Rolling Stone (Magazine):
Article about Married... with Children

Last update April 13, 1998

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Transcribed by Ralph Morse

From Rolling Stone Magazine issue #555, dated June 29th, 1989, so the article was written right around the end of season 3. There was a 3.5" x 4.5" picture of Al and Peg on the couch; the caption said "Married to the slob: Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) and wife Peg (Katey Sagal) at home."

By Paul Simms

Bad odors are to 'Married ... With Children' what blood was to the Grand Guignol. Al Bundy's wife, Peg, carps about his foot odor. His friends belittle his bodily hygiene. Peg cooks bad-smelling meals. The yard is full of dog crap. Potty. Caca. Doody. And so on.

"The show was sold on the premise that no one is ever going to learn anything watching it," says creator and executive producer Michael G. Moye. "We're not going to raise anybody's consciousness. It's basically for the man and woman that comes home beat to shit every day and wants to turn on the TV and laugh."

Moye and the show's other creator and executive producer, Ron Leavitt, have kept their word. Al, (played by Ed O'Neill) is a shoe salesman burdened with a horny wife, Peg (Katey Sagal), a slutty teenage daughter, Kelly (Christina Applegate), and a hormone-oozing pubescent son, Bud (David Faustino). The daughter talks about getting laid. Al tells Peg she never satisfies him sexually. Peg tells Al he never satisfies her sexually or financially. And then Al goes to the bathroom to take a dump.

Actually, to enjoy a dump. Al likes nothing better than to get up off the ratty living-room couch, tuck the sports section under his arm and parade upstairs like a conquering hero to linger over a nice long one. It's a running joke on the show.
Get it? Apparently, millions of Americans do. Married ... With Children is Fox's top-rated sitcom; it gets more eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old viewers than any other show in its time slot.

"You go into Western-wear stores and they quote entire lines from Sunday's show," Leavitt says. "I mean, they've memorized the goddamn show!"

"When people see my Married ... With Children jacket," Moye says, "they'll cross the street in the rain and traffic to say, 'That's my favorite show. I hate TV, and that's the only show I watch.'"

The show does seem to inspire a strange level of enthusiasm among its fans. Al gets a roar of approval from the studio audience every time he heads upstairs to the bathroom. They hoot every time Kelly exits, because they can see her jean-covered bottom. And they roar with laughter at the steady barrage of vibrator jokes, dog-doo jokes, impotence jokes and other single-entendres that pass for conversation on Married ... With Children. They never groan at the ridiculously obvious punch lines, and they certainly make no distinction between verbal wit and a new slang word for breasts.

Many people, however, find the show childish.

And some think it's even harmful. Terry Rakolta, a Michigan housewife, objected to Married ... With Children so strongly that she organized a letter-writing campaign, made major corporations reconsider their decisions to advertise on the show and basically got it more press coverage than any P.R. agent could have.

"That was a joy," Leavitt groans. "My theory is that somewhere someone spoke to her and said, 'Hey. Guys are having fun. Stop them.'"

"At first," Moye says, "it pretty much amused me, because here was one woman's opinion and suddenly it was on the front page of the New York Times. I mean, did anybody kill anybody in Lebanon today? This is the best you can do for the front page? It's not my responsibility to raise her children or anyone else's children. I'm having a hard enough time raising my own. I haven't been quite convinced yet that letting a kid watch Married ... With Children will turn him into Ted Bundy when he grows up."

Despite the controversy, Leavitt and Moye say they don't plan to tone down the writing in the future. "Actually, we're going to delve into bestiality next season," Moye says. "No, I'm just kidding. Believe it or not, we do censor ourselves."

Not enough, according to the Fox censors. Earlier this season, for example, Leavitt and Moye submitted a script in which Kelly joins the cheerleading squad. The female coach (who seems to have taken a shine to Kelly) invites her over for "the annual pajama party," saying, "We'll give each other crew cuts."

"A note came back that this was obviously a pussy-shaving joke," Leavitt says incredulously. "We said 'What? Do the marines know about this?' These guys are sicker than we are."

"So we took out the crew-cut line," says Moye, "and put in 'So we'll all get together at my house. You know what I mean?' Which made it even more graphic."

Leavitt and Moye say their original inspiration for the show sprang from their hatred of sitcoms like Family Ties, which all too often devolved into laughless, weepy kitchen therapy sessions in which Dad and Alex finally mustered up the courage to trade I love yous because the family pet or grandmother had died.

"We'd see commercials for all these shows where people would hug all the time," says Moye. "And we thought, 'Jesus Christ, isn't there a show where a married couple can not always say, "I love you," every five minutes?'"

"Is every family happy?" Leavitt asks. "Do they all dress well? Do both Mom and Dad have great jobs in every house in the world? We didn't when we were growing up. I mean, you watch the dinner on The Cosby Show, where everybody's enjoying each other's company and all that. When we were growing up, dinner meant you grab the food, you get screamed at, and you get the fuck out."

Moye and Leavitt were also tired of sitcoms that had become twenty-six-minute morality plays designed to teach children and Americans in general that honesty is the best policy.

"I can't believe that you need your morality taught by the kids on Facts of Life," Leavitt says.

"Yeah," Moye says. "If you want to watch a show and learn about premarital sex, let Alf teach you."

Grotesque, cartoonish and unpleasant, the characters on Married ... With Children are the adult equivalent of Garbage Pail Kids. "You can look at these people and say, 'At least I'm better than them,'" Moye says. But at the same time, Leavitt and Moye think viewers identify with the Bundys. "Here are two kids who don't agonize over cheating on a test and go talk to Mom and Dad to straighten things out," Leavitt says.

Moye agrees proudly, "People will say, 'You know, my uncle Henry puts his hands down his pants when he watches TV. I thought he was the only one who did that.' There's always someone saying, 'You must have been peeking into our living-room window.' I have yet to hear, 'Cosby is just like my uncle Herbert.' Or 'Roseanne is just like my aunt Sadie.'"

And what about Roseanne?

"She's pretty fat, isn't she?" Leavitt says, laughing. "Oh, you mean the show? I don't know. I saw it a couple a times, and it seemed kind of boring."

The two shows are frequently compared, primarily because both families are blue-collar and argue openly.

"It's much closer to Cosby than it is to us," Leavitt says. They're very sweet and fat."

Moye adds, "The only similarity is that both households make under thirty-five grand a year."

The major difference is that a lot more people watch Roseanne, which currently rivals Cosby as America's top-rated show. Also, viewers seem to laugh along with Roseanne. They don't laugh along with the Bundys, because the Bundys are stupid idiot people.

Those who hate Married ... With Children will probably never understand its appeal. According to Leavitt and Moye, the bottom line is escapism. Or as Leavitt says, "Personally, I like to watch a show and forget that AIDS exists. It's like 'Hey, leave me alone for a half hour.'"

That sounds a lot like Al Bundy's frame of mind when he gets up off the couch, tucks the sports section under his arm and heads upstairs....


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