Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal. Although the first season made quite a splash, the second season showed an improvement in storytelling and an emphasis in setting up elaborate jokes rather than one-liner gags. Includes Poppy's by the Tree," Im-Po-Dent," Alley of the Dolls" and more. 22 episodes on 3 DVDs. 1987-88/color/10 hrs/NR/fullscreen.
Perhaps the definitive episode of Married... with Children is near the end of the second season, when Al and Peg Bundy (Ed O'Neill and Katey Segal), pretending to be their recently married neighbors, go on a game show that tests how willing each newlywed is to torture their spouse. This episode has everything: The cascade of blithe insults, the cheerful shredding of all dignity, the outright celebration of humanity's worst instincts-- everything that has led self-satisfied arbiters of "culture" to proclaim Married... with Children the most sordid, distasteful sitcom in the history of mankind. In short, it's sheer genius.
As the petty, miserable, conniving, yet perversely vital Bundy family, O'Neill, Segal, Christina Applegate, and David Faustino give performances that walk a fine line between outrageous satire and painful truth. It's the anti-Cosby; family breeds contempt. Children scoff at their parents, parents resent their children, husbands and wives eye each other with suspicion and disdain. Episodes hinge on neutering their oversexed dog, fighting the phone company, and trying to humiliate a high school nemesis in a bowling tournament, but it's all an excuse for squalid delirium. This is not an ironic description of the show; Married... with Children is both ruthless and deeply funny. (Though created by men, Married... with Children was frequently produced, written, and directed by women, which is unusual in the sitcom world. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with its sense of humor, but its eagerness to skewer and roast sacred cows is shared by such women-driven shows as Roseanne and Absolutely Fabulous.) The jokes are like blunt instruments, yet delivered with a unique panache that got honed to razor sharpness in the second season. If you've never experienced the Bundy clan, this is an excellent place to start. --Bret Fetzer