Bon Bons, Insults and Putting My Hand Down My Pants: What Married With Children Taught Me About Love & Sex
In case any readers are as nuts as I am and decide to rewatch Married with Children with fresh eyes, spoilers below.
Thanks to Spotify now including Hulu with my Premium subscription (hair flip!), I could finally deep dive into the show that up until recently has only provided me a sense of ick: Married with Children.
Married with Children premiered in 1987 as the anti-sitcom. Life wasn’t perfect, marriage wasn’t perfect and everyone was miserable. My parents didn’t encourage me to watch Married with Children but there definitely wasn’t a conversation about not watching it. So. Despite not really getting it, I did.
As a kid, I didn’t like Married with Children, I didn’t hate it. I was...intrigued. The theme song was sung by my grandpop’s favorite artist, Frank Sinatra, which made me feel good, but the show itself was dizzying. Everything was bright and cheesy in this world. It was as if dimmers or believable set pieces never existed. It reminded me of the community theatre plays I had begun performing in: over the top, fake, and exhausting.
I remember thinking Al was mean, Bud was gross, Kelly was dumb, Peg was annoying and their couch was very similar to the one we had in our upstairs TV room. I remember Peg was always eating bon bons (I will never not equate bon bons with Peg Bundy) and I remember Al putting his hand down his pants which I now do often.
But what I remembered most about Married with Children was the mysterious cloud of ‘sex stuff’ happening. I knew this was a ‘naughty’ show but my memories couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. If I had to define sex based on what I witnessed years ago in Married with Children, it would probably be something that you shimmy excitedly or reluctantly up the stairs for before the credits roll.
I was curious. Now that I was no longer a child, how would I perceive Married with Children? More importantly, how would Married with Children perceive sex? Relationships? Did Al and Peg really hate each other? Was marriage as terrible as The Bundys have me remember? Did Married with Children get anything right? Here’s what I came up with:
MYTH: Al & Peg don’t fuck
TRUTH: Al & Peg fuck a lot
Despite not having a well-defined vision of what exactly sex, I did gather from Married with Children that it was something neither Peg or Al wanted from each other. But, whatever this ‘sex’ was, Al did indeed want it from the svelte models that would (God knows why) peruse his shitty shoe store.
But Al wasnt’t the only one guilty of not wanting to fuck their bethrothed. Despite Peg’s notorious, whiney ‘Alllllll!’ that would have you assuming she’s always begging for it, Peggy constantly comments on how bad Al is as a lover. She was always hinting about the lack of orgasms she was having with Al, bringing up her vibrator on more than one occasion:
Al: How ya feeling, Peg? I’m surprised you could make it down those stairs this morning.
Peg: I know. I was pretty tired. I hope that buzzing didn’t keep you awake last night.
However, as I watched the show, bracing myself for the nonstop insults Peg and Al would hurl at each other (and they do), I also realized, these two fuck a lot. For two people who claim to hate boning one another, there are more episodes of them getting it on than not. In fact, they fuck at the end of the very first episode! And the second episode! And the third! I screamed at my TV when, in episode two, Peg says to Al “It’s been a long time.” Bullshit, Peg! It’s only been (in tv world) one week!
Not only that, there are episodes where they fuck multiple times! In a season two episode, ‘Earth Angel’, Al (and the whole town) become perpetually horny after the cross country travelin’, leotard wearin’ Tiffany spends a few nights on their couch. At one point, Peg’s so ravaged by her ‘sugar tush’ she can’t even get out of bed.
In season four episode, ‘Hot off the Grill’, Al becomes so aroused by Peg cleaning the backyard for a Labor Day barbecue, he rails her at least three times, even referring to himself as Peg’s ‘Daddy.’ Al Bundy the dom?
MYTH: Peg is an insufferable wife
FACT: Peg is HOT
As I mentioned above, I will never not equate bon bons with Peg Bundy (Truthfully, I still don’t know what a bon bon is). Peg was a redhead like me, so as a child I was intrigued. I may have even made my relatives laugh by shoving cash in my shirt like Peg. But I never would have referred to Peg as a role model.
However, as I watched her now as a grown woman: cigarette in a manicured hand, leg bouncing, a bright lip to match an even brighter outfit; I concluded Peg Bundy was hot as hell. I used to see Peg as an outlandish, wild dresser. Now I was viewing her as a fashion icon. Every outfit she wore, I wanted for myself. Peg even shared my fashion technique of ‘Put a belt on it!’, giving her outfits that perfect touch by wrapping a chunky belt around her waist.
And while Peg was originally written as a lazy couch potato, it was Katey Sagal who came up with her signature, sexy look. Katey showed up to the audition in tight clothes and a red wig and voila! Peg!
Peg is also known in her friend’s group as having more sex than any of them: “Peggy, you get it once a month. What’s your secret?” Peggy goes on to describe a situation where she basically traps Al into fucking her, but if you ask me, I think not only does Peg get off more than what she wants you to believe, she also gets off on exaggerating her dire circumstances. I think it’s all an act to protect whatever it is that her and Al do have.
And I think Katey Sagal would agree. “I think it was hot underneath.” Sagal said at a 2003 reunion. Katey decided that when something happened between Peg and Al (which we now know was often), it was great and why Peg wanted it.
MYTH: Marcy is pathetic
FACT: Marcy is a strong, sexually healthy woman
Marcy, Marcy, Marcy. In my fuzzy MWC memories, I remember Marcy as the annoying, bug-eyed neighbor. And yes, she was the character you (men) were supposed to hate. She didn’t eat meat, she hated sports, she hated Al, and she was...a feminist. [cue audience ‘Oooooos!’] Marcy is the exaggerated ‘modern woman.’ But she’s also the freakin’ best.
I may admire Peg’s style but it’s Marcy’s transformation I relate to. Marcy starts the series a somewhat straight-laced, timid newlywed but ends the series a powerful, in your-face, business woman who is also unapologetically kinky.
Yes, Marcy’s first marriage to Steve, which I’d argue is the better marriage, had its issues (mainly due to the appearance of The Bundys). But for the most part it was pretty good. They shared interests, they had sex every 36 hours (except on weekends when they ‘caught up’), and they didn’t wait for the 7-year itch to add mystery and excitement to their love life. Role playing and boning for hours was the norm.
Marcy and Steve eventually divorce. But she doesn’t immediately meet and marry her second husband, Jefferson, until nearly a season later. It’s in that season alone that, IMO, Marcy thrives! She goes out dancing alone, she works hard, she has a fling with a married, 40-year old man who likes to be spanked for his sins. Throughout the series, Marcy also speaks openly about her sexual fantasies going into great detail about Elvis or Mike Tyson. Marcy displays exhibitionist tendencies, disgusting Al by making out with her lovers in front of him on his couch.
When Marcy eventually did remarry, it was not a long drawn out relationship. It was an accident. After a drunken night at a banker’s conference. Jefferson spotted Marcy on top of the all-girls, banker’s pyramid, proving once again, Marcy knew how to have fun. Sure, I can understand the writer’s interest in adding the chiseled Ted McGinley as Jefferson to their cast, but let’s face it. It wasn’t Marcy who needed him.
MYTH: Al is a piece of shit, woman-hating husband
FACT: Al is a piece of shit (but he loves his family)
Before Tim Allen’s annoying bark of machismo, there was Al. Every dick move Al made or said on Married with Children was met with a testosterone-heavy studio audience of cheers and applause. The people loved Al.
I don’t want to defend that Al. That Al sucked and that Al, unfortunately, still exists today in the actions of real ‘men’. But there was an Al that was tolerable. An Al that kept Peg satisfied, kept his children always a stone’s throw away and kept him okay in my now way too long essay.
Al was lazy but he got the job done. Or at least tried. Whether that job was respectable; running a shoe store (which he remained employed for 20 years!), giving his neighbor a ride, taking care of a sick Kelly, teaching his kids how to drive, or less respectable such as always exploiting others, Al would often fail but not without a great attempt.
His kids constantly spoke low of him, but something kept them around. They were voluntary, returning spectators to Al’s misery. They watched him work on his garden, went bowling with him, and attended his forced family BBQs. They were there for him as best they knew how to be.
Deep down in the 7th layer of Al’s dark soul, there was a nostalgic, family man wanting to break free. Al made attempts to keep his family closer through those family BBQs and vacations and Bundy-specific traditions. He wanted his family taken seriously because as shown in flashbacks, Al himself didn’t have strong family figures growing up.
And, despite the few times Al had the opportunity to stray, he never did. He may have really wanted to but at the end of the day, Al was committed. Any sexy distraction put in front of him (a model, a stripper, a neighbor) was never more than that. Al was even horrified when he discovered Kelly’s fiancee creeping on other women at a strip club, “A man looks, drools, dreams, but he does not cheat!”
Married with Children is ridiculous. The jarring dialogue, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, women-hating, men-hating, pet-hating, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, life hating Bundys couldn’t exist (on TV) today. But The Bundys paved the way for other TV families to exist today (while also showcasing a cast of women characters who were horny as hell) so for that, Ron and Michael, bravo!
Married with Children had a job of showing a ‘realer’ version of marriage and family, than say The Brady Bunch or Leave It to Beaver. This they accomplished. But if another job was to also make marriage unappealing, I think they failed. Relax, my reintroduction to Married with Children doesn’t have me suddenly running to the alter but it does have me reconsider my initial ‘ick’ response. Married with Children reminded me of that unique, special (sometimes harsh) intimacy that comes from knowing someone so well (even if you can’t remember their eye color or birthday, Al).
Behind the egregious insults of Peg and Al’s dysfunctional relationship, was a pretty functional couple, their shared hatred merely an attempt to further the then current theatre of ‘Marriage Sucks’. But that’s what it was, an act. Al and Peg split their relationship between show and reality, which worked well for a sitcom that played out like bad, community theater. They had to exaggerate, had to be big, bold, bright, obnoxious because that’s what you do to be seen from stage. Your hair and facial expressions have to burst off your face if you want to reach a new audience. However, what makes sense from the balcony doesn’t always translate once you get closer. In fact, it looks ridiculous. It’s this ridiculousness that protected Al and Peg’s unique version of intimacy. An intimacy that, when done right, truly is hard to disparage.