The Ten Best MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the continuation of our series on the best episodes of Married… With Children (1987-1997, FOX). The entire run has been released on DVD!

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 12.53.14 AM

A dysfunctional family coexists under one roof in the Chicago suburbs. Married… With Children stars ED O’NEILL as Al Bundy, KATEY SAGAL as Peggy Bundy, AMANDA BEARSE as Marcy Rhoades D’Arcy, TED McGINLEY as Jefferson D’Arcy, CHRISTINA APPLEGATE as Kelly Bundy, and DAVID FAUSTINO as Bud Bundy.

enhanced-25248-1410358490-4

After having bid farewell to its original premise during the middle of the fourth season, Married… With Children enters its fifth year with a looseness regarding intention; no longer does the show have to satirize or mock (although it will continue to do so throughout this narratively transitional year) as part of its list of primary objectives – now it’s ready to play with the characters and soar to new comedic heights. Indeed, I consider Season Five the series’ peak of hilarity, representing the most effective use of these characters within the big laugh story template that the scripts will employ throughout the next several seasons – the show’s middle era. As you’ll soon see, I’m not one who’s viciously critical of said middle era, despite those upcoming years not working as well as the fifth, which occupies the space between two very different periods in the show’s history – the fourth and sixth years – and does not deserve to be less associated with one than the other. In fact, despite Season Five’s standing as a paradigm of big, consistent laughs (as part of the year’s baseline quality), I find it false to undermine the aesthetic continuity that exists between this year and the sixth. (Stay tuned…) Of course, even though we can acknowledge that the latter, along with its successor (the seventh season), operate within similar frameworks as the fifth (as least as far as the show’s sense of humor is concerned), those upcoming years are each marred by both bad macro decisions on a structural level and evolving characterizations that broaden alongside the narratives featured during this era, which sometimes ill-support said broad narratives.  In other words, Season Five gets to represent the series’ peak because it not only introduces this new comedic identity (which is bigger and bolder than ever before, as preordained from the moment the show said goodbye to Steve and its premise), but because it doesn’t suffer from the mistakes made in upcoming years — when the show is still comedically on point, but fails to meet other metrics.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.19.06 AM

But let’s not delude ourselves into underplaying the continual broadening the occurs throughout this season, which again, sets the template to which the next several years will, comedically, adhere. Now, every season since Married… With Children’s first has endured progressive broadening throughout the course of their runs, with the premieres and finales illustrating a sometimes ambitious evolution; Season Five is no exception, as the year’s lunacy only heightens as the episodes mount. By the end of the year, the show has reached a place where absurdity is part of the show’s own reality, and like a live-action cartoon (more on this sentiment in weeks ahead), the show embraces a different kind of logic than one would find in most sitcoms purportedly based in our reality. (The Bundys and D’Arcys get Gold Fever? Really?) As always, when the show can humorously justify such ridiculousness, it’s easy to forgive and excuse affronts to common sense that otherwise shouldn’t be made (at least, not without a direct mission statement that makes explicitly clear to the audience the identity shifts necessary for this kind of storytelling– which are, here, still nebulous). Personally, as I’ve expressed in recent weeks, my preference remains for the years that boast some premise connectivity (not overbearingly so, but enough to focus the characters) and don’t require as many logistical leaps of faith for the audience. However, because the humor in this era is so strong, we, the audience (my skeptical self included) root especially loudly for the show to justify the hijinks (and even the gimmicks – this show was never above employing tropes from the shows it was once ostensibly designed to spoof). Season Five, Gold Fever aside, mostly succeeds. (But note my honorable mentions, which include some well-liked episodes saturated with leaps I just can’t make, believing them — based on where the show itself is and has been — to be unmotivated.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.32.22 PM

So now that we’ve contextualized Season Five’s quality within both the series’ standards and my own personal standards, it’s time to discuss something of paramount importance: my feelings regarding the midseason introduction of Marcy’s new husband Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley), a pretty boy conman to whom she is drunkenly wed. Well, at the risk of evading a direct answer, I have to note that Jefferson doesn’t really have much of a character here in Season Five, so it’s difficult to properly determine whether or not he comedically works. He’ll always remain more thinly crafted in comparison to the other veterans (and that is probably my primary sentiment regarding his character: not enough individual definition), but there will be more of a characterization presented in the years ahead. In fact, most of what we come to know about his character will be supplied in the sixth season, some of which, ironically, will be invalidated as having occurred in a dream. (Stay tuned…) In the meantime, all we can tell here is that Jefferson, structurally, is a fine addition to the ensemble – Marcy spent almost a full season single (which had its laughs), and now she needs another scene partner and ally (as does Al). Additionally, and expectedly, we appreciate that Jefferson is different from Steve in physical appearance, background, and we suppose, temperament. He’ll be in the same position as Steve – the right-hand man to two people whose relationship will grow increasingly more contentious, Al and Marcy, but his laughs will be different (as they should be – especially since there’s no longer a premise that needs to be fulfilled through the use of the couples). Interestingly, Jefferson is as mercenary as Marcy, but as a mostly unemployed gigolo, he exists in that relationship with qualities equal parts Al and Peg, meaning that the two couples’ dynamic is complicated. The ensemble opportunities suggested by his necessary structural inclusion – although, not quite known in Season Five –  forever overshadow the characterization issues.

Clarion_Ledger_Tue__Jan_1__1991_

However, another thing about Jefferson’s introduction is that it helps ratchet up the show’s growing sense of camp, as the writers mine humor, and even stories, from self-reflexive identity-based sources. I teased last week that Season Five finds these ultra-knowing sensibilities starting to creep into the episodic happenings, and although, as with everything, they’ll be more broadly felt in years ahead, they’re certainly present in a more obvious manner than in previous weeks. (Of course, one could argue they were always present; Married… With Children was always winking at the audience as part of its TV-related premise – only now the winks are about character and their utilization.) Generally, this type of humor is a gimmick, so I judge it by the same standards: does it hurt the characters’ integrity? And by integrity, I don’t mean our ability to see them as real. (They not only exist on a TV show, but exist on a satirical TV show, which never touted them as “real” – even when the show was more “grounded” as a result of being less extreme.) Rather, I mean the knowledge of the characterizations that the show has previously supplied to the audience; do these gimmicks destroy their necessary foundations? The answer here, once again, is usually “no” — and it will be for a while… but not forever. Frankly, most of the leaps made now are story-related, which comes as no surprise given the evaporated premise. Now the show is simply following comedic characters, and in this very transitional period, the scripts are almost ready to acknowledge and play to the fact that viewers are relating to the Bundys instead of seeing them as satirical; there’ll be more to discuss next week when the series’ identity-rooted satire is close-to-forsaken once and for all… In the meantime, Season Five finds the show at its comedic zenith, discovers the broadness that will persist throughout the durable (but less well-rendered) middle years, and isn’t yet standing in its own way. So, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.

christina_applegate_2

Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that 23 of the 26 episodes this season are directed by Gerry Cohen. Any highlighted episodes not directed by Cohen will be noted below.

 

01) Episode 81: “We’ll Follow The Sun” (Aired: 09/23/90)

The Bundys get stuck in Labor Day traffic.

Written by Michael G. Moye & Ron Leavitt

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.37.36 PM

As was the case last year, Season Five opens with a Labor Day themed installment, but the difference in tone is obvious. Enthusiastic doesn’t even begin to describe the audience’s reception to the Bundys anymore, and while last season found this indelible relationship blossoming, this year takes us into territory best described as wild. The response eventually has an affect on the performances and the material, something starting to become evident in this very funny and very knowing season premiere. Scripted by the series’ creators, the characters are perfectly rendered and the simple theatrical premise makes a great excuse to get the four Bundys stuck in the same place at the same time. By now, the show knows exactly what the audience wants and it delivers — cartoon violence, TV satire, ribald sex jokes. It’s all here, folks!

02) Episode 85: “The Dance Show” (Aired: 10/21/90)

Peg meets a handsome stranger at a dance club.

Written by Arthur Silver

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.36.44 PM

TV lovers rejoice! Sam McMurray, a regular on FOX’s then recently cancelled The Tracey Ullman Show, guest stars in this episode as a man who takes a shine to Peggy on the dance floor at a club. Little does Peg know that her boogying beau is a gay man, whose boyfriend, played by Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson, another FOX resident) is none too happy about the arrangement. The comedy in this installment comes from Al’s association with Castellaneta’s character, who comes to the Bundy residence to discuss the problem and eventually cooks and cleans for Al — all the things a good wife (unlike Peg) does for her man. The play on gender roles is supreme, primarily because of Al’s response to the action. Laughs, unique, memorable.

03) Episode 87: “Married… With Aliens” (Aired: 11/04/90)

Al believes a group of aliens are after his socks.

Written by Ellen L. Fogle

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.36.19 PM

When discussing the show’s adoption of a tongue-in-cheek sense of awareness about its identity, this episode first comes to mind. Not only does the story find a lot of comedy from the audience’s understanding of Al’s character, but the very premise, and the laughs it seeks, are reliant on the show’s mythology — specifically with regard to Al and feet. There’s something inherently campy about the show’s use of such a goofy plot, and the sheer absurdity of Al being visited by aliens (ALIENS, yet!) further illustrates a deliberate severance from traditionally realistic modes of storytelling. And yet, we’re still in an era in which the laughs remain MOSTLY character-driven (often with the campy structures tonally applied on top), rendering the episode somehow bizarrely sensical, veritably endearing, and shockingly, a classic.

04) Episode 89: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (Aired: 11/18/90)

Al changes his demeanor after the neighborhood ladies label him a hunk.

Written by Kevin Curran

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.35.39 PM

My pick for the year’s strongest, I have to note that this is probably one of the most character-oriented and least absurd installments from the fifth season — somewhat of a surprise given that its author, Curran, is someone whose entries I’d categorize as having pushed the show’s storytelling further and further away from logic. The premise has Al gaining a reputation among the neighborhood as being a hunk, a development that chagrins Peg — particularly when Marcy, quite comedically, finds herself attracted to him — and delights Al, who changes himself as a result of his new image. This very amusing premise, which does require a knowledge of the characters and how they usually are rendered, is married to both a laugh-heavy script and a period in the show’s history that allows this story to shine. Another classic — and proof that the show is still able to balance stratospheric laughs with stories that, while typically bold, don’t alienate common sense, using the self-awareness in a way that’s not foundationally corrosive!

05) Episode 92: “Married… With Who?” (Aired: 01/06/91)

Marcy wakes up married to a stranger.

Written by Ellen L. Fogle

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.32.44 PM

This is the narrative turning point for the series, which is often broken down (in terms of reputation) as the “Steve era” and the “Jefferson era.” The so-called Jefferson era begins now, when Marcy wakes up next to a stranger who she learns is her new husband. The best gag from the episode is the simple revelation that her name will now be Marcy D’Arcy, and although there might be a bit of a logistical stretch in believing both she and he, who is discovered to be a recently paroled white collar criminal, would aim to stay betrothed, Fogle’s script keeps the comedy and the story’s fundamental interest level so pronounced that we don’t have time to kvetch. Additionally, both Al and Marcy need this new character for story, so it’s all worth it.

06) Episode 93: “The Godfather” (Aired: 02/03/91)

Al becomes powerful when Kelly dates a local politician.

Written by Ralph R. Farquhar

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.31.24 PM

A parody of, you guessed it, The Godfather (1972), I am conflicted about the nature of this episode’s existence. I think, as a basic rule, the satire of singular properties is always a risky move (for any show, even going back to The Jack Benny Program, which we’ve been discussing on Wildcard Wednesdays) not just because some audience members HAVEN’T seen the source material, but also because individual parodies can be confining, forcing the characters to contort into scenarios that sensibly don’t jibe. In the case of this offering, which only goes overboard in one single scene (based on the way Al responds to the story), the premise begins sensibly, is bolstered by a comedic script, and the Godfather scene ends up being the episode’s funniest, thus proving that sometimes these risks do indeed pay off! Surprisingly, a hit.

07) Episode 95: “A Man’s Castle” (Aired: 02/17/91)

Peg decorates Al’s private bathroom.

Written by Stacie Lipp

screen-shot-2016-08-06-at-1-29-12-pm

Admittedly, this was the episode whose presence on this list was the least assured, for — as you’ll note by the honorable mentions — there are funnier, more memorable, and generally better liked outings than this, even though, unlike this, they’re all flawed in some considerable manner. This entry, the second by Stacie Lipp, gains my favor simply because, aside from a consistent tone and no major missteps, its story is all about the dynamic between Al and Peg, deriving its comedy from their relationship. It feels a lot like an early Bundys vs. Rhoades entry, in which gender lines are drawn in a battle of the sexes (although of course, there are no longer any Rhoades around, leaving the Bundys to enact this conflict themselves). So, for its use of character and its solidly constructed, simpler story, its standing is elevated. Worthwhile.

08) Episode 96: “All Night Security Dude” (Aired: 02/24/91)

Al gets a job as Polk High’s security guard.

Written by Glenn Eichler & Peter Gaffney

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.30.48 PM

Although written by a pair of freelancers — like a handful of episodes at the conclusion of the fifth season (in an attempt to expand the staff) — this installment benefits from employing a sense of history, specifically with regard to Al Bundy and the legend of his time as a Polk High star athlete. This element, always a part of his identity but really maximized for comedic use beginning in the third season, is among the most realistic and relatable parts of Al’s character, and any episode that makes good use of this notion is automatically bolstered. Additionally, this installment merits inclusion here for the guest appearance of Bubba Smith as Al’s old football rival, whom he must challenge in a mock game to regain the school’s stolen prize trophy.

09) Episode 99: “Kids! Wadaya Gonna Do?” (Aired: 04/07/91)

Kelly babysits a group of kids while the Bundys have a movie night at the D’Arcys’.

Written buy Ellen L. Fogle | Directed by Linda Day

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.27.40 PM

One of Fogle’s strengths in the early seasons came in her depiction of the Bundy/Rhoades dynamic, and as that component of the series diminished until finally becoming extinct last year, the addition of Jefferson finally gives her the chance to, once again, play with the two-couple construct that she does so well. Not only did she helm Jefferson’s introduction episode above, but she also takes the reins for this interesting excursion, the first to really use them as a foursome (and in the process, attempt to give the new character some needed definition). The gag with the audience being able to hear all four of their private thoughts is an easy, but delightful, highlight of the season, and helps the episode overcome a mediocre A-story.

10) Episode 101: “You Better Shop Around (I)” (Aired: 04/14/91)

During a heatwave, the Bundys move into the supermarket.

Written by J.D. Brangato & Michael Ferris

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.27.13 PM

Season Five’s back half features two back-to-back two parters, both of them taking the series to a place of broadness that has heretofore been unseen. The supermarket entries, of which this is the first part, are far superior to the Gold Fever entries, because the former’s concept feels better rooted in the characters and how their established personalities inform their motivations, and therefore the story. While these two outings are little more than justification to explore the high-concept supermarket competition between the Bundys and D’Arcys (which is comedic and creative, but not particularly clever), Part I is outstanding: a character-laden romp that finds its own hilarious centerpiece in the Bundys moving into the supermarket to escape the heatwave (and their A/C-less house). There are some extraordinary laughs, indicating the show at the peak of its comedic prowess, and unlike Part II, the characters take precedent over the story.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Oldies But Young ‘Uns,” a popular episode for the memorable premise of Al trying to learn the name of an oldie that’s been stuck in his head (it’s a terrific idea used unexceptionally) and the overrated guest appearance of Matt LeBlanc (who would appear in a rotten backdoor pilot a few weeks later), and “Buck The Stud,” an underrated outing that officially concludes the season, boasting two amusing stories and effective character moments for all the Bundys; it suffers from low energy. Also, the aforementioned too-broad-for-my-tastes installments that are nevertheless worth mentioning include: “Wabbit Season,” which has a stellar and brilliantly funny first act, but goes off the rails in a second act that’s too cartoonishly conceived to be reconciled and embraced, “Weenie Tot Lovers & Other Strangers,” an episode entirely removed from common sense in style, but is not without its laughs or appreciated character beats, and “You Better Shop Around (II),” the conclusion of the above two-parter, which boasts a big, loud, creative premise, but not as many character-driven laughs as its better-written first half.

screen-shot-2016-08-06-at-1-36-00-pm

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Married… With Children goes to…

“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 1.35.01 PM

 

 

Come back next Tuesday for the best from the sixth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “The Ten Best MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN Episodes of Season Five

  1. I remember thinking at the end of this season that the show was becoming too ridiculous, although looking at your list just briefly (I’ll dig in soon!!) there are still many classics. I too tend to blanch at some of the broader strokes here but I always find a lot to enjoy and this season is no exception. The Aliens episode is a standout, if atypical, and I still love the supermarket two-parter even though you’re right: Part I has more character stuff. It’s probably the last truly great year of the series, although I like them all — thanks again for covering it; Im enjoying it immensely!!!

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      It’s my pleasure; I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on the best from Season Six!

  2. Thanks for great coverage of another season. I actually appreciate Ted McGinley, despite his being the “Patron Saint of Shark Jumping”. To me he’s the frat guy w/ enough of a sense of humor about himself to “take the pie” (as he literally did a couple times at least).

    I remember seeing “Oldies but Young ‘Uns” and enjoying the song “Go with Him” in the show’s context. I also recall Matt LeBlanc’s pre-Friends appearance here.

    I’ve seen “The Dance Show” but only as a part of NBC’s Rerun Show, which I saw recently on YT. It had a funny recast of David Faustino (years after MWC) as Dan C’s character and apes as the Bundys & everyone else. You can check it out here if you’d like:

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Thanks for sharing that link; the short-lived series also spoofed another fifth season episode, “Weenie Tot Lovers & Other Strangers.” Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on the best from Season Six!

    • I was a big fan of THE RERUN SHOW (which also used a couple of scripts from the Moye-Leavitt series THE JEFFERSONS in its episodes), and I’ve always counted “The Dance Show” among my favorite episodes of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, too.

      • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

        No surprise; both THE JEFFERSONS and MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN are owned by Sony (then Columbia TriStar), which produced THE RERUN SHOW. I’m not a fan — I found the series creatively bankrupt and comedically wobbly — but it’s always good to see the shows we love get some love!

        Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on the best from Season Six!

  3. Just wanted to say that I’m glad your covering this series. It’s one I’ve always liked, but lord knows there are far more than a few people out there who look straight down their upturned noses at you if you tell them that. But then, you covered GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, too, another series that typically draws similar snooty disdain, and another series that I’ve always liked. Thanks for being willing to venture outside the usual list of acceptable-to-acknowledge-in-public-that-you-like-it TV classics.

    • Hi, Brent! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      We all have our individual prejudices when it comes to the choosing of entertainments, and while I can’t rationalize any condescension regarding this fact, goodness knows I too am guilty of it — particularly when it comes to the homogenized domestic comedies to which MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN is a pointed response. You see, my core concern when it comes to sitcoms is always hinged upon (the subjective notion of) comedy — this is why I am especially critical of the domestic sitcoms, which I think too often have different priorities — so if a show makes me laugh, or if I can at least understand WHY it would make others laughs, I do my best to see the best. Whether it’s GILLIGAN’S ISLAND or CHEERS or THREE’S COMPANY or THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, if I can find character-driven comedy, I’m on board!

  4. Good review but I’ve noticed that you dont have a lot of Kelly episodes on the lists and I cant’t wait for your thoughts on The England Trilogy

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      There’ll be more Kelly episodes featured in the seasons ahead, as the show utilizes both her and Bud (whose episodic representation has been commensurate thus far) more frequently. In past weeks, the pair was subordinated here — mirroring the show’s own treatment — in favor of more premise-connected (couple vs. couple) offerings. Simply put: they’ve been overshadowed by the others.

      And ultimately, this will always be a truism, for while the children have assumed more narrative dominance by this point in the run and will continue to grow more comedically worthwhile with each passing season, they’ll never possess, as far as I’m concerned, either the narrative or comedic gravitas belonging to Al (and even Peg). Additionally, as someone whose mantra is typically “anti-kid” in sitcoms, I’m not naturally as forgiving to good-but-not-great episodes focused on these characters — especially when, as will often be the case with Kelly, her stories take us out of the home and away from the characters in whom we’re already emotionally invested, essentially ignoring the interplay that makes the show best work — than I would be for an equally adequate Al entry.

      I’d attribute this sentiment to a personal bias… if I didn’t feel the show was particularly culpable, by design, for stirring this reaction, and also, if I didn’t truly appreciate both Bud and Kelly on the show, finding much to enjoy with them in almost every episode I’ve highlighted and will be highlighting. In fact, when discussing upcoming seasons that contain generally weaker offerings, you’ll see a greater number of episodes focused on this pair — mostly because the competition for strong outings is reduced for every character across the board, thereby leveling the “playing field.” Stay tuned…

    • I think the show reached heretofore unseen comedic heights in the “Jefferson era,” but the “Steve era” is infinitely more rewarding in terms of character development. The key, for me, is finding the balance between big laughs and premise connectivity; for the storytelling, I’m drawn to the third year, but the fourth may be the better representation of this ideal relationship (because of the way the season actualizes and concludes its premise obligations through Steve’s departure alongside a satisfying comedic broadness more indicative of how the show exists in its elongated middle years). However, if one is primarily seeking the most elevated (while still satisfying) example of the series’ humor, Season Five, the first in the “Jefferson era,” is easily the best offering… Stay tuned for more of my thoughts in the weeks ahead!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s