Married With Children

Trending in Comedy

When I logged into Twitter a little while ago, I saw that”Married With Children” was trending. The TV Show, not the state of existence. 

I’m not exactly sure how the whole Twitter trend thing happens. I rarely see what’s trending. It’s a separate tab from the newsfeed. I usually just log in to see my rapidly dwindling news feed, and only stay on long enough to get pissed off at both Republicans and Democrats (with an additional heaping of scorn toward my favorite sports teams). That only takes, what, three swipes down? 

Are there people who log in to Twitter to see what is trending? It’s not even hashtags anymore. Married with children was showing up as a three word string, not a one word hashtag. Has Elon trained the AI to read our entire message? Then why the fuck am I spending hours conjuring up my pithy perfection?

Might explain why I’ve only tweeted once in the past six month. One, my work blocks access (including phone signal), and Bee, by the time I’ve thought of something funny to say, the event’s two weeks old. People probably think I’m boycotting Elon. 

Anyway, whilst lurking but not tweeting, I ended up on the wrong tab and noticed that people were discussing a tv show that’s been off the air for 25+ years. The show was hardly trendy even when it was airing. Don’t get me wrong, it was required viewing for this high school, then college-aged, toxically masculine American dude, but it wasn’t what one might call a societal juggernaut. Had it not been one of the only properties on a new network that nobody was watching, I doubt it would’ve lasted beyond a season or two.

Doesn’t seem the type of show to get a reboot. Or a sequel, although now’s a good time to excoriate people on using those words interchangeably. Reboots and sequels are different things, people!

Sometimes it can get confusing. For instance, the “Girl” Ghostbusters (not my preferred moniker, but if I said “the 2016 version,” you’d say “which one was that?” and then we’d settle on “the girls one”) is a reboot, even though it features all the original actors (playing different roles), whereas Ghostbusters Afterlife, the more recent one, is a sequel, but it doesn’t feature the original actors. And now they’re making a sequel to this sequel, not to be confused with Ghostbusters II, the original sequel. 

The new incarnation of Quantum Leap on the other hand, keeps being described as a reboot but is obviously a sequel. With none of the original actors. Or charracters.

Then there’s the last Spiderman movie, which is… both a reboot and a sequel? Fuck it, I stand corrected. They’re the same thing. 

After a little digging, I discovered Married… With Children was trending because it was the star of the show’s birthday. No, not Ted McGinley. I’m talking about Ed O’Neill. So happy belated #77, Ed! Or Al. Or Jay. Regardless of what name you go by, it won’t have many letters. 

Not sure why someone’s old show was trending on his birthday instead of, I don’t know, his name? Then again, if his name was trending, I would’ve assumed he died. Maybe trending what someone was famous for instead of their name is that one of the algorithms Elon Musk is changing. He sure as hell isn’t decreasing the number of unsolicited political ramblings from people I don’t follow.

The trends of Married… With Children tweets on his birthday followed two general trends, the first of which is whether Married… With Children is even what Ed O’Neill is famous for these days. Modern Family would seem more relevant here in the 2020s, but oddly enough, it wasn’t trending. Maybe that’s because Twitter is populated by Gen Xers like me. Modern Family was probably trending on Instagram or Tiktok or whatever. it’s no Great Toto Divide, but no Gen Zer is going to suspend their offension long enough to admit that the former is funny.

That seemed to be what Twitter was abuzz about on his birthday. Which Ed O’Neill characer is more iconic, Al Bunday or Jay Pritchett? Married With Children or Modern Family? 

I was hoping to settle the difference by picking the show that lasted longer. No such luck. According to IMDB, he was Jay Pritchett for 11 years and 250 episodes, Al Bundy for 10 years but 260. 

Something struck me as I went down the list of pros and cons for each Ed O’Neill show. Who’s a funnier cringe-inducing child-man, Bud Bundy or Phil Dunphy? On the one hand, they’re both dorks who say inappropriate things and are utterly unaware of how they’re perceived. On the other hand… they were both born in the late 1960s or the early 1970s?

Then there’s Kelly. The first instinct is to compare her to Haley (or Alex), but Kelly was well into her twenties for a substantial part of the run, so let’s extrapolate where she was going. I could totally see her being Claire, tangentially associated with real estate because the actual realtor doesn’t know what he’s doing before taking over the family business. She might have been written as a prototypical dingbat blonde, but she was expert at getting what she needed out of people.

Peg Bundy? Please. If I have to explain the difference between her and Gloria, you’re not trying. And, naturally, how they speak to their husband, who is the same man. Interestingly, my first instinct was that Gloria was hotter, but that might have to do with the fact that I was in my thirties when the latter show came out. As opposed to my early teens, when anyone over the age of nineteen was an old hag. But looking back, the going-nowhere shoe salesman definitely married a few notches up on the hot-or-not scale.

And Ted McGinley is totally Cameron.

The more I think about it, Jay Pritchett is merely an alternate reality Al Bundy who made it out of the shoe store, who won the lottery and traded Peg in for a younger Columbian. Alternate reality works better than sequel to explain how Kelly and Bud ended up married instead of siblings. Things went right for one of them, wrong for the other. If these were soap operas instead of sitcoms, Al Bundy would sport a goatee. 

The other topic of discussion on Married With Children Trending Day, which I assume is now a national holiday on every Ed O’Neill’th of April, was how a show like Married… With Children could never be made today. I agree, but not for the reasons most assumed. 

The common belief, if Twitter mentions are to be extrapolated  to the general population, is that Married… With Children would never survive in the current woke society. Not sure I buy that. The fat jokes might not land in these “body positivity” times, but most of the jokes could easily be found in any recent sitcom. Kelly was a nympho so dumb she didn’t realize the jokes being made at her expense. Haley, anyone? Ninety percent of the early Bud jokes would be perfectly at home with Luke and Manny. 

Another successful sitcom from the past twenty years, The Big Bang Theory, also made countless crass jokes. It might seem more “woke,” because the dorks, who are often the butt of jokes in other sitcoms, are shown in a compassionate light, but they were still the butts of most of the jokes. When they weren’t mocking social outcasts, they were mocking the normies. Oh, and Penny was originally presented as a nympho so dumb she didn’t realize the jokes being made at her expense. Yeah, American sitcoms are so p.c. here in the twenty-first century.

Don’t even get me started on Two and a Half Men.

That being said, I agree with the tweeters who doubt Married… With Children is in line for a revival. But mainly because there’s little difference between it and Modern Family. Sitcoms have been recycling the same tropes for seventy years now and we’re kinda done with it.

Not just sitcoms. When’s the last time a comedy’s been the “It” movie of the year? The Hangover? By the time Hangover II came out, nobody cared.

We consume media differently these days. If I’m going to a movie theater, I want something better than the experience I’ll get at home. Special effects and big explosions aren’t as cool on my phone as they are on a big screen. Adam Sandler is.

If we’re not watching comedies in the movie theater, we’re watching them at home. Or on our phones. That means we’re not watching sitcoms. Why would I waste my time watching the rehashing of seventy year old tropes when I can just watch Lucille Ball or Redd Foxx or Jerry Seinfeld deliver them with more panache. I love me some Cheers, but damn, other than Woody and Rebecca replacing Coach and Diane, you’d never know if you’re watching an episode form season three or ten. Sometimes I’ll queue up an episode when there’s dead time in my economics class (cause, you know, it’s about running a business or something), but whenver I’m reading through the episode summaries, I’m like “Wait, which episode is that?”

Even a decade ago, sitcoms still had that “Water Cooler” quality. Not only Modern Family, but The Goldbergs, Blackish, and How I Met Your Mother (still blocking out that final season). but I think those were the canaries in the coalmine, using gimmicks to remain fresh, not realizing that those gimmicks would expose the tropes even further. I hoped The Good Place might usher in a new age of sitcoms with serialized storytelling in which the characters grow and their situation changes from week to week. Unfortunately not much has followed in its footsteps.

At least not on terrestrial American tv.

I still watch sitcoms these days. Shows like Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny contain characters with nuance, who occasionally, but not always, evolve as a result of their extraordinary situations. 

Also, they’re Canadian.

Neither of these would make it on American tv, not least because the conversion from Canadian metric would make them show up like scrambled porn on American tv’s. Beyond that, the characters talk and act like normal people, which means they cuss. In Schitt’s Creek, the cursing is minimal and could probably be bleeped for an American audience, but man, I’d hate to hear Eugene Levy saying the “Welcome to Schitt’s Creek” billboard looks like he’s [bleeping] her right in [bleep].” If they tried to take the cussing and references to drugs, sex, and biological functions out of Letterkenny, an episode would fit in a thirty-second commercial break. 

Ironically, the two shows that prove why Married… With Children would never be made today are probably more crass and insulting than the Bundys. The various groups in Letterkenny are the hicks, the skids, the degens, and the Natives, and the show takes the piss out of all of them. The level and amount of crassness they jam into twenty minutes would make Al Bundy blush. I watch with subtitles, but still have to back up twice an episode to listen to the five jokes I missed while gutturally laughing over the first five shit references. 

Schitt’s Creek was chock full of “awww, how sweet” moments,” especially in the latter seasons, but what drew us all to the show at the beginning were at someone’s expense, often the same socially-awkward dingbats and sluts that the nascent Fox sitcoms laughed at. 

They even allow Katy and David, the resident sluts of Letterkenny and Schitt’s Creek, to admit to what Kelly Bundy could only hint at. Not only do they know when the jokes are made at their expense, they’re probably the ones making them. 

So I take back what I said. Married… With Children could still be made today. 

It would just be Canadian.