Groucho Marx once said, “Marriage is a fine institution. But who wants to live in an institution?” This famous quip could just as easily have been uttered by Al Bundy, the jaded patriarch of the Bundy family and star of Fox’s enormously popular sitcom Married…With Children. The show—at one point the longest-running sitcom on TV—revolved around the hilarious and often raunchy antics of America’s favorite dysfunctional family, the Bundys.
The family consisted of shoe salesman Al, his undersexed wife Peg, their oversexed teenage daughter Kelly and desperately-wants-to-be-oversexed adolescent son Bud. Unlike other TV family dads, Al was a father who definitely did not know best. In his own words, “Bundys are losers, not quitters.” The epitome of a man’s man, Al, a self-described former gridiron star, was certain his best days were behind him. He resigned himself to selling shoes, barely providing for his family, and thwarting the constant sexual advances of his bored housewife. Al’s dream day would be having the house to himself, sitting on the couch with his hand resting inside the waistband of his pants, drinking a beer, and watching football, occasionally getting up to use the bathroom. If only life could always be that good.
Peg Bundy was a brunette (and sometimes redhead) with a lot of time on her hands. Despite the family’s less-than-stellar economic situation, Peg didn’t work. Instead, she spent her days watching daytime TV, eating bon-bons, getting her hair and nails done, and spending Al’s money to the best of her abilities. With an aversion to many household chores, Peg would rather buy new clothes than wash the old ones. Her biggest—and most talked about—problem was the sorry state of life in the Bundy boudoir. Al didn’t satisfy Peg—heck, Al didn’t even touch Peg—and she never let him hear the end of it. But despite the absence of sparks in their relationship, both parties remained surprisingly monogamous.
There are power tools that had more brain cells than Kelly Bundy, but very few that were as pleasant to the eye. Kelly never had a problem getting dates, and she usually used her va-va-voom beauty to navigate her way through the rough waters of life. Kelly had no qualms about giving up the goods to get what she wanted, whether it was attention or gifts, and she seemed to fall in love with a new guy each week.
The same could not be said about her younger brother Bud, whose efforts to lose his virginity—or even position himself within a 50-yard radius of a member of the opposite sex—were perpetually in vain. Although he was intelligent and funny (he often doled out the best lines on the show), Bud was hardly a ladies’ man. Towards the end of the series, he had moderate success, but in the earlier years his rare opportunities with the fairer gender were always ruined one way or another. He eventually did achieve the traditional definition of manhood via Janie, a then-unknown Joey Lauren Adams.
Despite the standard sibling rivalries, both Kelly and Bud, like their parents, remained firmly loyal to the family. Although all four would plot and scheme against each other, they stood as one against any outside force, always putting the Bundys before everything and everyone else.
The Bundy’s neighbors played a significant supporting role throughout the evolution of the show. Marcy and Steve Rhoades were the neighbors for the first four seasons. Marcy was a staunch feminist, who pitied Peg and always got into verbal spats with Al. Steve, a banker, was a little more laid back than his wife. The two added a humorous touch to the already dysfunctional Bundy line-up, as well as an element of tension, since the two enjoyed an active, and much discussed, sex life.
David Garrison, who played Steve Rhoades, left the show at the end of the 1990-91 season to pursue a career on Broadway, and was quickly replaced by veteran replacement actor Ted McGinley (who also served as a mid-series substitute on The Love Boat and Happy Days). McGinley played Marcy’s new husband, Jefferson D’Arcy, a gigolo in every sense of the word, while it was explained that Steve left Marcy to become a ranger at Yosemite National Park. The Bundy’s dog, Buck, was also a familiar character (complete with wise-cracking voiceover) until the real-life canine who portrayed him retired in 1995.
Married… With Children (original title: “Not the Cosbys”) was a welcome departure from the standard sitcom family, especially after spending the 80’s with apple-pie-perfect families like the Seavers on Growing Pains and the Keatons on Family Ties. Most shows depicted the American family as saccharine-sweet, their tempers never flaring much higher than “Don’t you think you were a bit hard on the Beaver?” But to the jaded kids of the emerging “Generation X,” the Bundy’s twisted relationships and lowbrow toilet humor felt a lot more like home.
Surprisingly, the show was not an instant success—it took a while for it to really find its niche. It wasn’t until a woman in Michigan made headlines for boycotting the raunchy show and its sponsors that people really started to sit up and take notice of what all the commotion was about. Married… With Children turned into one of the first hits for the fledgling Fox network, setting a pattern for later dysfunctional Fox families like The Simpsons. The bickering and none-too-subtle sexual innuendo continued through a very impressive eleven seasons, which is much longer than most “let’s all hug and talk about our feelings” family sitcoms last, thank you very much. White trash was never this endearing, and TV never had such a soft spot for families this uncouth and decidedly un-Cosby.
USA / Fox – Embassy / 245×25 minute episodes 6×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 5 April 1987 – 5 May 1997
Creators: Michael G. Moye, Ron Leavitt / Executive Producers: Michael G. Moye, Ron Leavitt, Katherine D. Green, Richard Gurman, Kim Weiskopf
Ed O’Neill as Al Bundy
Katey Sagal as Peggy Bundy
Christina Applegate as Kelly Bundy
David Faustino as Bud Bundy
Marcy Rhoades D’Arcy..Amanda Bearse as
David Garrison as Steve Rhoades (1987-90)
Ted McGinley as Jefferson D’Arcy (1991-97)
E.E. Bell as Bobrooney (1993-97)
Shane Sweet as Seven (1992-93)
Harold Sylvester as Griff (1994-97)
Juliet Tablak as Amber (1994-95)
Dan Tullis Jr. as Officer Dan (1993-97)