RERUN: The Ten Best MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN Episodes of Season Three

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re gearing up for Roseanne coverage (which will begin soon), and I’m excited to set the figurative table by resurrecting another old entry from this blog’s nearly nine-year run. Here’s how it works: I’ll provide a link to a piece that I first published many seasons back, and then I’ll offer a bit of updated commentary. But, as I always caution, please be gentle; this early article is from a long time ago, and my standards have changed as I’ve changed — I’ve improved as a thinker, a communicator, and a television-watcher.

So, let’s revisit… The Ten Best MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN Episodes of Season Three:

As we touched upon last week, Married… With Children and Roseanne represent the blue-collar insurgency that upended the ubiquitous family sitcom during the late 1980s, following a half-decade of relatively bland upper-middle-class fare epitomized, at its best, by the early seasons of The Cosby Show. With a rejection of overdone sentimentality in favor of simple humor, these new shows revealed the artifice of their predecessors while offering more laugh-out-loud material. However, despite boasting the same general ideas and collectively pivoting the genre into a shared direction, Married… With Children and Roseanne are actually quite different. We’ll talk more about the latter when full coverage begins, but for now, let’s discuss FOX’s Married… With Children, which was created by a pair of alums from The Jeffersons who brought the same jokey attitude of Norman Lear’s aging classic into this new series, only trading in Lear’s initially political aims for a more genre-specific but equally idea-driven sense of satire. Developed with the working title “We’re Not The Cosbys,” their show was specifically designed to rebut the depiction of “the family” as it appeared on television sitcoms in the mid-1980s, and, indeed, right from the first season, its laughs come from mocking conventions: the Bundys insult more than embrace, are genuinely below the middle-class ideal, and thumb their proverbial noses at the prospect of a sweet moment (or, heaven forbid, a VSE). Oh, yes, the show starts closer to literal realism and then broadens with every passing season, such that it eventually turns into a veritable cartoon, but it was built as a sketch-like parody of the “normal” family, or rather, the “1980s sitcom” idea of the “normal” family, so truth was always less important than this critique, and the characters were consequently less nuanced — loud archetypes who exist to channel this lampoon. Yet they each became strongly, if narrowly, defined — especially by the third season (1988-’89), when the show was still novel enough to satisfy its initial thematic interests, but had also developed its leads enough for them to be the main attraction. This year makes for a fine point of contrast to Roseanne, which premiered in fall 1988 but had other goals, and took a long time to become as narratively wild as Married… With Children was here.



Come back next week for more sitcom fun! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!