Fox ran the pilot of Married… with Children in honor of its 25th anniversary, and the broadcast may have led some people to wonder what anyone ever saw in this show — which ran for eleven seasons. That’s ten seasons longer than Firefly.
The pilot takes place over the course of a single day. (Is this a sit-com pilot trope? I’ll have to think about that.) It starts as many family sit-com pilots do, with the morning routine. Before heading off to school, the pint-size son harasses his teenaged sister, while their mother delivers a flaccid reprimand. As they head out, the husband, Al enters from upstairs dressed for work with a bandage on his hand. He’s injured and, in what will become an incessant theme, his problem is his wife Peg’s fault. She’s not accepting any blame, however, ferociously defending her right to do whatever the hell she wants.
We now know these two lovebirds as Katy Sagal (Futurama) and Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), the daughter played by Christina Applegate (most recently, Up All Night) and… some other guy. The actor playing the son is David Faustino, but his resume pales in comparison to his co-stars’.
Whatever you think of the show’s trite premise, you can see what was groundbreaking about it, and how it helped brand the Fox network as the rebellious alternative to the big 3. (That’s right kids, there were only 4 channels.)
It’s like they took all the regular 80s sit-coms — the Cosby Shows and the Family Ties — and boiled off all of the love and fatherly lessons and left just the parts where the families bitch and belittle each other.
The jokes aren’t exactly hilarious, though some of them are pretty unexpected for the time: “Sorry honey, I didn’t hear you. I was just thinking of killing myself.” There’s a helpful laugh track in case you need assistance with when to chortle.
Even adjusting for television comedy hyperbole, you have to wonder why these two characters are married. They are just awful to each other. And wasn’t this the 80s, the decade of divorce? Edgy as this may have been, it would have gotten old. Then, act 2 finds Al and Peg welcoming house guests. A newly married couple, Jeff and Marcy, living next door is coming over to hang. The jaded older couple immediately sets about corrupting this nice young lovebirds. (A later terrible Fox show, ‘Til Death, would stretch the juxtaposition of these two types of couples into 4 painful seasons.)
Peg doles out helpful advice like, “If they enjoy eating and drinking at home too much, they’re never gonna take you anywhere.” Al’s guidance for Jeff isn’t much different. And just like that, Al and Peg are brought together and there is something like love, even joy, between them. Without concern for whether their kids are out past curfew, they trot up the stairs to get busy. So there must have been just enough love there to keep people interested.