Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Fox On The Map: Married... With Children at 30

Last year was 30 years of the Fox Network. When they started out, they really had nothing in October 1986 and would continue that way the first few months of 1987. That would change on April 5th of that year when they introduced a few new shows on Sunday nights that would help take them seriously. Along with The Tracey Ullman Show and a week later with 21 Jump Street, Married... With Children paved the way for Fox. It's approach to comedy might be primitive today, but back then, it was a fresh change from what was seen in 87. I'm not sure if this show could exist today.

The biggest comedy and sitcom at the time was The Cosby Show, which was near the end of its third season on NBC when Married...With Children started airing. Other big sitcoms like it were Family Ties, and Growing Pains. A typical episode has something happen and the characters learn their lesson. These families were successful and could do many great things in the future. However, the Bundy family was the complete opposite of all that. They were crude. Life was miserable. And yet, they still were together along with their neighbor.

Without it, there is no The Simpsons, no NFL, nothing. And it starts off with the characters. I would say Al Bundy, played by Ed O'Neill, is one of the most famous characters of that decade and the 90s. He is a misogynistic shoe salesman. Most of the time, he deals with obese women and hurls a few insults that you wouldn't think were possible. Depending on the episode, he may show displeasure or be proud of his family, usually the former. He would get involved in certain schemes to get richer or and have it backfire most of the time. The same is said for some revenge tactics. For as much as he can't stand his wife, he never attempted to cheat on her, which showed he still loved her, even if it isn't the best. It is a shame O'Neill was typecast as Al until his current role in Modern Family. Even when the show was still airing, people expected him to still be the funny man in other projects.

Married... With Children not only saw the rise of O'Neill. It also saw actress Katey Sagal become a leading lady for TV shows over the years with programs like Futurama and Sons of Anarchy. Her character, Peggy, was the housewife. Unlike the typical character at the time for television, she was the opposite of Clair Huxtable. She was lazy. She didn't clean, didn't look for a job. She would rather shop, eat bon bons, and watch TV. One of the show's biggest gags was her sex drive and constantly wanting to have sex or just love Al, which he would say no to or some sarcastic remark. Some episodes would feature Peg as someone that is competent at doing something right or good, only to revert back to her normal way of living life. And you thought your parents were horrible.

Like some of the 80s sitcoms, the kids shown were teenagers. The Bundy family had the really dumb blonde Kelly, played by a young Christina Applegate, and the smart but can never score with girls Bud, played by David Faustino. It played out like your typical sibling rivalry. They couldn't stand each other and most of the time didn't want to see the other achieve at anything. Individually, both had their flaws. Kelly is the definition of stupid and simple minded, but easily gets guys if they don't get beaten up by Al or anyone else. She has a few shining moments, but that is often thrown to the side. Bud was the brains of the Bundys but seemed to lack any real effort to get girls. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree considering he always had schemes like Al and most of the time would result in something horrific happening to him. That being said, the family does stick together despite the dysfunctional aspects of them. And when push comes to shove, they'll fight back whatever is oppressing them.

Then there is the neighbors. As the show began, it had Steve and Marcy Rhoades, with David Garrison and Amanda Bearse as the young couple. They seemed pretty innocent and gullible, not knowing how psychotic the Bundys were. After the first few seasons, they became frustrated at them, causing pain and destruction that was brought forth by the family. Garrison would leave the show midway through the 1989-90 season, and would make a handful of appearances after that from 1992 to 95. Within the next season, the writers would have Marcy married again, but to a new character, Jefferson D'Arcy, played by Ted McGinley. Unlike Steve, he was more like a combination of Al and Peg. He loved to get involved in schemes that Al would cook up. He had a pretty face and body, but lazy like Peg. Even Marcy addressed that in an episode late in its run saying it was like being married to her. The character would stay for the rest of the shows run to its final episodes in 1997.

You can go back to those early episodes and really see how much Married... With Children changed over time. They feel very down to earth despite the fact it was the polar opposite of The Cosby Show. You can look at this show, Roseanne, The Simpsons and a few others to see the kind of realism they were going for back in the late 80s. Then, it got into a groove that garnered a lot of controversy. If it aired in this present time, it would be cancelled immediately. A housewife did not like the content, particularly with Al, and protested for the show to be taken off the air. Instead of driving people away, it got people to gravitate towards Fox and get huge ratings. It would be made fun of in a late episode. Speaking of which, one episode was filmed, but didn't air on Fox due to the content being questionable. For the typical sitcom, certain things could be tackled, but writers had to be discreet on the subject. Even Seinfeld's Contest episode in 1992 was very risque despite the discreetness and being completely different from other sitcoms. The episode, I'll See You in Court, was kept off the airwaves until FX, who got Married... With Children for syndication in the 2000s, aired it.

Some of the stuff that was seen was very taboo. As the show progressed, it got very cartoon like depending on the episode and repetitive. You can only do realism for so long. Two episodes come to mind. One was Wabbit Season from 1990. Al goes to war against a rabbit who steals his carrots from his vegetable garden. He floods Marcy's home, shoots his own foot and sets fire to his own foot and the fence between the Bundys and Rhoades homes. It ends with him planting an explosive in the rabbit hole not realizing as Bud warned him about putting it near a gas line, causing an explosion and obliterating both homes. It is very funny the stuff that occurs, but the change was noticeable. The other was How Green Was My Apple, where a fight between an apple tree causes tension between the Bundys and D'Arcys. Some noticeable stuff include Marcy getting electrocuted in a pool, the D'Arcy house being tilted off its foundation, and the Bundy house getting blown up.

Even with that, people still wanted to see what occurred on Married... With Children. Fox was on the fence of whether to cancel or renew and decided to end it in 1997. It may not be heralded as much, but it gave rise to two things. One was the rise of the dysfunctional family and pushing the envelope that you didn't see back then for the non-Cosby like shows. As mentioned before, it put Fox on the map. Without it, there's no Simpsons or anything. Who knows if the network would have survived past the 90s if it didn't have the shows that changed the way we viewed television.

Would this show air today? For as funny as it is, probably not, unfortunately. With the all the stuff that went on, especially Al and Bud, there would be huge protests. Not to the level of criticism that happened to The Simpsons early in its run, but enough to get possibly cancelled. It's a product of its era, which can be said for a number of shows. Assume your Fox viewing positions whenever you get a chance to watch Married... With Children. You'll get a good laugh at a lot of the antics.

Stop by the blog on April 19th, where I'll review the first ever appearance of The Simpsons as it turns 30.

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