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Friday, November 22, 2013

Al Bundy's Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Before I continue with today's blog entry, I just wanted to take the time to thank those who offered comforting hugs and words of support.  Admittedly, the past few days have seemed like such a blur, and there have been moments in which things just didn't make a lick of sense.  But I'm beginning to feel a little better, and I think that I'm in the right frame of mind to start talking about the one thing that initially put this blog on the map.

That thing of course is pop culture.

I know that I'll be okay.  Now I just want all of you to hold my friend's family in your thoughts.  They are going to be the ones who will need all the love and support now.  I don't even want to think about what they must be going through.

Although nothing will ever quite feel the same again, and although I will forever miss my friend, life does go on, and I know that if he were here right now, he would give me a nice swift kick in the rear end and tell me to get busy writing again! the figurative sense, anyway.

So, let the pop culture tidbits flow, I say!

And to begin this look back on the television schedules of yore, I will talk about two home truths that I learned about myself over the course of thirty-two and a half years of living.  And depending on what your own life experiences have been like, you may agree or disagree with me.  But these are the two things that I have learned over three decades of living.

Absolute truth #1:  The 1980s were the epitome of the schmaltzy, sweet, sugary sitcom that were so sugary sweet that they would give you a mouth filled with cavities quicker than a triple fudge ice cream sundae coated with marshmallow fluff and caramel.   "The Cosby Show", "Full House", "Growing Pains", "The Hogan Family", "Who's The Boss", and "Family Ties" were all classic shows of the decade, and I absolutely loved watching every single one of them...but upon retrospect I realize just how absolutely perfect they were.  I mean, let's face it, the only time the kids ever got in trouble were when they didn't do their homework, snuck out of the house without permission, or backed a car through the kitchen window!

And even more shocking is that crashing through a house in a vehicle didn't even net you any sort of punishment either!  Why would the kids be punished when they live a life of perfect utopia?  A life in which they never have to worry about money, or have screw-ups for parents, or have even a single hair out of place from the mousse infused styles that defined a generation.

So, I suppose that if you had a sitcom that had families acting less like saints and more like sinners in the 1980s (which was surprisingly a very conservative decade given that it was sandwiched between the swingin' seventies and grungy nineties), that would be one way to get a lot of attention.

Absolute truth #2:  Those who claim that high school was the best time of their lives are either lying to your face or are clinging onto the last bit of notoriety they had while in school.

Well, okay...maybe in some cases, this isn't true.  There are a lot of people who loved their high school experiences and went on to become successful adults.  But just going by my own experiences, it's funny how some of the more popular kids in school turned out to be not so popular adults as we grew older.  I know of at least a couple of people from my school days who bullied me in order to impress other kids in the class...and those people actually ended up serving time behind bars for a series of petty misdemeanors.

I mean, I certainly don't look back on my school years with much fondness.  In fact, I sort of left high school feeling like I had just busted out of prison.  And right now, I think that things are okay with me.  Not perfect by any means, but at least I didn't end up in jail!  And, I certainly am not holding onto a dream that died years ago because of something I did that made me famous at school.  If anything, the things that people remembered about me in school were more infamous than famous.

But it's amazing how some people go through life only having one shining moment in their entire lives, and never let go.  It's like a child who is so desperate to hold onto a helium balloon that they grab onto the string as tight as they can...even though the balloon was punctured some time ago.  It's kind of a sad image to picture, isn't it?

So, what if I told you that today's sitcom combines my two absolute truths?  A show that went completely against the 1980s conservatism and sweetness whose star was a washed-up louse still clinging to his high school days of yore?

Well, here's the show's opening credits.

Yes, we're going to be discussing a show that launched so many complaints during its couple of years on the air that several groups protested to have the show yanked off the air.

And yet, "Married...With Children" lasted a grand total of eleven seasons on FOX.  Go figure.

The show - which ran from April 1987 until June 1997 - kickstarted the careers of several A-list Hollywood actors and actresses.  Christina Applegate became a television and movie star, as well as a breast cancer survivor and advocate.  Katey Sagal had one hit show after another from "Married...With Children", to "8 Simple Rules", to "Sons of Anarchy".  And, even notorious show killer Ted McGinley didn't have any effect on the show's popularity, as he joined the cast a full seven years before the show aired its final episode!

Of course, the star of the show happens to be the one actor who appeared in all 259 episodes of the series.  The one who currently stars in the sitcom "Modern Family" as Jay Pritchett.

Yes, Ed O'Neill has had incredible success over the past three decades, earning a star of the Walk of Fame in 2011, and winning three Screen Actors Guild awards.  And seeing him in interviews, we can safely make the assumption that Ed is a classy and debonair guy.

Which makes it all the more amusing that the role that made him famous was one in which he played the part of a man whose dreams died a slow death and he was left as a glum, miserable, smelly shell of a man.

When I say the words "Al Bundy", you wouldn't exactly match that name with the definition of success.  In fact, if people were given report card grades, Al would forever be wearing the scarlet letter of shame.  Only, instead of the letter "A" for adultery, it would read "F"...for failure.

But when you consider that Al's only claim to fame was a high school football game, and that his life after that football game went completely down the toilet, you could understand his bitterness...somewhat.

You see, when Al was a high school student in the mid-1960s, he was a popular high school football star.  And he wasted no time in telling everybody of this fact.  I mean, you could almost have a "Married...With Children" drinking game every single time that you heard Al mention how scoring four touchdowns in a single game was the greatest highlight of his whole life.

Keep in mind that Al was seventeen when this iconic football game took place, and when the series began, Al was in his forties (actor Ed O'Neill was 40 when he was cast in the role).  So, what happened in between those twenty plus years in between the time in which he was the star of the football team, and when he became a washed-up shoe salesman who absolutely despises his job, his family, and his neighbourhood?

Well, how about the fact that an injury caused his dream of playing pro football to die forever?  A broken leg prevented him from playing football ever again.  And certainly a lot of people who were forced to give up playing sports due to injury probably felt the same way.  But, those people still find a way to live productive lives and find happiness in other ways.

TRIVIA:  After all, the exact same thing happened to Ed O'Neill, who was involved in college football.  He tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was cut during the training camp, which set the stage for Ed enrolling in another school to study acting!)

But then Al met Peg (Katey Sagal), and things once again spun out of control.

It certainly didn't help matters much that when Al proposed to Peg, he was plastered out of his mind.  And, it especially didn't help much that when sober, Al didn't find Peg attractive physically or had zero emotional connection with her whatsoever.  But then again, when you consider the fact that Peg was a lazy housewife who sat on the couch eating bonbons while watching Oprah Winfrey while coming up with ways to spend what little money Al made while slaving away at the shoe store.

But surely Al could find some comfort in the fact that he had two children that any person would be lucky to have...right?

Well, I suppose if you wanted a ditzy blonde daughter like Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate), who basically threw herself at every biker, gang member, and scuzzbucket that ever crossed her path, congratulations!  You win!  And, I suppose if you wanted a horny, creepy son like Bud Bundy (David Faustino), who basically threw himself at every inflatable doll that was on the market, congratulations!  You hit the jackpot!

Wow...let's see.  Married to a woman who he doesn't love...a daughter who acts like a brainless boy crazy zombie, and a son who has his own set of social distortions.  What could get worse than that?

Oh, yes.  The shoe store.  And, rather than talk about the disasters and horrific things that Al had to go through at that shoe store, why don't I just show you by clicking below?

Well, okay...maybe in some aspects, Al brought a lot of that misery onto himself by being a jerk who has obvious hatred for women who happen to be in the plus size range.  No, actually, scratch that.  Al is a jerk, who purposely attacked his customers because they didn't happen to be of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue quality.  But, here's an interesting rhetorical question to ponder.  Do you think that Al would have been nearly so cold with his customers had he been completely happy with his home life?  It's hard to say, really.

Of course, that's not to say that life completely sucked for Al.  He found ways to enjoy himself and have fun.

For instance, Al had his favourite television show, "Psycho Dad".  I never really did figure out what Psycho Dad was all about, but based on some of the clips that we saw (as well as the fact that there was an entire episode dedicated to Al and his friends protesting its cancellation in Washington D.C.), it was almost designed as a parody of "Married...With Children" itself.  After all, there were many, many people who wanted the show yanked off the air for its raucous content and sexist overtones.

And, of course, Al had his...well...not-so-secret club.  The club's official name was the "National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood", or "NO MA'AM".  And, to say that it was a sexist club would be like saying that rain is wet.  Al, his neighbour friend Jefferson D'Arcy (Ted McGinley), and a group of men who worked at the shoe store, or hung out at the nudie bar with Al, formed the group midway through the series run, and the goal was to fight the increasing influence of women in both corporate and political America.

Of course, these activities included drinking beer, looking at porn, and complaining about their wives.  But I suppose if you want to consider kidnapping Jerry Springer and protesting a breastfeeding sit-in at the shoe store that Al works at...then, I suppose they've done their job.

And then there's his adversarial relationship with the particular with next door neighbour Marcy Rhoades D'Arcy (Amanda Bearse).  Although Marcy is best friends with Peggy, and seems to be cordial to Kelly and Bud, she can't stand Al.  You see, Marcy is a staunch feminist who has a superiority complex when it comes to how women should be treated.  She is not even for equality.  She demands that women be put up on a pedestal and that men should kiss their feet.

(Which is actually kind of amusing when you consider that Amanda Bearse is a lesbian in real life.)

Now, Marcy and Al have never really gotten along with each other, and that hatred grew even more when Marcy married Jefferson after her first husband Steve Rhoades (David Garrison) dumped her.  You see, Jefferson became best friends with Al, leaving Marcy to get infuriated whenever Jefferson hung around with Al.

Would you like to see some of the barbs and jabs that Marcy and Al traded with each other over an eleven year period?  Have a look!

And, that's your quintessential Al Bundy.  A man whose life was built on a foundation of broken dreams and bitter promises.

But you know something?  Throughout it all, while Al wishes that everything could have gone a lot better for him than where he eventually ended up...I do think that a small part of him found some comfort in the fact that he had secured himself a life that some people only dream of - well...a reasonable facsimile anyway.  I mean, don't most people want a partner who will never leave them, and at least a couple of kids?  Al had all that.  Sure, they didn't turn out to be the kind of family he really wanted, but they were a part of him.  And, in an episode in which Al loses his beloved Dodge, he spends an entire episode looking for the car because of a valuable possession that was left inside the trunk.  What could the possession be?  A case of beer?  A nudie mag from the 1960s?  The entire box set of "Psycho Dad"?

Nope.  It was a family photo.  Think about that for a moment.

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