Friday, April 27, 2012


"I tried to get Al to fix the driveway a long time ago. But his philosophy is why improve a home you're only going to live in anyway?"

Married... With Children was the first hit of the fledgeling Fox Channel back in the late 80s. Most of their content was lousy, but some of it was good enough it helped the network not just survive, but prosper. Starting up a new TV network when cable was really becoming a powerhouse was a gutsy, some said stupid, move, but Fox had a plan: edgy shows targeted at 20 something guys with content you couldn't see anywhere else.

Married... With Children is kind of a cliche now but back then it was fresh and unusual. Instead of a happy family with loving parents, a strong, smart dad, and fairly obedient kids, you had the opposite. Dad was a lazy good-for-nothing who didn't really like mom. The kids were rebellious. One was a little bratty smart kid, the other a vapid tart. Mom was lousy at cooking and looked more like a mob wife. The neighbors were obnoxiously perfect.

So many things about the show clicked so perfectly, from Al bashing the head of would be boyfriends as they were shoved out the house to Peg's hapless scheming, to Christina Applegate's beauty and good-natured dimness (she's not really that stupid, although to this day its hard to convince myself of it). It was a huge hit, and ran for eleven years, from April 5, 1987, to June 9, 1997. Its still on reruns and still is funny, although with the lack of cell phones, internet, console games (not that Al could afford any), and modern clothing it seems a bit dated these days.

And its still on the air around the world. Leslie Kasperowicz at Cinema Blend tells how far around the world it goes:
Ever wonder what the Bundys would like like in say, Germany? Or perhaps Hungary? A Spanish Kelly? Well Neatorama has the goods on these and many more versions of the show. Twenty-five years after it first aired, Married…With Children is still influencing television. It’s been remade in these and many other countries around the world, with the characters and even the set as recognizable to Fox viewers as the original.

Check out the pictures from around the world; even Peg herself has got to be jealous of the height the Hungarian version of her character is getting on that hair. And you have to love the literal translation of the Hungarian title: A gruesomely decent family in Budapest. I think Fox missed the boat on that title.

The Polish version has been on the air since 1999, which is pretty successful, while the British version only saw 7 episodes (let’s face it, the Bundy’s aren’t a British bunch). Russia actually translated the scripts from the original for their series, which ran for many years.
Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and the UK all have run or are still running versions of Married... and almost all of them were hits.

There's something universal about the worn down high school star dad who just wants some peace and rest when he comes home from an awful job, the wife who thought she married a star and got a schlub, but just wants more attention from her husband, and the loser kids who keep disappointing.

Its an easy translation, you just need an average guy, a cute daughter, an annoying son, and a wife who wants to be glamorous but can't seem to quite pull it off. And despite all their flaws they're all likeable and fun. And it works so well because it deals with ordinary life, not grand sweeping issues, Very Special Episodes, politics, or anything that makes you roll your eyes and switch channels.

These days every sitcom has basically the same formula that Friends established and was so successful with, just like in the 80s they were all following the Family Ties/Cosby Show template. That was shattered with hilarious success by Married... With Children and certainly the industry could use something fresh and interesting today. Fox gave us The Simpsons, Married..., 21 Jump Street, X-Files, Cops, America's Most Wanted, Beverly Hills 90210, and In Living Color all within five years of each other. That's not just a great line up of shows, but an astounding level of innovation and creativity.

These days Fox is a lot less innovative in its programming and you have to go to cable for shows like Pawn Stars, Breaking Bad, Justified, and Sons of Guns. But at least someone out there is trying to do something interesting and unusual.

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