Moments In Married... With Children That Would Never Fly Today

Throughout TV history, certain shows were pure products of their time. Married... with Children was one, a reaction to the typical sitcom that paraded marriage around as a life of pure bliss. According to Ed O'Neill, who played head of the household, Al Bundy, the show's working title was "We're Not the Cosbys" to express just how atypical the Bundys were.

Speaking with Rolling Stone (via Bundyology), the show's co-creator, Michael Moye, said, "The show was sold on the premise that no one is ever going to learn anything watching it." He added, "We're not going to raise anybody's consciousness." Fans loved it, but it wasn't all smooth sailing, even back then. The show was criticized and sponsors pulled ads.

But that was then and this is now. Criticism would be the least of the Bundy's worries. Their rude and crude humor wouldn't be forgiven in these more conscious times. The fat jokes, misogyny, and prejudices would likely be shut down. In actuality, the show would likely never be green-lit or even pitched in the first place. With that in mind, we decided to take a look at some of the more problematic moments from the show.

Here are the moments in Married... with Children that would never fly today.

Why wasn't divorce an option on Married... with Children?

Despite all of the Al's groaning and complaining about his family, his loyalty to them was never really in doubt. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of this for viewers was Al's insistence on remaining in his marriage. Back in Season 1, Al sampled the bachelor life in "Al Loses His Cherry" and thought the better of it. He also explained his unaffectionate love in "Thinnergy," but Al's speech after breaking up Kelly's wedding in "How to Marry a Moron," colors his feelings on marriage best.

"We Bundys may have our faults, but we believe that marriage should be forever," he said before adding in some Bundy flavor, "no matter how pitiful and disgusting it may be to wake up to that same horrifying face each day. That's what the marriage vows are all about!"

Al's determined attitude toward marriage, regardless of how little love remained, was an exaggerated product of the time. Divorce was the worst case scenario and, frankly, wasn't an option for Al. Sure, the financial implications likely played a part, but staying in an unloving relationship was better than the alternative. 

Today, we don't view divorce in the same way. While the divorce rate is falling among millennials, it's not because marriage is fetishized, it's because they take more time to marry and ensure everything is order before doing so, according to Bloomberg. Because of that, an unhappy marriage like the Bundy's might not translate as easily as it used to. 

Was Married... with Children guilty of fat-shaming?

Al's fat-shaming is one of his major skills. The man appeared to have a fat joke ready for any occasion. Yet, Al's crudeness was acceptable by fans, because it was all part of his character. As the AV Club noted, "He was more openly bigoted than Archie Bunker and more skeptical of the people around him than George Jefferson and fans knew it."

While Al was deplorable in many ways, and his jokes were often in bad taste, he was a caricature of anti-political correctness. He was never meant to be a role model. Through him, people could learn what not to do. It's possible that if the show aired today, Al's jabs might be tolerated in small doses because his character was and is such an outlier. 

What would not be accepted, however, is the show as a whole making fun of curvy women. Married... with Children would often put these women in unflattering situations. In "Crimes Against Obesity," for example, when some women enter Al's shoe store to confront him for his behavior, two of them get stuck trying to enter the door. For this joke, there were no Al's necessary to alienate an entire body type.

Feminists weren't represented well on Married... with Children

Feminism wasn't always easy to spot for television audiences. Without the character waving a flag, and declaring their stance, they would pass unnoticed. Over time, that flag took the shape of certain characteristics that would make these women identifiable. It was here that the straw feminist was born.

According Anita Sarkeesian of The Feminist Frequency, the straw feminist is "a trope that is a deliberately created, exaggerated caricature of a feminist that is used to undermine and ridicule feminist movements." While straw feminists may still appear from time to time, modern viewers now see them as destructive and male-driven. 

Marcy D'Arcy's brand of feminism, for example, wouldn't quite fit in today's TV universe. With little to no subtlety, she become the face of man-hating feminism for Married... with Children viewers. She creates W.O.M.B. (Women Over Men Bupkiss) in "If Al Had a Hammer," and constantly berates Al and all other male characters. 

As Sarkeesian highlights, Marcy is "coded as the castrating wife who emasculates her docile, stupid husband." This is almost taken literally in "The Gas Station Show," when Marcy grabs a hold of Jefferson's manhood and squeezes to quiet him. One joke here or there might slide, but Marcy's feminism was drawn far too heavy-handed for contemporary audiences to accept as anything other than mocking a misrepresented stereotype.

The Married... with Children episode that almost didn't air

Misogyny was Al Bundy's bag. He ridiculed women, belittled them, and objectified them. "The women were portrayed [as] completely exploited on the show," Katey Segal, who played Peggy Bundy, said during an AOL Build interview. "That was part of Al Bundy's thing." But it wasn't just Al and the other male characters. The writing and the situations were misogynistic as well.

"It was a mean-spirited and misogynist show," Amanda Bearse, who played Marcy D'Arcy, told News Corp Australia. "It was just so completely inappropriate. Today I don't think the show would be produced because it's so globally offensive." Despite having several female writers, most, if not all, of the storylines were from a male perspective, and delivered to the primary audience of men between the ages of 18 and 49. 

Show co-creator Michael Moye told Emmy TV Legends of one particularly problematic episode, called "The Camping Show." It featured Kelly, Peggy, and Marcy's periods synching up while camping, which put them and their male counterparts in danger of wild animals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the network initially rejected the episode, because they wanted to avoid the topic of periods and period synchrony.  

While period synchrony is hazy science at best, it is unlikely that "The Camping Show" would prove offensive to today's viewers for the same reasons. Modern viewers wouldn't shy away from the topic of menstruation, but the villainization of menstruating women, and treating a period like a virus might push people away.

The sexual double standard for the kids of Married... with Children

Of all the characters on Married... with Children, Kelly Bundy may have been the most progressive. While she played up the dumb blonde trope to near unmatched heights, she also embraced her sexuality — or as Vice put it: "untethered sexual agency." 

Though audiences from then and now would likely accept Kelly in their own way, there was a hypocritical double standard going on, specifically between Bud and Kelly. While the audience laughed at Kelly's outward sexuality, they actively rooted Bud on in his attempts at wooing the opposite sex. Sure, the crowd cheered whenever Kelly put herself in sexual scenarios, but that was more about what she was wearing or doing at the time. 

In "Al Goes To The Dogs," for example, shortly after Bud is cheered for going off with an unknown woman in a skimpy, tight leather outfit, Kelly's brother mocks her new modest look by saying: "You no longer look like a North American sl*t, you look like a South American sl*t."

Bud's rampant sl*t-shaming of his sister was a quick and dirty trick for the writers to mark Kelly's behavior as funny but wrong in some way. Now, Bud was never the gatekeeper of acceptability, but his overuse of the word "sl*t" when speaking about his sister might not fly so easily today. 

Was casual racism an issue on Married... with Children?

Times sure have changed when it comes to the level of racism that's acceptable on television. Over the years, Married... with Children dipped its toes into controversy of all kinds, but it typically avoided overt racism. Sure, Al made some quips about race here and there, but he also worked alongside his black friend, Griff, and even glanced at issues of Black Big 'Uns from time to time

With Michael Moye, a black man, at the helm, the show rarely trotted out racism towards African Americans, but not all races were free from the show's jabs. Al and the show strayed into some troublesome territory in "Tis Time to Smell the Roses," when dealing with characters who were seemingly of Middle Eastern descent. 

In that episode, Al is forced back to work and takes a job at Home Plate Athletic Shoes. Here, he is introduced to three characters all named Habib. That's problematic enough, but, after Al gets comfortable with the Habibs, he crosses the modern line with an offensive joke. To express how long he's been at his profession, he says, "I was selling shoes when you were just a gleam in a New York taxi driver's eyes." Yikes.

Al Bundy was secretly progressive ... in his own way

Al doesn't quite like anything or anyone outside of his comfort zone. We expect him to be homophobic, but he doesn't necessarily advertise this as often as you might think. There are some moments, however, when Al demonstrates his rigid prejudices against men engaging in anything other than heteronormative behavior. 

In season nine's "Dud Bowl," Al can't quite comprehend why his old high school quarterback, Thad, would or could change their sex. "We get tired of our cars too," he said. "But we don't rip the doors off." In the episode, "Wedding Repercussions," Al continues on this path, telling Bud, "do anything you want, with anyone you want, just as long as you don't wear a dress." 

Then there's "The Gas Station Show," where Al advertises erotic massages. When an off-camera male attempts to get one, Al gives him a disgusted look and shows him the back of the sign that reads, "No Men."

While these moments wouldn't make for great TV these days, many of the other Married... with Children characters were quite accepting of other people's choices. Heck, even Al would eventually come around to accept people different than him. In "Dance Show," for example, despite being confused about a man marrying another man, Al jokingly declares his love for a gay man who works, cleans, and cooks for his husband. 

The random violence on Married... with Children would never fly today

Fan's have made entire video montages of Al punching people in Married... with Children. He came from a generation that glamorized male violence and brute strength, and spoke to a generation that loved to laugh at it (and vice versa). That type of character could still exist on television today, but some things would need to change. He might get away with roughing up Kelly's boyfriends when kicking them out of the house. He might even be celebrated in a similar way for fighting someone who challenges him to a fair fight

It's the sucker punches that might not be as acceptable today. Unfortunately for those hoping for a return of Married... with Children, sucker punching was one of Al's primary fighting tactics. If someone said something to him, looked at him the wrong way, or disrespected his family in some way, Al would hit them, whether they saw it coming or not. For modern viewers, this often unprovoked and excessive violence is more antagonist behavior than protagonist. 

This Bruce Jenner joke is dated for all kinds of reasons

As with most shows from a bygone era, the pop culture references in Married... with Children wouldn't quite make sense for today's viewers. Their timing is all off, their relevance long gone, and even the meanings have been forgotten. But not all jokes lose their punch with time. 

In fact, the Bruce Jenner joke from "Torch Song Duet" has become too on the nose since it first aired. In this episode, while Marcy is in Al's shoe store, two different characters mistake her for Bruce Jenner. Obviously, the joke here picks on Marcy's gender ambiguity, particularly since she's wearing a flannel shirt and is sporting her iconic short haircut. 

But the other half of the joke, as of today, would point to Bruce Jenner's gender ambiguity from long before she fully transitioned into Caitlyn Jenner. When this episode aired in 1996, 19 years prior to her transition, Jenner had already been dabbling with her transition, according to her ABC News interview. While the writers may not have known it at the time, they were joking about a person who was intentionally occupying a transitional space. Today, the joke would hit, but it might not get much love. 

Married... with Children had a way with women

For a show unapologetically targeted to a male audience, Married... with Children often took a crude and objectified look at women. The audience ate it up, sometimes a little too much, especially those who attended the live tapings. 

Male behavior on television has been drastically changed over time. Attitudes and actions that were once deemed acceptable are now being publicly criticized as toxic. Al Bundy and friends are guilty of some of the worst behavior of all. But, once again, they're fictional characters and they certainly aren't meant to be role models. 

Yet, while the leering, catcalling, and inappropriate comments from the on-show characters may skirt the lines of acceptability, even by today's standards, the live studio audience wouldn't be so lucky. Every time Kelly walked in the door, revealed a little skin, or bent over, the crowd went crazy. Other female characters got the same treatment. In "Her Cups Runneth Over," for example, you could virtually hear the males foaming at the mouth as they yelled and moaned after seeing a woman in lingerie. It's hard to imagine that type of reaction would pass today.

Is any group more excitable than the Married... with Children studio audience?

Once upon a time, sitcoms needed a studio audience as much as they needed the actors. Studio laughter, either live and untouched, sweetened, or canned, became central to sitcoms. Some segments of TV audiences hate studio laughter, and wish it would go away, but it appears that studio audiences still work. In fact, one 2019 study (via The Guardian) suggested "canned laughter makes bad jokes seem funnier."

But modern television audiences are intelligent, and don't want to be distracted. The in-studio behavior can't be so uproarious that at-home audiences are made aware that others are watching it in person. That's where Married... with Children would be slammed today. Their live audience had more problems than just their treatment of women. 

They were so engaged and excited by everything that they became insufferable at times. They got loud when Al dished out an insult, and they went bananas when he went to the bathroom. But nothing compared to when he entered the door for the first time. In fact, according to EW, "Taping sometimes [had] to stop so they can be asked to pipe down." It's hard to say, but it's unlikely that today's TV audiences would tolerate such disruptions.

Maybe the popularity of Married... with Children was all just a dream

Advances in medical science provide us with new perspectives that ultimately change how we view certain screenwriting cliches. Take head injuries, for example. In the Married with Children special episode "Married... with Aliens," Al has a bad fall at the mall, and hurts his head. He then begins to see aliens who need his smelly socks for fuel. While it's a funny premise, it would never fly today given the entire joke rests on what could be construed as a traumatic brain injury

But Married... with Children isn't the only culprit to use this device. According to TV Tropes, the "Concussions Get You High" concept can be found in everything from Boy Meets World, to The Office, to Days of Our Lives. However, head injuries aren't quite the humor fodder they used to be ever since we started to understand how serious concussions really are.

While overuse of this plot device also changed our opinion of TV and film head injuries, it might be a bit of hindsight and a dash of guilt that's made the biggest difference. Looking back, we can chuckle at Al seeing little green aliens, but we won't be laughing at his head trauma misdiagnosed as a bruise.