Judge Aaron Bossig composes the third chapter in his complaint against Sony's DVD division.
Our reviews of Married With Children: The Complete Second Season (published April 21st, 2004), Married With Children: The Complete Third Season (published March 30th, 2005), Married With Children: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 26th, 2005), Married with Children: Seasons 1 and 2 (published February 2nd, 2014), Married With Children: The Most Outrageous Episodes Volume 2 (published July 7th, 2003), and Married With Children: The Most Outrageous Episodes Volume 1 (published November 6th, 2003) are also available.
"No, what reeks is this facade that we call Labor Day. Honk if you hate Labor Day! You know what else reeks? Families reek. Honk if you hate families! Because they are truly the reason that Labor Day reeks. Once a year, they're on these highways and byways, and what do they say? 'We hate this! We hate you! Idiot! Moron! Buffoon Daddy!' But what about us, the ones who truly labor? We're on this stink road every day, choking and wheezing, marching along like lemmings to a horrible, screaming death. Who cries for us, Argentina? Not our families. Well, we can't expect that. The yoke on the oxen feels no guilt. But what we can expect is that on our one lousy, stinkin' day off traffic can move us to our lousy, stinkin', pathetic destinations. Our polluted beaches, our burning forests, our wheezing grandmas. To our family barbecue with Uncle Otto and his runny eye. But does the Highway Department prepare for us? Are they out here helping us? Are they out there in front of us, by that first damn car that caused this traffic jam, saying 'Step on the gas you moron! Let the twenty million people pass!' They are not. Why? Because they don't care. And that, my friends, is what really reeks!"—Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill)
If you've read my reviews of the last two seasons of Married With Children, you'll know I celebrated the arrival of one of my favorite television series on DVD. You'll also know I've cried foul at Sony's changing the original theme song. Each time a new season of Married With Children arrives at my doorstep, I continue to hope that someone in power will see the error of their ways, and release the show on DVD with the "Love and Marriage" theme song intact.
Sadly, that day is not today. Season 5 also contains the cheap replacement theme. That leaves my review to focus on the show itself.
Facts of the Case
In reviewing Season 3, I noted that the third season of a TV show is usually a time of maturity. The show has found its formula and is firing on all cylinders. Likewise, by Season 5, the formula has been worked into perfection. By now, the challenge is not in how to make a good show, but how to keep it interesting. After five years of making the same show, the cast and crew have to start playing with the formula and take the show in different directions, or they risk becoming stale. For Married With Children, Season 5 brought plenty of new ideas. The Bundys' world was expanded, some of the jokes became more cartoony, and a new character was introduced.
Great efforts were made to take the characters out of their familiar living room setting and expand the comic possibilities by placing them in new surroundings. Season 5 features not one, but two multi-part episodes, each of which takes the Bundys to new locations. In "Route 666," Al and company travel to a ghost town, where a shifty prospector sells them a gold mine. Even better, Season 5 contains "You Better Shop Around," a two-part episode which consistently makes "Favorite Episode" lists for many Married With Children fans. In this episode, the Bundys and the D'Arcys compete for a grocery store shopping spree. Jefferson and Marcy put themselves through a rigorous training regimen, while Al and Peg counter their athletics with a Ginsu-bladed hot rod shopping cart. Seeing Al rush through the grocery store in his old high school football uniform is hilarious, as is watching Marcy and Jefferson try to outrun the Cart-of-Death. Absurd? Maybe, but its humor so over-the-top that fans continually look to this as one of the show's best moments.
Starting in this season, the writers occasionally make episodes with much broader comedy. Earlier, shows were being made about Al winning money in a horse race, or Peggy having to suffer through a 9-to-5 job. Now, the show makes an occasional episode about space aliens stealing Al's socks, or Al dressing up like Elmer Fudd and hunting a rabbit. Married with Children was comfortable enough in its niche to break away from the "typical" sitcom stories and go for humor wherever it could be found. One week, the show could be about Al sneaking off to the nudie bar; the next, he'd be flying off the roof in homage to Wile E. Coyote. Realism had given way to surrealism.
All this was possible because Married With Children had become a long-running success. Four years of traditional (if risqué) sitcom stories had earned the writers a chance to play around. By establishing what the Bundys consider their "ordinary" world to be, the writers are now given opportunities to top themselves. When I consulted jumptheshark.com, the internet's most famous forum for people discussing when TV shows begin to decline, I noted that many fans consider events from this season to be the beginning of the end for Married With Children. Some thought that the more cartoony episodes meant that the show was becoming "a parody of itself." Others noted that the constant guest stars and the spin-off attempt were distracting. I contend that's it's simply a mark of a show that had achieved success. Popular shows attract better talent, and the humor of the show is enhanced by the unexpected appearances of Jerry Mathers and Bubba Smith, not to mention numerous Playboy Playmates.
Of course, the biggest upset and the greatest risk taken by the writers was the introduction of Ted McGinley (Love Boat) as Jefferson D'Arcy. With Steve having left in the previous season, it had been fun watching Marcy living as a single woman, but the theme the show had always been finding humor in married life. To remain true to the show, a new husband for Marcy had to be found. Replacing a main character has been the death knoll of many TV shows, yet Married With Children not only made the transition, it actually became stronger than ever. While a bit different in tone, the "Jefferson" years became as much fun as the "Steve" years. Al and Peg no longer lived in the shadow of Steve's fabulous career and solid work ethic. Having Jefferson for a neighbor meant living near someone just as lazy and pathetic as themselves. Of course, to balance it out, Marcy had to become the head of the household.
Marcy had been changing throughout the years. In the first season, she was a naive newlywed who lived for her career as a banker. By Season 5, Marcy was in the middle of her transition from a vocal Republican into the advocate wearing a "Cleaner, Greener Chicago" shirt. Adding a new husband to the show went well simply because Marcy herself was much more than the character she was five years earlier. Jefferson and Marcy had achieved a comic dynamic equal to the one Marcy had with Steve.
Five years in, and Married with Children had crushed controversy, kept its edge, and survived a major cast change. This, clearly, was no ordinary TV show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yes, they changed the music on this season. Blech.
Also, the lack of extra features on these sets is really starting to hurt. Season 5 offers the perfect opportunity for some extras. Why not offer some audio commentaries from the cast? This season also tried to launch a spin-off…why not include some episodes of Top of the Heap? In this show, Al's slimy friend Charlie Verducci (Joseph Bologna, Big Daddy) is an unemployed man trying to share an apartment with his less-than-brilliant son Vinny (Matt LeBlanc, Friends). Not only is Top of the Heap a fun, if small, part of the Married with Children universe, but a few episodes could have given us a chance to see Matt LeBlanc and Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) in roles that were very similar to characters that would later make them famous.
There are lots of great ideas for extras in these sets. Not offering anything just seems cheap on Sony's part.
If you were going to buy any single season of Married With Children, Season 5 should be the one. I can complain about the changed music all day, but the truth is, this season captures the cast at their best and the writers in rare form. These 25 episodes contain a little bit of everything that made the show great. Not only that, the video quality of the set seems to be a hair better than that of the previous four sets. If I advised a comedy lover to not buy this set because of the theme song, I would be doing them a great disservice.
I still miss Frank Sinatra, though.
Sony's theme song is as guilty as ever, but the rest of the set is free to go!
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