when they each need it – especially if it benefits themselves in kind.
Thankfully the show was entertaining enough to overcome its production issues. The production value of this show was almost a joke. They shot on sets that were so obviously sets you’d think the camera guy, boom operator and craft service people just out of sight from the camera were part of the family. Exterior shots, such as streets weren’t even backlot quality. Plus the show was shot on tape, which stopped looking good sometime around the Patty Hearst scandal.
Season 8, as with the other seasons, never featured much growth in terms of progression of the characters. Each episode was mostly just a snapshot of their miserably fun lives. “A Tisket, A Tasket, Can Peg Make A Basket?” features Peg getting a shot at 10 grand to make a basket at a basketball game when she switches seats with Al. “Hood ‘n the Boyz” is one of the better episodes of the season when Al agrees to help out an old crush with some street toughs who are making trouble for her at her store in Al’s old neighborhood. Between getting his ass kicked by the street gang and getting jumped on by Peggy at their “second honeymoon”, Al comes out of the episode looking like he got hit with a truck, that was wearing lipstick. “Take My Wife, Please” has Al getting a visit from the grim reaper while the rest of the family is over at Marcy and Jefferson’s Halloween party. “Dances With Weezy” has Al and Jefferson looking to hit a sports bar but instead getting sidetracked to see The Jeffersons live. And Al and Kelly get some vital father / daughter time when he teaches her about sports so she can go on a TV trivia show in “Kelly Knows Something.”
So why should one root for a family of ne’er-do-wells? Because they’re entertaining. O’Neill as Al particularly is good in this role and his usual deadpan humor as the downtrodden Bundy is the backbone of the show. Sagal, who really trashed up her look for this show (her body was hardly ever played up but at times was fantastic), is also good as the disaffected Peg. And Applegate made it perfectly acceptable to worship jailbait. The rest of the cast also rounded out things nicely with their performances and the show was fairly solid throughout its entire run, which lasted over ten years and 258 episodes.
TV standard, tape, and two “mini-sodes” of Silver Spoons and VIP. As depressing as Al Bundys job.