Sony // 1987 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // November 6th, 2003
Home sweet hell
From 1987 to 1997, American TV was totally transformed as upstart network Fox unleashed a brash, occasionally brilliant sitcom about the trials and tribulations of your far from typical white trash nuclear family. Entitled Married with Children, the show explored the life of Al Bundy, a dejected down and out shoe salesman surrounded by a group of lame loved ones. They included lazy house frau Peggy, slutty dumb daughter Kelly and nerdy wuss boy Bud. Hated by his highbrow neighbors, Marcy and Steve (later Marcy and Jefferson), Al lives a life of less than quiet desperation, one filled with failure and forgotten dreams. In order to highlight his hopelessness, over the course of eleven seasons, the show focused primarily on sex, sexuality, and toilet humor. On this first DVD offering from the series (taken from various timelines within the story), we get the following episodes:
"A Dump of My Own" (Season 3): With four people and one fixture to share, Al imagines a bathroom all his own. Thanks to a little DIY and a legendary Ferguson toilet, he makes his flushing fantasy a reality. Score: 85
"You Better Shop Around -- Part 1"(Season 5): When the Bundy's lack of air conditioning makes life at home a living hell, they decide to live in the nearest, nicest ice cold facility: their local supermarket. Score: 80
"You Better Shop Around -- Part 2" (Season 5): While living at the grocery store, the Bundys win a 1,000,000th customer contest that Marcy believes belongs to her. So the store has them battle in a timed $1000 shopping spree for top honors. Score: 70
"No Chicken, No Check" (Season 8): Kelly and Bud are sick of sharing Al's dilapidated car. They combine their funds and buy a vehicle of their own, but they soon learn that carpooling has its disadvantages, especially on dates. Score: 75
"I'll See You in Court" (Season 3): Hoping to spice up their sex lives, the Bundys visit the seedy Hop On Inn. There they witness a homemade porn film starring their neighbors. When they learn that they too have been taped, it's a trip to court for a little justice. Score: 83
It's an odd thing, but Married with Children has held up better than most series from the era, refusing to die out and date like Cheers, The Cosby Show, or something equally as obtuse like Night Court. One can argue that in our Jerry Springer New World Order a show like this fits right in, whereas episodic television filled with subtlety and smarts merely rings hollow and haughty, but this would be selling this risqué series short. If ever there was need for proof that sex and stupid innuendo sells, Married with Children is Exhibit A. Aside from something like Three's Company, it's hard to imagine another show that traded on the tawdry so readily. But this doesn't mean that the only reason the show works is because of its redundant referencing to T&A.
Without a doubt, the best thing about Married with Children is the underrated comic performance by Ed O'Neil in the role of Al Bundy. Moving between cartoon corniness and manic anxiety, Ed wears every defeat, every slam against his sexual prowess and personal hygiene all over his harried hounddog face. With a simple line reading or reaction shot, O'Neil can achieve big laughs, and the rest of the cast sometimes seems out of sync with his harried histrionics. Indeed, everyone from Christina Applegate to Katey Sagal seems stuck in his or her own universe of humor. The magic of the show was how these differing comic cosmos were combined to create one sometimes stellar galaxy of guffaws.
Of the five measly offerings here (four if you consider "You Better Shop Around" as just one big episode), it's the older shows, featuring David Garrison's Steve Rhodes, that are the best. The reasons are many: the show had yet to believe its own hype, so the obvious audience pandering for catcalls and hoots is absent; Garrison, a trained Broadway actor, matched well with O'Neil and Amanda Bearse (Marcy); but perhaps the main rationale for the early episodes' success was a decision to play it more straight than slow witted. Married with Children, like later Simpsons, scuttled the situation out of the sitcom formula and simply traded on their characters' inherent comedy strengths and weaknesses. So all Al jokes eventually became about impotence, Peg was reduced to a frustrated fraud, et cetera. There is also some overreaching in the later works. Season 5's "You Better Shop Around" breaks a cardinal rule of television -- unless it's performed by individuals of incredible skill and timing, slapstick should never be tried on the small screen. Physical comedy needs a combination of scope and dexterity and people paid to read faux funny lines in goofy accents are not up to the challenge. When the Bundy's are reclining in Aisle Four, stealing snacks and cracking wise, the show is wicked and witty. But the minute we shift to the race for comestibles, the stupid pratfalls defeat the purpose.
Perhaps what many fans of the show will be most interested in is the inclusion of the infamous "lost episode" entitled "I'll See You in Court." Never shown as part of the sitcom's original run and only available in markets around the world with syndication, the censored episode (which finally did see an FX cable debut this past June) now appears here, uncut and ready for revelation. Unfortunately, what was once irascibly ribald in 1989 is now so sedate as to be comatose in 2003. Actually, there is a minor racy undertone to the show (it's all about sex, see) and several discussions about spicing up the bedroom romps of the main characters. But aside from a rather obvious set of jokes about Al's performance capabilities (both pro and con), there is nothing here to warrant a trip into the video void (except perhaps the completely unrealistic courtroom portion of the show). A better reason for this episode's exile would be Terry Rakalta. In 1989, when this episode would have aired, it was right at the height of her boycott battle with Fox. Seems this housewife's vocalizing caused the multinational communications conglomerate to balk. The pressure from her grassroots campaign is probably most responsible for "I'll See You in Court" being yanked.
In a move one would expect more from Fox than Columbia TriStar, this DVD presentation, or greatest hits style packaging, is all that's currently available for fans of the show (end of October should see the release of a complete first season box set). The rationale behind such a sporadic presentation is dubious at best. These shows are neither the best the series has to offer nor the "most outrageous." An average ten minutes of The Parkers has more offensive and shocking content than this disc. On the digital side, the visual presentation is also a little wanting. The image is soft and sometimes fuzzy, as if there was no attempt to remaster or adjust contrast levels. As with most TV fare, the sound is merely serviceable. And don't go looking here for great bonus content. Aside from an ad for Frank Sinatra CDs (?) and a trailer for Applegate's The Sweetest Thing, there is no Married mementos or cast commentary tracks. Nothing to add extra value to this DVD presentation. If you are a true fan of the show, then perhaps you should wait until the full season sets hit the stands. Buying something like Married with Children: The Most Outrageous Episodes -- Vol. 1 will only whet your appetite for more Al and the gang, something a package like this can barely provide.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* A Salute to Sinatra
* Inclusion of the Lost Episode "I'll See You in Court"
* Official Site