The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sitcom Nostalgia


"Love...hate...we're a family, so what's the difference?"

I will never understand nostalgia for tripe like "Boy Meets World". I will never understand nostalgia for crap like "Full House". I will never understand nostalgia for a turd like "Saved By the Bell". Tell me you love Steve Urkel, and I will have murder fantasies about you. I have no fond memories of the TGIF line-up, or any other overly sentimental, corny bullshit that was being passed off as a situation comedy. Not one. You see, I was raised on comedy of a different kind, "Married... With Children" was my comedy. And, I know different strokes for different folks (Hey, "Diff'rent Strokes" was another awful show, but the Very Special Episodes are ironically hilarious), but... no, this show was objectively better. You can disagree, but you are wrong.

From what little I can remember about discovering this show, I had my TV on after I went to bed, and it just came back. My very first episode was one where a Peeping Tom was in the neighborhood and had peeped every woman except for Peggy, who was upset that she wasn't being spied on. So, after much whining, Al pretended to be the peeper which resulted in him getting his ass kicked for one of his few good deeds. Peggy got peeped by the real peeper and regained her self-confidence. It's even more messed up than it sounds. But, for me at the time, it was different and I loved it. I became a loyal fan, and doing research on when this episode aired, I had just turned eight.

So when I received the complete series on DVD for Christmas, I was ecstatic and I've already re-watched the first four seasons. When this show was pitched to Fox, it was titled "Not the Cosbys" as it was very much the anti-Cosby Show. Now, nearly twenty-eight years later, Ed O'Neill has a reputation as being a good, decent family man. And Bill Cosby, well.... yup.

I should not take for granted that everybody knows the premise so here it is. Ed O'Neill plays Al Bundy, a former jock who peaked when he played High School football (did you know he scored four touchdowns in one game? He'll never let you forget it), and now works a dead-end job selling women's shoes. His wife, Peggy (played by Katey Sagal), is a stay-at-home layabout who never leaves the comfort of her couch. Their daughter, Kelly (Christina Applegate) is the iconic dumb, troublemaking, easy, dullard blonde. Then there's the smart one, Bud Bundy, a creepy stalker pervert who is as lecherous as they come... played by David Faustino and yet still a much better human being than that piece of shit, Mako, on "Legend of Korra." And then there's the Bundy dog, Buck. Buck is everything he should be.

Then there are they neighbors. Marcy played by Amanda Bearse, a career woman at a local bank who is Al's sitcom arch-nemesis and yet has more in common with him than either would ever admit... while she seems like a straw-man feminist a lot, there are no good guys on this show, and Al is never portrayed as being moral or right in the face of her, either. Then there was her first husband, Steve Rhoades played by David Garrison. Like Marcy, he was a greedy, materialistic, successful banker... but that changed, as he slowly became more and more like Peggy. He was a great foil for Al, while actually developing as a character. But David Garrison left the show in season four and was replaced in season five by Ted McGinley as Jefferson D'Arcy. Did the show jump the shark then? Well, no. But I won't lie, I thought Steve was the better character. It was around this time the show became more of a live-action cartoon. It was still hilarious, but it wasn't quite the same. This isn't a complaint, though.

The great thing about Al Bundy as the lead was I sympathized with him while utterly disagreeing with many of his social views. I disagree with his viewpoint on everything, and I tend to agree with Marcy as I consider myself a feminist, and yet both are assholes. I think it helps that the show doesn't try to make Al some macho he-man hero, even if that's how he sees himself. We're meant to sympathize with him because of his situation, even if some of his views are backwards. In that, I think he is a very three-dimensional character. It's a hard balance, but the producers, writers, and Ed O'Neill did it.

This was the show that put the Fox network on the map before "The Simpsons" came along. It was black humor, it was raunchy, and it was hilarious. But it didn't become a ratings winner until it's third season when anti-obscenity activist, Republican activist, member of the Romney Clan, and all around imbecile, Terry Rakolta launched a boycott of the show that garnered nationwide attention. With that attention came higher ratings, and renewals, and success. The producers of "Married... With Children" would, for many years hence, send Terry Rakolta a gift basket around Christmas time thanking her for their success.

The show still holds up surprisingly well, and while the debut season is different (they were still finding the characters), it's never not funny. And debut seasons are usually hard. Even "Seinfeld"'s debut season was rocky, and looking at the first season of "The Simpsons", I am surprised it received a second.

It not only pushed the envelope, it often incinerated it. Like "All In the Family" before it and "South Park" after it, it was getting away with murder while often being the most cleverly written comedy on the air. It remains a favorite of mine, and well... unlike your nostalgia for that TGIF bullshit, "Married... With Children" was actually funny, then and now.


"Your mom’s the one who makes the pies for everyone in the neighborhood except those nice Bundys. Okay, Santa will leave you a pony under your tree. But if it isn’t there in the morning, that means your mommy chased it away and killed it."

12 comments:

  1. I more respect Boy Meets World for at least providing some lessons but I wouldn't call it good. Full House and Saved by the Hell, I share in your hatred. It'd probably baffle you the first show mentioned has a sequel, right?

    Also, I saw Blossom. Trust me, you'd hate that one so much especially they tried to play rape as funny in one episode.

    Married with the Children, you kind of hit the nail on the head what made it awesome.

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  2. Oh, one more thing; I hate every character in Step by Step.

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  3. Great review and summary for an often overlooked sitcom. Unless memory serves, no live action show on Fox has lasted as long. While often over the top, it had some of the most biting and cracking banter and one liners of sitcom history and made great fun at how families and friends can bicker like crazy, yet still have some genuine feelings for each other when the chips were down. And, it wasn't built on a house of lies. Even years later, I remember many of the best punch lines by heart. "Married...With Children" will never be forgotten.

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  4. Whats your opinion on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?

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  5. "played by David Faustino and yet still a much better human being than that piece of shit, Mako, on "Legend of Korra."

    Ouch! Mako's never gonna catch the break he doesn't deserve, is he? XD

    "Did the show jump the shark then? Well, no. But I won't lie, I thought Steve was the better character. It was around this time the show became more of a live-action cartoon. It was still hilarious, but it wasn't quite the same."

    Jon Hein's official Jump The Shark book states that the Steven character's time on the show is what finally did it, though it also mentions how the show had the decency to make fun of that by putting Steven's face on a "missing" ad later on.

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    1. You mean Seven, right? Yeah, he didn't last too long. Everyone involved realized he was a mistake really quickly.

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    2. SEVEN, yes! I was misreading the book while I typed that up. And yes, props to them for cleaning up their mess quickly and also making fun of it later on.

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  6. Plead guilty to Boy Meets World and Family Matters. Don't care for Full House anymore, though I'm neutral towards Saved By The Bell.

    But yes, Married... With Children easily outranks them.

    Incidentally, any opinion on Friends?

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    1. *Incidentally, any opinion on Friends?*

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gW1AvgQU0bE

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    2. So I'm guessing you share Lrrr's sediments: "This is ancient Earth's most foolish program. Why does Ross, the largest friend, not simply eat the other five?"

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    3. Nah, "Special Snowflake & The S.H.I.T. Squad" is Earth's most foolish program.

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