According to legend, the working title for Married...With Children was "NOT the Cosby Show," and that said it all. This raunchy, ribald eleven-year saga of a boorish, dysfunctional family living in the outskirts of Chicago was about as far removed from The Cosby Show as Mercury is from Pluto -- which was just fine so far as its creators, Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye, were concerned. Harboring a lifelong hatred for the "typical, wholesome" American TV family, Leavitt and Moyes chose instead to develop a series which revelled -- nay, wallowed -- in questionable taste, endless insults, and juicy sexual badinage. The newly formed Fox network, anxious to offer programming that would immediately separate itself from the "norm" as dictated by the ABC, CBS, and NBC, was receptive to the concept, and on April 5, 1987, Married...With Children debuted as Fox's first-ever sitcom -- not to mention its first-ever prime-time series. The Bundy family might well have been described as "trailer trash," only they didn't live in a trailer but instead in a large, untidy suburban Chicago house. Patriarch Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) worked for minimum wages as a clerk at Gary's Shoe Store. Being an unregenerate male chauvinist pig, unkempt, and reeking of body odor, Al would sooner hang out at the local nudie bar with his fellow members of "NO MA'AM" (the National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood) than come home to the wretched meals prepared by his lazy, viper-tongued wife, Peggy (Katey Sagal). Hating housework almost as much as cooking and forever dressed in tight, garish outfits that displayed her ripe figure to anyone who was interested (Al certainly wasn't), Peg was also distinguished by her layers of facial makeup and her towering teased hair. The Bundy's dimwitted, slatternly daughter, Kelly (Christina Applegate), was so proud of her reputation as the high school's "easiest" girl that she sometimes gave annotated lectures on the subject; in later episodes, Kelly worked at such intellectual pursuits as waitressing and as commercial spokesperson for an off-brand beer. Kelly's kid brother Bud (David Faustino), eleven years old when the series began, was a combination juvenile delinquent and con artist, who, once he reached maturity (?), held down jobs as a clerk at the Motor Vehicle Bureau and as a one-person talent agency (with Kelly as his sole client). The Bundy family was a great source of irritation and embarrassment for their strait-laced newlywed neighbors, Steve and Marcy Rhoades (David Garrison and Amanda Bearse), who were respectably employed as accountants. The bad influence of the Bundys eventually seeped over into the Rhoades household, with Steve losing his job, divorcing his wife, and ending up working as a forest ranger, and Marcy taking as her second husband the terminally lazy Jefferson D'Arcy (Ted McGinley), whom she met during a drunken binge at a banker's convention. During the series' seventh season, Shane Sweet became a regular as Seven Bundy, son of one of Peg's many cousins; but the character never caught on and was summarily dropped without explanation. Two other series regulars never appeared on camera. Kevin Curran provided the voice of the Bundys' unhousebroken, oversexed dog, Buck, and later voiced a cute cocker spaniel puppy named Lucky -- who turned out to possess the reincarnated soul of the late and very reluctant Buck. And during the series' tenth season, Kathleen Freeman was heard but not seen as Peg's harridan hillbilly mother, Mrs. Wanker, who moved into Bud's room after walking out on her husband (played in some episodes by Tim Conway).
Bearing absolutely no resemblance to real life and doggedly avoiding sentiment and "very special episodes," Married...With Children was not exactly everyone's cup of treacle; in fact, one Michigan housewife became so incensed by the series' outrages (which were grotesquely exaggerated for full satiric effect) that she organized a letter-writing campaign to force Fox to cancel the series. Though the woman did not succeed, one third-season episode of Married...With Children, in which the Bundys were unwittingly videotaped while having sex at a cheap motel, was never aired by Fox and in fact was not seen in the United States until 2002, some 14 years after it was produced! Though the series had more than its share of detractors, it also enjoyed a huge fan following with most viewers fully aware that Married was actually a spoof of late-'80s/early-'90s TV raunchiness and accepted it as such. The series' "nothing sacred" attitude enabled the writers to sidestep a particularly delicate situation during season six. To accommodate the real-life pregnancy of Katey Sagal, it was decided that Peg Bundy would also have a baby. Unfortunately, Sagal miscarried, leaving audiences to wonder how this personal tragedy would affect the series. As it turned out, the writers managed to transform pathos into hilarity by stating baldly that Peg's pregnancy was merely a bad dream, à la Dallas! (Later in the series, Sagal again became pregnant, fortunately carrying the baby to term; this time around, however, the writers felt it would be best not to say anything whatsoever about babies on the series). Ending its original network run in 1997, Married...With Children has continued to be successfully rebroadcast in syndication and as part of the FX cable network lineup. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Christina Applegate, Amanda Bearse, (more)