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?