Sony // 1988 // 509 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge George Hatch (Retired) // April 21st, 2004
"A man's home is his coffin." -- Al Bundy, quoted on a T-shirt
There was a time when father knew best, people made room for daddy, and everyone left it to the Beaver. They lived in cozy, well-appointed homes on Elm or Main Street, in discriminating small towns auspiciously named Springfield or Mayfield where voices were never raised, no one questioned Dad's authority (including Mom), and Junior and Sis were always taught a weekly lesson in growing up. They walked around in a perpetual Ozzie-and-Harriet-style daze, like the body-snatched pod people of the same era, oblivious to the real world crises that saturated the front pages and follow-up columns of every newspaper -- except the television listings -- and never faced a problem more perplexing than having to decide who should wear what to the school prom. But while the sugarcoated lives of these antiseptic nuclear families satisfied America's craving for escapist entertainment, they also ate a cavity in the country's sweet tooth the size of a Motorola console TV. Some nitrous oxide was called for, better known as "laughing gas."
It arrived in the form of Married with Children, when Fox aired the first half-hour episode three times (in rotation with The Tracey Ullman Show) on April 5, 1987 -- a Sunday evening that was generally considered "family night." Within weeks, millions of viewers were tuning in to watch the dysfunctional Bundy family subvert the traditional sitcom and lay waste to the American Dream. Al Bundy was a shoe salesman earning minimum wage to support a family that never missed an opportunity to degrade him as a husband and mock him as a father. His wife, Peggy, costumed in K-Mart catalog couture, ridiculed his hygiene and masculinity at every turn, while siblings Bud (named after the beer) and bimbette Kelly taunted him for his inability to cough up a decent allowance. Their up-scale neighbors, Steve and Marcy Rhoades, took potshots as well, but thanks to scripts that were banged out with a sledgehammer and edited with a razor during rehearsals, it was Al who often had the best lines defending what little dignity he had.
Al Bundy was a chauvinist ("Women have the same urges we do, Steve, they just don't show it because they're spiteful. They need us because we can do the job, and you can't take a battery home to your mother."), a racist ("When I'm standing in line with a bunch of foreigners who smell like vegetables, I'll probably be in the wrong line -- the one where they're barbequing a Chihuahua."), and a failure to everyone but himself ("So much for Bundy unity. This is the first time I've been embarrassed by my own family." "You'll get over it, Al. We did.") But he touched a nerve with viewers (okay, with the male 18-49 demographic) and the readers of leading tabloid The New York Post voted him "the greatest TV Dad of all time" in 1996.
The shows were fast-paced, well edited, packed with crude innuendos,and sidelined with wicked sight gags, as when Peggy snips two radishes into a salad while insisting their dog be neutered. None of this would have worked, however, if Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal hadn't tackled their roles with such titillating bravado. They were like Edward Albee's George and Martha on steroids hurling caustic, ego-deflating insults in a Mad Magazine landscape. O'Neill had a theatrical background but broke into films playing a detective in William Freidkin's Cruising and was soon typecast as a cop -- but everyone remembers him as Al Bundy. Though Katey Sagal had no formal training, she was a back-up singer for several musicians, and toured with Better Midler as one of the trashy Harlettes. This undoubtedly gave Sagal the flair and attitude she incorporated into her role as Peggy. Both were nominated for Golden Globe Awards, but with its disreputable depiction of lower-than-low middle class family life, the show itself was never officially recognized during its 10-year run and received only four Emmy nominations, evenly split in the technical categories of Editing and Costuming.
The cancellation of MwC, as it is referred to on over 200 websites devoted to the Bundys, resulted in dozens of petitions requesting the series be brought to DVD. The short first season was released last year; however, the show had proved so successful that the number of episodes was doubled for the Season Two, all of which appear on this new three-disc set. The Evidence lists the shows as presented with a plot recap and some Bundyesque dialogue, but it should be noted that hilarious hour-long "Poppy's by the Tree" was the original season opener.
"Buck Can Do It"
Buck, the family dog, has been "carnally trespassing" with the other neighborhood canines, who spawn some very ugly pups. The outraged owner of a pedigree pooch threatens to sue the Bundys, but taking a look around their home he concedes that Al has already been "sued by life."
Peg: "I found a female vet to neuter Buck."
Al: "What does she do, nag 'em off?"
"Poppy's by the Tree, Part 1"
The Bundys are going on a vacation, and while Peg and the kids want to go to someplace exotic, Al's shoe salesman salary lands them in Dumpwater, Florida. The situation takes a dire turn when it's revealed that a serial killer of tourists strikes every five years, and wouldn't you know...?
Al: "Now if you people don't want to go to Dumpwater we can use the money to buy one those soft toilet seats instead and make every day a vacation."
"Poppy's by the Tree, Part 2"
Peggy's been abducted by the ax-murderer and while the locals ante up in a pool as to who's going to get whacked first, it's up to Al to save the day.
Al: "Standing here with my loving family, I have one question: Why am I running from the ax? I'm going back to Chicago where I die just a little each day."
"If I Were a Rich Man"
Al is suspected of stealing a small fortune from Steve's Bank, so the family treats him like a king as they argue over the best way to spend the loot -- even if Al ends up in jail.
Al: "Peg! Kids! I'm home. Torture me."
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
There's an error on the Bundys' latest phone bill, so Al refuses to pay. Steve and Marcy are annoyed because they've become the Bundy's answering service.
Al: "I'm not paying for one mistake. I've been doing that since the day I was married."
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Part 1"
After a spat with Steve, Marcy joins Peg and her friends for an evening at a male strip club. The usually uptight Marcy gets so turned on by stripper El Zorro, she keeps stuffing money in his marble bag and later discovers she's lost her wedding ring.
Marcy: "Al's nothing but a Neanderthal sexist pig, but at least he doesn't try to hide it."
Al: "Hide it? I got a t-shirt that says it."
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Part 2"
El Zorro tries to return the ring but Steve and Marcy aren't home, so he gives it to Al. When Al presents the ring to Steve, he calls it his "Get Out of Jail Free" card.
Al: "Oh, and Steve, when you've drained away every last ounce of Marcy's humanity, every shred of dignity she has, and just when she's getting ready to bend down and kiss your feet, tell her you got the ring...from Al Bundy"
"Born to Walk"
When his driver's license expires the same day Kelly gets hers, Al vows revenge against the Motor Vehicles Bureau.
Peg: "Your father just went to get a haircut, kids. It where all of his friends sit around and talk about what they could have been in life. He won't be gone too long."
"Alley of the Dolls"
Peg decides to "adopt" Steve into the Bundy clan so her team can beat an old high school rival in bowling tournament.
Steve: I want people to know I'm an adopted Bundy. That would explain my hygiene, grammar, and full set of teeth."
"The Razor's Edge"
Steve has grown a beard over a weeklong nature trip, so Marcy refuses to have sex with him until he shaves. He moves in with the Bundys, cooking, cleaning, and making Peg look even lazier and useless to Al and the kids.
Peg: "Why can't we go on a trip, Al?"
Al: "Well, the summer place is all closed up and the yacht is in dry-dock so I thought, what the hell, let's just spend some time at the ghetto home."
"How Do You Spell Revenge"
Thinking "If God wanted women to play ball he would have made them men," Al warns Peggy she had better improve her softball techniques or he's going to have her thrown off the neighborhood team.
Al: "Peg, we just lost to six women and three men with visible panty lines."
Peg: "It's only a game, Al."
Al: "It's only a game if you win. If you lose it's a waste of time."
Bud brings home a beautiful young art student hitchhiking her way to New York, and Al starts charging the neighborhood men to watch her work out and sun bathe. Peg and Marcy conspire to make sure she's on her way as soon as possible.
Steve: "Remember, Al, the only true erogenous zone is the brain."
Al: "Maybe, but I don't see too many men going around pinching women's heads."
"You Better Watch Out"
(Note: This show opened with a disclaimer: "The following depicts a Bundy Christmas. It could be upsetting to small children and others. Parental guidance is suggested.") In one of the best episodes ever, a drunken Santa crash lands in the Bundy's back yard on Christmas Eve. The cop investigating the tragedy thinks Al should play Santa so as not to disappoint the neighborhood kids.
Local kid: "Santa smells like beer."
Al: "Give me five minutes and I'll smell like hard liquor."
"Guys and Dolls"
Al and Steve sell Marcy's classic Barbie doll so they can buy some classic baseball cards. When Marcy discovers the doll is missing, the guys are forced to wander the streets trying to track the doll down and buy it back.
Al: "Baseball card collecting is the greatest hobby in the world, women just don't get it."
Peg: "No, Al. What I just don't get is sex."
"Build a Better Mousetrap"
There is a mouse loose in the Bundy home but Al refuses to hire an exterminator, thinking he can do the job himself.
Al: "I can hear the mouse laughing, Peg. He thinks he's got me."
Peg: "No, Al, he's laughing because I've got you."
"Master the Possibilities"
A credit card arrives with Buck the dog's name on it. The Bundys think they can max out the card and never have to pay.
Al: "Maybe I can get a part-time job at the zoo -- circumcising Tasmanian devils."
"Peggy Loves Al, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah"
Kelly gets a bagful of valentine cards, Bud his hoping for just one, and Steve is taking Marcy to Hawaii. But all Peggy wants is to hear Al say "I love you."
Peg: "What do you want for Valentine's Day, Al?"
Al: "Well, she's wrestling in the mud, and I'm just living there."
"The Great Escape"
Termites have invaded the Bundy home and they have to spend the night in Al's shoe store while the house is being fumigated. Kelly has to find a way to sneak out and visit her boyfriend.
Al: "But how can I disappoint all those lovely ladies?
Peg: "Just have sex with them, Al."
Marcy accidentally dents Steve's brand new Mercedes, so Steve claims he's impotent and tricks her into being his slave to help get "Mr. Mike" working again.
Al: "Marcy, you disobeyed your husband, which means you weren't doing your job as a woman. But we men believe you can change. The world-renowned social scientist, Hugh Hefner, said so."
"Just Married...With Children"
Hoping they can win a new washing machine, Peggy and Al masquerade as Marcy and Steve on the game show where the wives torture the husbands.
Host: "Before we count your prizes, let's see if your husband is conscious yet."
Al: "I can taste my spleen."
Al wins over a thousand dollars at the racetrack and has to find a way of hiding it from the rest of the family.
Al: "Where's my wallet?"
Peg: "What's it look like, Al?"
Al: "Old, wrinkled, and empty -- like my life."
"All in the Family"
Peggy's relatives from Wanker County come for a visit: country-western singing triplets, two battling uncles, and Peg's mother, who is so monstrous we never get to see her.
Al: "Peg, you were great last night. You did everything a man dreams his wife would do. You were asleep before I got home and out of bed before I woke up."
With nine episodes on two discs and only four on Disc Three, there was plenty of room for some bonus material, but the skimpy extras are only 13 Easter eggs, snippets of the cast reminiscing about the show. Sure, it was interesting to learn that Katey Sagal wanted to make Peggy a sexier character and that she was probably an older version of daughter Kelly, but having to watch what was at most a half-hour conversation cut up into tiny clips was annoying; and while the eggs are easy to find, they were hardly worth the effort.
I would like to have seen an interview with Linda Day, who directed 18 of the 22 episodes, and welcomed some input from Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye, the show's creators and executive producers. The comments of a woman, an African-American, and a Jewish man would shed a lot of light on their take and presentation of the Bundys, especially Al.
Some bloopers and outtakes could have been included, too. There are so many scenes during which the actors could barely deliver their lines that a behind-the-scenes look at the tapings would surely be entertaining. And how about a commentary on at least a few of the shows, particularly "You Better Watch Out," one of the nastiest, cruelest -- and funniest! -- Christmas shows I've ever seen. Wake up Columbia TriStar: this episode alone puts your Most Outrageous... compilations to shame, and along with a "It's A Bundyful Life" from the Season Three, a DVD with the other holiday-themed episodes would relegate Charlie Brown and his withered tree to the outhouse.
No remastering was done, so the transfer looks no better and occasionally worse than the episodes now in syndication. Most noticeable are the bleeding reds in clothing worn by Peg and Kelly in several episodes. The dialogue, however, sounds excellent in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
In the 1950s, the Kramdens traded some mean quips, usually about Ralph's weight, but they were blue-collar folks living in a dilapidated tenement with no kids. By the 1970s, Archie Bunker brought the working-class ethic to the suburbs along with some occasionally controversial subject matter that alerted the networks to start screening shows for content. In the mid-1980s, Fox wasn't even considered a "network" and had such a low profile they could air just about anything they chose. Married with Children flew in under the radar and changed television history -- for better or worse, depending on your point of view.
Married with Children: The Complete Second Season presents the series at its best. The actors were still playing it fairly straight -- and to each other instead of mugging for the audience -- and the plots were clever and character-oriented instead of relying on what eventually became boilerplate essentials, such as Kelly making an entrance clad in skimpy costumes and repetitive jokes about Bud's hairy palms. But if you are a Bundymaniac, as I am, this DVD set is a must-own and multiple viewings will continue to provide plenty of laughs.
The Bundys are guilty of lewd, crude, and licentious behavior and are sentenced to life in syndication. They are, however, to be paroled on DVD on an annual basis.
Columbia TriStar is hereby remanded to the vaults and sentenced to deliver the remaining seasons of Married with Children -- including a Christmas DVD special -- with improvement on the quality of the transfers.
Review content copyright © 2004 George Hatch; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 509 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 13 Easter Eggs Featuring Interviews with the Cast
* MwC Official Site
* The Al Bundy Site