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Married... with Children

By Tom Keogh

When Married... with Children debuted on Fox TV on April 5, 1987 (followed by The Tracey Ullman Show a half-hour later), the grungy sitcom became an instant flagship for Rupert Murdoch's upstart network. The program's much-publicized working title, Not the Cosbys (a dismissive reference to the cheerful vitality of Bill Cosby's hugely popular television clan on NBC's The Cosby Show) was a dead giveaway. Married... with Children was going to be a trashier, raunchier, and far more cynical view of the American nuclear family. But it turned out the series actually fell into other caustic-domestic entertainment traditions, notably the Don Ameche and Frances Langford radio comedy series from the 1940s, The Bickersons, and Jackie Gleason's TV classic, The Honeymooners.

The jokes were savage, key relationships were marked by ennui and indifference, and the Bundy family name couldn't help but make one think of America's most notorious, real-life serial killer at the time. Yet the show had a hint of Golden Age Hollywood gloss, a retro-screwball feel that one could detect in the snappy verbal warfare between husband Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) and wife Peggy (Katey Sagal). The characters, and the show, eschewed sentimentality, which certainly opened the floodgates to comic cynicism but also kept a door ajar for moments of genuine sweetness. A decade later, however, by the time Fox cancelled the increasingly expensive series, Married... with Children's first-season tone would be considerably different, replaced by a stronger reliance on running jokes and character stereotypes, particularly concerning Bundy children Kelly (Christina Applegate) and Bud (David Faustino).

That evolution makes watching Married... with Children's first 13 episodes, once again, quite instructive. Those programs are all on this two-disc set, including the startling pilot, in which Al and Peggy lock horns over marital politics and enlist naive new neighbors Steve (David Garrison) and Marcy (Amanda Bearse) in a battle of the sexes. There's also the classic "Whose Room Is It, Anyway," concerning the Bundys' competition to connive Steve and Marcy into building a recreation room, and "Thinnergy," a very funny piece about a diet that supposedly boosts sexual interest.

Married... with Children on DVD!
Married... with Children is now available on DVD! Get it at Amazon.com!
Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four

 

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TV TIDBITS

Aired: April 5, 1987 - July 7, 1997

Cast: Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal, Christina Applegate, David Faustino, Amanda Bearse, David Garrison, Ted McGinley

Network: FOX

Genre: Sitcom

Theme song

Image courtesy of FOX


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