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Married with Children: The Parent of Today's Family Sitcom

Married With Children didn't exactly invent the family sitcom when it premiered in 1987, but it sure left an impression on it. Whereas MWC's peers—including The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, and All in the Family—took themselves quite seriously, offering a limitless supply of loving families, happy homes, and poignant life lessons, MWC slapped America in the face with middle-class mediocrity and resentment for 11 seasons and 262 episodes. And television hasn't been the same since.

Al Bundy was not the type of person you'd refer to as a "doting dad" or a "helpful husband"—most of the time, he sat on the couch with a sneer on his face and a beer in his hand. Bundy's less-than-optimistic outlook stemmed partially from (probably) growing up watching Archie Bunker, and from the fact that he never realized his full potential, opting to support his unplanned family with a sales job instead of becoming the professional athlete he'd once aspired to be. It doesn't get any more tragically American than that. Yet Ed O'Neill's portrayal of this sad, selfish oaf wasn't tragic at all. It was hilarious. O'Neill's glum facial expressions and burdened posture made his lazy blob of a character into a lovable anti-hero—and the precursor to Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Barone (Ray Romano) and Frank Barone (Peter Boyle), That 70's Show's Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), and every single cartoon dad that Seth MacFarlane has ever created. Coincidentally, the role of Al Bundy even paved the way for O'Neill's current gig, as Modern Family patriarch Jay Pritchett.



Peg Bundy wasn't a picture-perfect parent, either. She indulged in frequent spending sprees at the mall and regularly neglected both grocery shopping and the laundry, ushering in a new era of apathetic, oblivious, and blatantly imperfect TV mothers like the title character of Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle's Lois (Jane Kaczmarek), Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), and Weeds' Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker). And Katey Sagal's magnificent look—a red bouffant, tight and bright spandex pants, and stilettos—became iconic, so much so that Fran Drescher's title character in The Nanny took the tackiness and ran with it.



And then there's Kelly Bundy, the first of many lovable spoiled brats on the small screen. Christina Applegate made an annoying character into a lovable one, mostly because she was somewhat appreciative of the fact that she was spoiled. Today, Modern Family's Manny (Rico Rodriguez) falls into this nuanced category, as did Arrested Development's Lindsay Bluth-Funke (Portia de Rossi).



As a family, the Bundys offered a unique alternative to the other TV families of their day, drawing laughs from mundane, arrogant musings instead of heartwarming, comfortable moments. Without them, we might never have known such great (and crass) family sitcoms as Modern Family, Malcolm in the Middle, and Arrested Development. And we'd probably be a little more optimistic about life. But where's the fun in that?


Follow TV.com writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

Comments (23)
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Oh my God that speech Al gives at the end of "UnAlful Entry", above.


Great stuff!
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Classic show!!
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I loved this show!
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You're comparing Peg Bundy with Lois from Malcolm In The Middle? No, that's just wrong. Those 2 characters couldn't be more different.
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Al Bundy’s outlook stemmed from watching Archie Bunker?

The word you use to describe Kelly Bundy is spoiled?? What she was mainly portraying are the underachieving youths in this country, not being spoiled.
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Can you give examples of when The Brady Bunch "took themselves quite seriously" or when All in the Family was "offering a limitless supply of loving families"?
Not only did you forget Bud but what the neighbours? Perhaps this is a two part article?
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Ah, Married with Children, such a classic show. I still watch it everyday. Truly one of the original and amazing sitcoms that paved the way for others. Too bad there hasn't been a sitcom just AS good as MWC, since.
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It was very funny. The episode that Peg and her female neighbour go to a male stripper show is very good.
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Hey Stefanie There was Bud Bundy.
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Oh look. I'm alone again! I hated this show!
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Al "4 touchdowns in one game" Bundy, Legend!
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MWC was one of the great and ground breaking shows in TV. Such a classic!
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@ fistofkhonshu he didn't start the trend of bratty boys. they've been aroung long before he existed. fairly certain that dennis the menice was and is the most known brat in history.
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Loved that show Peg never cooked a meal
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For those who do not know, Married... With Children was before The Simpsons. Also, I am annoyed that Bud was not mentioned, and am suspicious. Well, actually, Stefanie probably just wrote this article from memory, without rewatching the show or anything like that. But it is still strange to forget Bud.
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Poor Bud was probably lost in the shadow of his Mom's hair. He was amusing, but no where near as funny as Al, Peg, and Kelly.
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@ fistofkhonshu True that!
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Wow. I don't know whether to be disappointed or note the irony of how Bud Bundy was left out. The always under-appreciated Bart Simpson knock off Bud Bundy who paved the way for every single smart ass scheming vindictive kid on every show since? Am I the only one who remembers that
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Al Bundy.. hero of my childhood.
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What does "All in the Family" have in common with "The Brady Bunch?" Explain that to me.
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Amazing show. Reminising about the good ole days
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ah those were the days!
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Indeed one of the funniest shows ever! BTW you forgot to talk about Bud Bundy a.k.a. Grandmaster B LOL
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