I Miss Al Bundy

Funny how the internet works.

I watched an old Married with Children clip the other day and before I knew it, I was down the Married with Children rabbit hole, watching enough clips to choke a horse. It reminded me of my childhood, when we Gen X kids would gather around the TV Sunday nights and watch Married with Children, The Simpsons, and In Living Color, then recite all the jokes to each other on the playground at school.

Hmm. In retrospect, the adults probably should have changed the channel on us to keep our minds from being warped but hey, I did alright. Not everyone gets to operate their own blog read by 3.5 readers, after all.

At the time, this show was considered the lowest form of comedy. Maybe it is but I’m sorry. It’s funny. And now that I’m older, I get it even more.

To the uninitiated, Al Bundy (Ed O’Neil) in his youth, once scored four touchdowns in a single game playing football Polk High. As he states in one episode, he was about to go pro…then met wife Peg (Katey Segal), got married, had kids and um…that’s it. Football dreams are long gone and he’s been selling shoes ever since.

Al despises selling women’s shoes, as well as the overweight female customers who falsely accuse him of being incompetent because he can’t squeeze their giant feet into the tiny, fashionable shoes they want rather than the large, sensible shoes that they need. Wife and kids treat him like a human ATM machine.

Meanwhile, Peg is the world’s worst wife and proud of it, such that she openly teaches other women in the neighborhood how to get away without working, either at a job or at keeping a nice home or taking care of the kids. Al can’t remember the last time he had a decent meal because Peg refuses to cook. Jokes about a woman being a lazy housewife fly today but the irony is Al’s main complaint is he actually does want his wife to work, be it in the home, or in a job to bring extra money to the family, anything.

Kids Kelly and Bud are the worst. Bud (David Faustino) is a nerdy horn dog who repels girls but is constantly scheming to get them. Kelly (Christina Applegate, me and every other Gen X kid had a crush on her) is a ditzy trollop. Jokes about women being ditzy trollops would never fly today either.

Rounding out the show is Al’s foil Marcy First Rhodes and Later D’arcy. The show begins with Marcy and Steve (Amanda Bearse and David Garrison) as newlyweds who believe their young love will conquer all and veteran married couple Al and Peg show them the ropes. Peg teaches Marcy how to avoid housework like the plague while Al teaches Steve how to hide out at the nudey bar to avoid family responsibilities.

Later, Garrison leaves the show and is replaced by Marcy’s new husband, Jefferson (Ted McGinley in a meta joke before there were meta jokes about how Ted McGinley built a career on being the guy who replaces characters on sitcoms whenever an actor leaves the show.)

Like most shows, this one evolves over time. You might be surprised to know Peg’s hair is surprisingly relaxed in the first few seasons and she doesnt get her token red beehive until a few seasons in. Bud and Kelly look like tiny tots in the first few seasons. And while Steve had his moments, I always preferred Jefferson. The middle to late seasons are the best, IMO, with Al starting NO MA’AM (The National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood) i.e. a group of Al’s beer swilling friends who pledge to take over the world and stop the spread of feminism but they usually just end up drinking beer at the nudey bar. Occasionally, one of their schemes takes off only to be foiled by ultra feminist Marcy going undercover as a man in disguise (usually just a fake mustache).

I’ll admit, sometimes I look back at a few of these episodes and cringe. Perhaps there are some things that we as a society decided shouldn’t be joke fodder. Then again, the show was pretty equal in its offensiveness. They say the best comedians find humor and everything and therefore the funniest shows are the ones where nothing is taboo and no subject is off the table.

The show does get zany and at times, unlikely. For example, there’s an episode where little green aliens break into Al’s bedroom and steal his smelly socks to use the stench to power their spaceship. People are so literal today they would never suspend disbelief long enough to go along with such tomfoolery.

There are jokes that don’t even quite make sense if you think about them too long. For example, Peg constantly wants to have sex with Al, who finds it gross and avoids a horny Peg at all costs. In reality, most married men would love it if their wives wanted to dance the wild mambo all the time well into middle age but I get the joke…which is the overall joke of the series. Al truly believes if he hadn’t gotten married and had children, he’d be living a fantastic life, rich successful, any woman he wanted and thus the idea of getting it on with the same woman again and again until he dies grosses him out.

Ironically, the show has rare sweet moments where Al admits he probably couldn’t have done better than Peg and is lucky to have her, defends her honor and so on.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. I wish comedies of today would take more risks like this one did. You’ll probably never see anything like this on TV ever again and I suppose we can debate about whether or not htis is a good thing. I don’t think it is. In my bingwatching session I’ve laughed more at something on TV than I have in a long time.

To the show’s credit, it was, if I’m not mistaken, the first sitcom to suggest that maybe family is not all it’s cracked up to be. To be sure, the Bundy’s love each other in their own messed up way, but while I don’t think it necessarily celebrated it, the show was trying to, for good or ill, make light of the reality that the 1950s perfect family shown on TV where Mom fetched Dad’s slippers and Wally and the Beaver shot marbles are over. Roseanne would go on to tow the dysfunctional sitcom family line but it all started with the Bundys.

SIDENOTE: I remember as a kid being surprised to learn that Ed O’Neil was a serious actor before this, having played hard-boiled detectives like Popeye Doyle prior to this show. While the show made him famous, it led to him being typecast, including a scene where he plays a military prosecutor in the Vietnam flick Flight of the Intruder being cut out of the movie because test audiences laughed thinking of Al Bundy. Ed would go on to get his hard boiled detective cred back in movies like The Bone Collector and while he does comedy in Modern Family, he’s more of a serious character in that. He doesn’t get enough credit as an actor who can play someone as silly as Al yet play it straight in serious roles as well.

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