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Married With Children Scenes That We're Surprised The Show Got Away With

When we look back on the insensitivity and political incorrectness of 30-year-old comedies, it makes us wonder what today's shows will be lambasted for 30 years from now. The faults of "Married... With Children” have been well documented, but that's unsurprising since shock value was intentionally baked into the show's origins. A show that is known for going too far inherently aims find out "How far is too far?" Where's the line?

The problem with "the line" is that it's subjective. Yes, there is a lot to love about the Bundy family, but as we look back through our 2020s lens, it's hard to tell which jokes satirize pigheaded views, and which are just straight-up pigheaded views. During the late '80s and early '90s, anti-obscenity activists focused on protecting their children from the lewd sexual content of "Married...," but never once contested the show's many openly racist and homophobic jokes. By today's standards, and the late 1980s' standards, and all the other standards, here are "Married... with Children" scenes that we're surprised the show ever got away with.

Al goes bra shopping

It seems as though men in the late '80s thought the only places that sold bras were sex shops, because in Season 3, Episode 6, "Her Cups Runneth Over," this scene is written like a teenager's sexual fantasy. Al completely freaks out when tasked with buying a bra for his wife. Eager for the experience, his friend Steve joins, and, as we're sure they were hoping for, every woman in the place is a scantily clad Playboy Bunny type. Seeing that the show is a raunchy comedy aimed specifically towards men, the overall fantasy element gets a pass. We are, however, surprised at the blatant objectification of women.

When Al is asked for his wife's cup size, he holds his hands millimeters from a nearby woman's breasts for comparison, and she doesn't seem to think it's inappropriate at all. The camera then looks the saleswoman up and down, as Al states, "Let's see the Japanese build something better than that." Moments later, Al catches Steve poking at a manikin's breasts, and Steve responds with the flagship line for the #MeToo movement, "Aw, come on Al. She was asking for it. You see how she's dressed."

A constant barrage of fat shaming

It's not that Al Bundy simply doesn't find overweight women attractive — he openly shames and ridicules them. Bundy's fat shaming one-liners became a staple of the show, but we're surprised the tasteless gag kept running deep into its final season. In Season 11, Episode 9, "Crimes Against Obesity," years of insensitive jokes that Bundy hurled at the shoe store's female customers come to a head, as an army of his past targets march through his door (well, they get stuck first), tie him to a chair, and put him on trial for, you guessed it — crimes against obesity.

Al's zingers are obviously problematic, but the fact that the show doesn't take the opportunity to have the character see the error of his ways really doubles down on the hurtful message that would not fly in a 2020 landscape. After the "judge" yells, "order," the women instinctively yell fast food orders like "Big Mac" and "Filet-O-Fish." Later, Peg testifies that her obese mother actually ate her Aunt Edna because she was standing too close to the pies, and the women respond with, "That happens" and "I lost a kindergarten class that way."

Al gets a new job

By Season 7, "Married... With Children" was delving deeper into the '90s — a decade that was starting to become known for its more progressive views, at least compared to the notoriously conservative 1980s. Looking back, the '90s was problematic on a regular basis, but we're still surprised that racist jokes and rants about illegal immigrants were openly celebrated on network television.

In Season 7, Episode 23: "'Tis Time to Smell the Roses," Peg (who doesn't even have a job) gets fired up over undocumented people taking all the jobs. She tells Al, "Why, every day, more illegal immigrants — some of whom speak English — are out there flooding the job market." In an unflattering, stereotypical impersonation, she continues, "Please sir, I will gladly serve you a slushie. Thank you for not killing me." Later in the episode, Al's new boss introduces him to his Indian coworkers, "The three Habibs," and Al tells them, "I was selling shoes when you guys were just a gleam in a New York taxicab driver's eye." The AV Club reports that Al Bundy "was more openly bigoted than Archie Bunker and more skeptical of the people around him than George Jefferson."

Sex in the courtroom

What should have been Season 3's 10th episode, "I'll See You in Court" freaked out the Fox Network's standards and practices department so badly that it ended up being pulled from airing altogether. Commonly referred to as "the lost episode," they technically didn't get away with this one at the time. It ended up aired on FX in 2002, which feels appropriate given the popularity of nonconsensual sex tape-related humor during that era.

One of the questionable scenes begins with Peg and Al visiting a seedy motel to spice up their love life. The couple stumbles upon a sex tape of their neighbors Marcy and Steve, and after having sex themselves, they realize that the motel has hidden cameras set up to secretly film people having sex. When the Bundys sue the motel, the court rules against them after judging that their tape was only a few seconds long and could not technically be considered sex. 

Al's treatment of a trans woman

Since this scene takes place during Season 9, Episode 10, "Dud Bowl," by this point fans had almost a decade of experience with the show's flipflopping between surprising sensitivity and rigid views on anything that strayed from heteronormative behavior. The aforementioned bra shopping scene includes a huge laugh at the idea of men being married to each other, and while a gay man tries on a tiara, Al remarks, "And they wonder why we call them queens." As archaic as these jokes seem today, they're pretty tame compared to the show's treatment of a post-op trans woman.

The main plot of the episode is a reunion of Al's high school football team. The football team looks horrified and the crowd erupts in laughter when Al's old quarterback Thad arrives at the door in a dress. Peg is happy to see Thad, but Al blurts out, "Thad, you look like a freakin' woman!" Thinking that Thad is pulling a prank, Al needs proof that Thad has transitioned, and — in an utterly shocking move by any standard — actually reaches down and pulls up Thad's dress in front of the entire football team. What would now be widely considered as humiliating, demeaning, and illegal, is laughed off by Thad and buttoned with Al's joke – "We get tired of our cars too, but we don't rip the doors off." Not only is this scene deeply offensive, but it ends with a clumsy, confusing metaphor. Is Al saying a male-presenting body is like a car, and male genitalia is like a car's doors? Why would Al say that? Did something happen to him? 

Banishing breastfeeding but brandishing junk

The stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public was alive and well at Gary's Shoes. The Season 9 episode, "Business Sucks," aired on October 2, 1994. As reported by USA Today, it would take almost 25 years for public breastfeeding to be declared legal in all 50 states. Utah and Idaho were the final two states to pass the law, and although Idaho had been trying to pass legislation 15 years earlier, male legislators opposed it on the dubious basis that women would "whip it out and do it anywhere."

Ironically, just before Al and Griff tell a breastfeeding mother to, "Shut that thing off and ooze on down the road," they are about to whip their penises out for a measuring contest in an open, well-lit store with customers strolling by. After forcing a size five shoe on a woman, Al wonders why women lie about their shoe size. The two men claim that they fortunately don't have to lie about the size of their privates, so Al grabs the ruler and they start unzipping. A puzzled customer walks in, because clearly full-frontal male nudity wasn't going to take place on network television. That doesn't stop us from wondering how any of that was allowed on primetime television in the first place.

Al can't control his urges

When Season 5, Episode 2, "Al... With Kelly" aired in 1990, the then-unknown Pamela Anderson had only showed up in a few bit parts on television. She was still about a year away from booking a recurring role on "Home Improvement" and two years from her breakout role on "Baywatch." In the episode, Al and Kelly Bundy pretend to be sick to avoid visiting Peggy's mom. Al could not be more thrilled to enjoy some alone time, but Kelly spoils his staycation by actually getting sick and becoming very needy.

The numerous moments that we're surprised the show got away with begin with Al — after watching an episode of a show called "Psycho Dad" – fantasizes about and even mimes shooting Peg in the head for not cooking. In a dream, he and a beautiful woman played by Anderson begin fooling around while he gropes his pillow in reality. A very ill Kelly interrupts the fantasy by jumping on her father, looking for comfort. While his daughter is lying on his chest, Al asks himself, "What would Psycho Dad do?" and continues making out with his pillow. Calm down, Al.

Al and his buddies start an anti-women group

We're not surprised that Al Bundy and his strip club-frequenting buddies started a men's rights activist group, but we do wonder how all that unapologetic sexism got on television. NO MA'AM (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood) was founded by Bundy in Season 8 after women's bowling night replaced men's bowling night, and their local strip club started hosting women's poetry night. At one point, NO MA'AM takes over a beloved female-driven talk show to give demands like "You gals want ladies night? Try having it in the kitchen, cooking for a man," and "Don't ask us to talk or cuddle after sex. Or before sex, or during sex. You're lucky we take our pants off!"

In retaliation, Amanda Bearse's character, Marcy D'Arcy, starts F.A.N.G (Feminists Against Neanderthal Guys), which becomes one of the show's best ongoing feuds partially because, much like their characters, Bearse and O'Neill had issues getting along.

After O'Neill wasn't invited to Bearse's wedding, he asked her to explain, and she told him she didn't think he'd take it seriously. In a chat with the Archive of American Television (via Best Life), he recalled asking her, "'Amanda, what is funny about two women in tuxedos walking down the church aisle?' I started laughing, and she said, 'See!' I said, 'Well, you know why, because it is funny, and I'm not going to be the only one that thinks so.' But it was funny. She had a little white tux — to me, I thought it was funny. So, in other words, she may not have been wrong in excluding me."

Sam Kinison assaults Peg

During the fourth season of "Married... With Children" that aired between 1989 and 1990, Sam Kinison was one of the biggest comedians in America. Producers thought his loud, abrasive style was perfect for the show. According to Collider, he was almost cast as Al Bundy himself. Kinison was given a guest appearance in the fourth season's two-part Christmas special, "It's a Bundyful Life," where he played Al's guardian angel sent to show him a world where he doesn't exist. This spicy parody of "It's A Wonderful Life" has Al and Kinison walking around Al's much classier and happier family in an alternate reality. After stating that he's depressed, Kinison takes advantage of an unsuspecting Peg by grabbing her butt, and sighing, "Well, that's better." Al doesn't protest the action in any way or remind Kinison about consent laws.

The show and the hysterically cheering audience may have thought this was acceptable, but we're left wondering what kind of message this sends to young men at the time. They most likely wouldn't stumble upon a woman existing in an alternate reality, but this highest form of objectification sends the signal that an unsuspecting woman's body is free game. After he commits a sexual assault, Kinison delves into a rant about his "pig" and "slut" of an ex-wife before disappearing. Would a real angel behave like this? We say probably not.

Men would rather take on a grizzly bear than menstruating women

In Season 3, Episode 4, "The Camping Show," the Bundys go camping with Steve and Marcy and the trip is immediately ruined when Peg, Marcy, and Kelly's menstrual cycles line up. As reported by Indiewire, the episode originally titled "A Period Piece" went unaired for a month while producers and network executives discussed the finer points of handling a topic as sensitive as menstruation. It might not seem like a taboo topic by today's standards, but in the late '80s, this was uncharted territory. Co-creator Michael Moye admitted to The Archive of American Television, "I did not know — and neither did Al — that when young women are together for extended periods of time, after a while, their cycles sync up. I had no idea of this."

Moye went on to explain that the episode was permitted to air because two female staff members confirmed that this was common knowledge among female viewers, and not some fictitious storyline drummed up for shock value. On one hand, the show could be praised for tackling the subject, but since male creators and writers took the baton, we see nagging, man-hating grouches whose "condition" attracts wild animals. Naturally, Al chooses a tussle with a grizzly bear over time with his menstruating family.

Peg teaches Kelly to trap a man so she never has to work

We've focused pretty heavily on Al Bundy's faults, but make no mistake, Peg is just as deplorable. To give the show some originality credit, most sitcoms of the era portrayed the husband as a complete slob and the wife as a straightlaced moral compass who keeps their show grounded in reality. To feed into the show's overall misogynistic stereotypes, Peg is portrayed as a lazy housewife who'd rather watch TV and shop than keep house and care for the children.

No episode encapsulates this better than Season 4, Episode 19, "Peggy turns 300." Peg has a shameful woman-to-woman talk with her daughter Kelly, telling her, "There will come a time when your husband comes home smelling like beer and wanting some loving, you'll follow that fat butt up the stairs because you'll know that no matter how disgusting the next five minutes may be, it's still better than work." Airing this in the late '80s showed little millennial girls everywhere that if they trap themselves in a marriage of loveless sexual slavery, they never have to work some stupid job ever again.