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In Defense of "Married ... With Children"

By admin Published: July 8, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Emmy oversights for Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal may be traceable to the TV industry's ongoing disdain for "Married ... With Children," the Fox sitcom in which they both starred. Sure, the show was a farce, but it was often a very good farce. It offered a bracing alternative to the likes of "The Cosby Show," the dominant sitcom at the time. After the jump, my respectful 1997 consideration of the show after Fox announced its cancellation.

It's time to say bye-bye to the Bundys.
Fox confirmed yesterday it is canceling Married . . . With Children, currently the longest-running prime-time entertainment network show. The cancellation also cuts Fox's last link to its prime-time origins. When Married premiered on April 5, 1987, it was one of the first two prime-time shows on Fox. The other was The Tracey Ullman Show.
Married had long outlasted the other series premiering on Fox that spring. Ullman and action drama 21 Jump Street went off the network in 1990, comedy series Duet in 1989 and comedy Mr. President in 1988.
In the volatile and demanding prime-time world, Married managed a remarkably long run. Consider some of the other series ending this season, all with fewer years behind them than the Fox comedy: Roseanne (which premiered in 1988), Wings (1990) and Martin (1992).
While it's fair to say Married ran through a limited repertoire of ideas long ago, you can say much the same thing about the other departing comedies. And Married still had the winning charms of Katey Sagal and Youngstown's Ed O'Neill, who played their characters Peg and Al Bundy as entertainingly as anyone could do with a human cartoon.
Married helped make O'Neill a rich man -- earning a reported $500,000 an episode of late -- and has a place in the footnotes of TV history via Amanda Bearse, who came out as a lesbian during the series' run. (In an episode next week Bearse will play a dual role, as Bundy neighbor Marcy D'Arcy and as Marcy's gay cousin.)
But we should also remember that Married was, in its heyday, a funny, adult show.
It was conceived as a bracingly negative alternative to the happy family of The Cosby Show. Al Bundy was a shoe salesman who hated his job and his life, which peaked when he was a high school football hero. His wife, Peg, did not work, but neither did she toil around the house. Their son Bud was a slacker, their daughter Kelly a bimbo.
Roseanne once said that she and Sam Kinison were offered the Bundy roles, but she turned it down because the characters were too mean-spirited.
We'll just let that idea hang in the air.
But O'Neill and Sagal proved an amusing match, and the show's hard-edged farce clicked with audiences more than anything else Fox could come up with in those years. Sure, these were often awful people. But they were funny, at least for a while. The Bundys plowed the ground for The Simpsons in 1989. And folks on shows such as The Naked Truth and Men Behaving Badly owe some of their paychecks to Married.
Indeed, one of the problems facing Married as its ratings declined in recent years was the appearance of other shows similar to it. Roseanne certainly took some of the Married elements to a higher-quality level, as did The Simpsons, and those shows are now prime-time codgers. The farce of Naked Truth, Martin, Men Behaving Badly, Homeboys in Outer Space and 3rd Rock From the Sun also falls in the Married tradition. Nor is Cleveland's Drew Carey, whose sitcom has been picked up for a third season, far removed from Al.
So if nothing else you should be impressed at the impact Married had on TV. Granted a lot of people hated the show. A Michigan woman practically made a career out of attacking it. It was tasteless, crude and often offensive. And in its prime it made me laugh.

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