Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Married with Children had many viewers rolling on the floor with uncontrollable laughter with offensive relationships and vulgar sex jokes.
A show such as Married with Children would never go on TV if a pilot were presented today. This is a little sad, because this glorious parody of a working-class chauvinist never presented misogyny as a virtue. And episodes featuring the lead character’s woman-hating usually ended with him meeting karma, usually at the hands of his feminist foil, Marcy Darcy.
In early episodes, Married with Children presented the Bundy Family as relatively normal with just a few dysfunctional quirks. But as time went on, these quirks overcame the normalcy. The lead character, Al Bundy, became defined by his woman-hating, his dead-end job, and his sexual inadequacy, all while he fought desperately to retain the dignity and airs of his high school football career.
Other characters evolved in the same way. Peg Bundy evolved to a chain-smoker who wore makeup and high heels while watching Oprah all day. Kelly Bundy’s character centered around sex with random guys and Beavis and Butthead level intellect, and Bud Bundy became the equivalent of a Facebook creeper.
Very rarely did Al Bundy find his happy ending at the end of an episode. While he lived his miserable life, starving and driving a car with almost 1 million miles on it, the universe just had a way of dangling hope in front of the guy’s nose and then snatching it away.
For example, when the Dodge company found out about the miles on said car (on the episode “Get Outta Dodge”), they offered him a beautiful new Dodge Viper if they could film while his rusty Dodge drove its 1 millionth mile. But Marcy Rhodes pointed out his history of bad luck.
“Aren’t you afraid it’s going to blow up or get struck by lightening?” she said.
Al decided if God wanted to blow up his car before the commercial, God would have to take Al with it, so he slept in the car. But falling asleep, he accidentally shifted gears and the car rolled across mile 1 million, ruining his deal for the commercial.
There were some episodes where Al came out sympathetic, even heroic, such as in the episode “All Night Security Dude” where he worked as a security guard at his old’ school. Disgraced after the school trophy was stolen, he faced his old high school rival, “Spare Tire Dixon,” played by Bubba Smith.
But other episodes showed Al losing a battle against social progress, such as in the episode, “Business Sucks.” After telling a woman she could feed her baby in the shoe store, Al was horrified to turn around and see her breast feeding. This sparked a war between Marcy Darcy and her feminist allies against Al and his “No Ma’am” group (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood.)
- No Ma’am holds a meeting in an earlier episode of Married with Children
Al took it on himself to only sell men’s shoes from the store at that point. But after trading in all inventory, he found out his boss, Gary (a woman) was paying him a visit and he didn’t have permission to change the inventory. Al managed to conceal his misdeed, but Gary had a lot of ideas on how to make the store more feminine, including giving mothers a place to breastfeed.
The pattern of Al paying for his misogyny may have a lot to do with the influence of the actor who played his feminist foil, Darcy. The influence of Amanda Bearse, who played Marcy Darcy, could be felt in the episode “Lez Be Friends.” In this episode, Bearse played a duo role as Marcy’s twin cousin, who was a lesbian. Bearse is also an out lesbian.
This episode broke the typical pattern. Al was oddly accepting of Mandy (Marcy’s cousin) and actually helped her come out to Marcy.
Of course, Married with Children included many jokes that just wouldn’t be accepted in modern times no matter how people looked at it. In particular, the fat jokes. In many of these cases, it did seem to be the show making fun of large women rather than just Al. But this show did take place almost 30 years ago, before America began having serious conversations about fat shaming.
But even with his obvious flaws, it’s hard to dislike Al. For all of his boasting about divorce and gallivanting at the local strip joint, one thing he’s never done is have an affair.
Al showed his raging lust through the entire series and never shied away from flirting. He’d gone nearly catatonic a few times watching beautiful women lean over to try on shoes. But when faced with the ultimate temptation of a beautiful woman who wanted to jump into bed with him, Al found he just couldn’t do it.
This plot actually came in to play more than once. In a separate episode, a rich, beautiful woman offered the Bundy’s a huge amount of money to let Al sleep with her. Even Peg (his wife) was on board with this. But as Al got in bed with the woman and Peg said goodbye to Al, they mutually decided that they couldn’t do it. Even for the ultimate rewards, money for Peg and money plus sex for Al, they wanted each other more than anything. As much as they hated to admit it, and no matter how miserable they seemed, they loved being Married with Children and wouldn’t give each other up for anything.