Married With Children is one of my all-time favorite television shows. While the series went on for a few seasons too long, there's not a doubt in my mind that it was the absolute funniest thing on TV when it was in its prime. And talk about perfect casting choices: You have Ed O'Neil playing Al Bundy, everyone's favorite disgruntled father / shoe salesman; you have Katey Sagal playing Peggy Bundy, a truly lazy housewife who loves shopping and bon-bons; you have Christina Applegate playing Kelly Bundy, the most ditsy daughter in television history; and you have David Faustino playing Bud Bundy, the son who's so desperately horny, he creates a rapper alter-ego called "Grandmaster B" in a sad attempt to impress the ladies. Much like Seinfeld, the entire cast is comprised of characters who are essentially as selfish as can be; combine that with their pure incompetence, and it constantly results in hilarious situations. Combine all that with their mistreated neighbors Marcy & Steve (and later Jefferson), along with countless memorable cameos and politically incorrect writing for the time, and it's easy to see why the show did so well. And unlike many shows from yesteryear, it still holds up extremely well to this day.
There are so many episodes I have fond memories of, it's honestly impossible to pick a favorite one. Just off the top of my head, there's the time when the Bundy family made camp at the local grocery store in order to beat the summer heat; the time when Anthrax came to play at the Bundy's house; the time Kelly became the local weather girl, the time Peggy killed the healthiest fitness guru in Chicago; the time aliens visited Al because they wanted his socks as fuel for their spaceship; the Bundy family even went prospecting for gold. Hell, I even still catch myself singing the "Psycho Dad" theme every now 'n then.
All these episodes are great, but come Christmas each year, there's one episode I always come back to for some serious laughs. "It's A Bundyful Life" is a two-part holiday special from the fourth season of the show that's a take on the classic Christmas film, It's A Wonderful Life. Today, I thought I'd share with you a recap of this amazing episode that features the late, loud-mouthed comedian who was taken from us far too early: Sam Kinison. With that in mind, let's begin...
It all kicks off with Al walking in the front door of his home on a snowy winter night, complaining about his day at work like we've seen him do countless times. But, rather than another typical tale about trying to fit some woman's foot into a shoe that was three sizes too small, he tells the family about an encounter with the mall Santa. Al got sick of the guy ringing his charity bell right outside of the shoe store all day, so he rang his bell so to speak, much to the horror of all the onlooking children. His family then sarcastically asks what's in store for them this Christmas, since they're used to getting nothing. They recite their own partial version of The Twelve Days of Christmas at Al's expense as they wonder what they'll get: "5 bowls a flushing? Four 'roids a throbbing? Three nose hairs waving? Two children starving? One untouched wife?", to which Al responds, "I guess that's what they mean by chestnuts roasting on an open fire." A classic Bundy family interaction.
Well it turns out that Al actually did something smart this year - he joined a Christmas Club at the local bank and actually managed to save up some money. So, instead of just having their traditional Christmas dinner at Denny's, Al informs the family that they'll also be getting presents this year. They celebrate the good news with a big "Whoahhhh Bundy!":
If you're familiar with the show at all, you know that Al is known for his colossal failures in life, so it's only a matter of time before he screws this up too. At least he can revel in these small "Whoahhhh Bundy" moments though, however fleeting they may be.
Speaking of gifts, Marcy and Steve Rhoades show up at the house and they're immediately frisked by the Bundys to see if they brought any Christmas presents for them. They didn't, but that doesn't stop one of the family members from stealing Marcy's diamond ring. They may be screw-ups, but if all the seasons of Married With Children taught us anything, the Bundy family clearly comes from a long line of master pickpockets.
So Marcy is complaining about how Steve isn't going to spend Christmas with her, because he's going to spend it with his mom (Steve is the ultimate momma's boy). Shortly after, his mother beckons him and he goes running out the door without even saying goodbye to Marcy.
Naturally, Al makes fun of Marcy's life, but Peggy warns him that people in much better situations commit suicide at a high rate during the holidays. Gotta love how they talk about this as if Marcy isn't standing right there, hearing every depressing word of it. Marcy starts to head back home, but turns around to tell Peggy a sob story about how she's going to have to spend Christmas all alone at home. Before she can even finish hinting that she'd like to spend Christmas with them, Peggy slams the door on Marcy's face, clearly not caring about what she has to say. The Bundy door slam is easily one of my favorite running jokes in the series. If it doesn't exist already, somebody really needs to make a supercut video of all of 'em.
Later that night, after successfully hiding from some Christmas carolers, Peggy walks into the bedroom wearing a special nightgown with a bow on it. Much like her hair, Peggy's outfits were always completely over the top, and I imagine the wardrobe department had an absolute blast coming up with them for each episode. She asks Al to come over and unwrap his present, to which he disappointedly replies, "How do you expect me to get excited when you just rewrap the same old junk I didn't play with the year before?" How can anybody not love this show? well, since he's clearly unwilling to satisfy her sexually, Peggy has Al show her the Christmas Club bank book. If there's one thing that turns Peggy on more than anything else, it's definitely money.
Their kids have no shame in showing their greedy natures as well. First, Bud enters the bedroom and appeals to Al by telling him that Kelly doesn't love him. Of course, Bud tells Al that the best way to punish her is to spend all of the Christmas money on him instead. Al just stares back at him with this fantastically distrustful look as if to say, "I can see right through you." Shortly after Bud leaves, Kelly enters the room with a story about how she just visited the doctor and is dying. "Yep, I've got Bulgaria. The doctor says that it's terminus." I'll never got tired of hearing Kelly use the wrong words whenever she speaks. She always delivers those lines without even flinching, and you can't help but think she truly believes they're the correct words to say. Unsurprisingly, she also mentions that Bud wishes his father dead and doesn't deserve a gift. The two kids soon begin to fight over who loves dad more, but Peggy splits them up and tells them that Al isn't stupid enough to believe that either of them really love him. Then Peggy tells him not to give the kids any gifts cuz she's the only one who really loves him... and that she may be dying. While all this is happening, Al is just silently staring off blankly into space with that classic "my life is hell" stare of his.
The following morning, we cut to the kitchen where Bud and Kelly enjoy "Toaster Shakings" for breakfast. If you're not familiar with them, Toaster Shakings are not a generic brand of Pop Tarts... they're from when Bud actually turns the toaster upside-down and shakes the crumbs out onto their plates to eat. You see, they never have real groceries in the house, so they're always having to find alternative sources of nutrition. In this family, free ketchup packets are considered a delicacy. Well, they are for everybody except Peggy, who of course has some real food hidden in the kitchen, but she's so excited about getting Christmas presents, she throws it into the trash instead of offering it to her children. Mom of the year, folks.
While they're sitting at the kitchen table, Bud mentions that they should probably get Al some presents too, since he's bringing them Christmas gifts for the first time ever. However, they're notoriously cheap, so they opt to rummage through Al's closet and re-gift him things he already has but doesn't use. Kelly is gonna give him his toothbrush and Peggy gonna give him the winter coat that Buck (the family dog) has been sleeping on for ages. And that's pretty much the extent of the generosity of the Bundy family. Hey, it's the thought (or complete lack thereof) that counts.
Al heads back into work on Christmas day, and soon enough, the mall Santa that Al beat up points him out to a bunch of scowling children, "There he is kids... the man who hit Santa!" Al chases them off like a grumpy old man chasing delinquents off his lawn, and naturally, he gets hit in the face with a snowball in the process. Rather than continue the chase, Al checks his watch and realizes it's time to close up the shop. You see, he needs to make it to the bank before they close so he can withdraw his money to buy all the family Christmas presents. Yeah, I'm sure that's gonna work out perfectly for him, just like everything else in life already has.
Just as he's getting ready to close, an elderly woman slowly enters the store looking to buy shoes, and then her mother walks in even slower behind her. Time passes and Al is desperate to ring them up and get them the hell out of his store, but when they try to pay, they realize that the oldest woman's mom has all the cash, so they call to her and wait for her to come in. Al is absolutely stunned that so many generations of these women are still alive, and the constant wincing on his face during this scene says it all. Comedy done right.
Miraculously, Al closes up the store and makes it to the bank with five minutes to spare, but much to his chagrin, they've closed up early today to throw their annual holiday party. It's a crazy party with Marcy sitting drunk on the copy-machine while photocopying pictures of her ass, an old man chasing an elderly woman around the bank with mistletoe, a scantily clad girl dancing on the countertops with a boombox, customer's money being thrown around everywhere, and more. Al bangs on the front door, but the security guard refuses to let him in, insisting that it's already past closing time. Al frantically waves to Marcy who sees him and gestures like she's going to let him in, but she takes one more sip of booze and then passes out cold. Guess Al won't be making a withdrawal to buy those Christmas presents after all. Shocker.
Too terrified to drive home and face his disappointed family, Al heads back to the shoe store, but before he can even go inside, he's ambushed by all of the mall Santas who pummel him with their gift sacks as revenge for beating up one of their own. After recovering from the attack, he achingly makes his way inside the store and then starts to imagine how his family would react upon hearing the news that they won't be getting any presents for Christmas this year. Rather than hearing "Oh it's okay, we still love you," Al grimaces as he hears the sound of violent machine-gun fire.
Then, a glimmer of hope walks in the front door, as an angry mother complains about her "demon" son and says "What I wouldn't give to leave him somewhere so I could get an hour of peace!" Al's eyes light up as he gets a bright idea, and we soon see his new business:
Al opens "Uncle Al's Christmas Tot Lounge" in his shoe store with the slogan "You leave 'em... we love 'em." And clearly, his business is doing well, because he's sitting there counting a fat wad of cash. But what about the children? Oh, he's watching over them too, because they're all tied up in a Christmas tinsel garland. When one of them asks for water, Al simply tells him "Shut up" and threatens to send any bad children who misbehave to the "bathroom dungeon". One of the kids asks Al to at least entertain them, so he begrudgingly shares his own personal version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas":
"Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
No food was a-stirrin', not even a mouse.
Stockings were hung round dad's neck like a tie,
Along with a note that said, "Presents or die."
Children were plotting all night in their beds,
While the wife's constant whining was splitting his head.
But daddy had money this year in the bank,
Then they closed up early, and now dad's in a tank.
All of a sudden, Santa appeared,
A sneer on his face, booze in his beard.
"Santa," I said, as he laughed merrily,
"You do so much for others, do something for me."
"Bundy," he said, "You only sell shoes,
Your son is a sneak thief, your daughter's a flooze."
"Ho ho," Santa said, "Should I mention your wife?
Her hair's like an A-bomb, her nails like a knife."
He climbs up the chimney, that fat piece of dung,
He mooned me two times, he stuck out his tongue.
I heard him exclaim, as he broke wind with glee,
"You're married with children, you'll never be free."
After that brilliant & heartwarming Christmas tale, the moms return and are enraged to find their children all tied up in Uncle Al's Christmas Tot Lounge, so they start beating him with their purses. It then cuts to Al as the one who's all tied up, and all of the cash he earned is being refunded to the moms. Then to add insult to injury, one mom lets her kid kick Al in the shins. As the mall closes, Al just slouches over in his chair. Looks like he's gonna be stuck there all night, tied up for Christmas.
And that's how Part 1 of this special concludes.
Part 2 starts off completely ignoring the fact that Al was tied up at the mall, and instead has him walking in the front door of his home, so I guess we'll have to ignore that little plot hole as well. Look, it's a sitcom where comedy and chaos reign supreme, so I think we can let it slide.
As soon as Al walks in the front door, he's pounced by his family as they shout "gimme, gimme, gimme!" in search of their gifts. Al sits on the couch and reminds them that the holidays are about love and family. Kelly brilliantly responds, "I think something's rotten in the state of Denver, mom." Peggy is suspicious as well, "Yeah, he does have that just-plugged-the-toilet grin on his face." Then the interrogation begins.
Peggy: "Are there presents in the car?"
Al: "Well, No."
Bud: "Are they being delivered?"
Kelly: "Are they invisible?"
After everybody just stares at Kelly in bewilderment, Al makes up some half-assed tale about how he was coming home with great presents when he was surrounded by bears and Indians. Kelly, believing anything she's told, gets all concerned and asks, "Daddy, are you okay???" Sensing that Al doesn't want to spill the beans about what really happened, Peggy then reassures him that they would all still love him and wouldn't mind if he didn't bring home any presents.
Of course, as soon as Al tells the truth, they all turn on him instantly, with Bud calling him a "rotten mullet-head" and Kelly telling him, "A real daddy would've held up a liquor store." Yep, they raised their kids well.
Peggy wants to know the reason he didn't take the money out of the bank the previous day, and Al explains he wanted to get that extra day of interest on the account. "Oh, that would've been what, about 3 cents, Al?" she says, which he then confirms would've been the tip for the waitress at Denny's during their Christmas dinner. Peggy always knows how to make Al feel even worse, so she brings up the ol' "Thank your father" running gag.
Peggy: "Thank your father for flushing another Christmas, kids."
Kids: "Thanks dad."
Then Kelly says one of my favorite lines of the entire episode: "Christmas without presents is like Thanksgiving without pizza." Now really... who can't relate to that statement? I certainly can't imagine Thanksgiving without pizza, can you? Well speaking of food, Peggy and the kids decide to go have Christmas dinner at Denny's without Al, so he makes a sad attempt at celebrating the holidays by heading outside to turn on his Christmas lights. Oh, did I say that in plural form? My bad...
I meant Christmas "light". Al turns on his Christmas light strand outside the house and only one single red bulb actually lights up; probably due to the fact that he hasn't taken them down in years. With a sigh, he remarks "It's a Wonderful Life" as he pulls out a pocket knife and starts fiddling with the lights in an attempt to repair them. "Sometimes I think it might've been better if I was never born..." he admits, and then gets electrocuted by the lights in cartoonish fashion.
Al is revived by the one and only Sam Kinison who informs him that he's a guardian angel looking for Al Bundy. Al tells him that's who he is, and Sam immediately unleashes one of his patented primal scream rants to the heavens: "Nooooooo! Can you stop playing Nintendo up there for a minute! What kind of mess have you gotten me into!? What have you done to me!?" He then breaks down and cries on Al's shoulder. Soon after, Sam realizes his flask is empty and shouts at the heavens again: "You can turn water into wine, but you can't send me here with any booze!? Thanks a lot! Love ya!!!" Al still not believing Sam is for real, responds, "Oh I get it, you're one of my wife's relatives. I've never seen one upright before!"
Al tells him to make his Christmas lights work to prove that he's really a guardian angel, and with a snap of his fingers, he does. When Al realizes Sam's the genuine article, he immediately requests the Hee Haw girls be delivered to his home instead of his former wish, to which Sam replies, "I've been sitting around waiting for them to die myself!" Next, he tells Al about how he hung himself to prevent his wife from getting any insurance money, which naturally doesn't instill a lot of confidence in Al about this guy being able to help him. Sam tells him that he has to help Al in order to get his wings, so he's gonna show him what life would be like if he had never been born just like he had been wondering moments ago:
Sam shows Al back into his house, and we see an alternate universe where Peg is a good housewife and actually cooking for the first time. Al tries to call out to her but she doesn't hear him. His guardian angel says, "She doesn't know you're there, Bundy... just like when you're having sex! Hahahahaha!" With guardian angels like Sam, who needs enemies?
Bud then shows up as a proper young lad, and talks about some bullies at school who were making lewd & suggestive comments towards the females. "Oh mother, when will men realize that the delicate flower of womanhood must be allowed to bloom in freedom?" Peggy sure is proud of her son, who she apparently breastfed until the age of nine. Kelly walks in next and tells Peggy she's home from college. Yes... Kelly actually went to college. "College!? She flunked lunch in high school!", shrieks Al. She also now refers to her brother Bud as "Budrick", and rather than constantly berating one another, they get along great. She asks if he's a hit with the ladies, and he confirms that he's broken a few hearts, but made some great friends. Bud asks if she's still frigid and she says, "Yes, for pleasures of the flesh muddy the thinking." Confident, successful, smart, and good-natured... to put it simply, we're looking at "Bizarro" versions of the Bundys. Peggy even says she saved herself for marriage, and that's when Al loses it. "Oh COME ON! The football team retired HER jersey!"
Next, Norman Jabonsky (Ted McGinley) walks in as the alternate father figure in this world without Al, and he's the perfect dad. Peggy goes on to tell him about an awful encounter she had with a nasty shoe salesman earlier that day. Norman, being the good man that he is, reminds his family that they should remember the old adage: "I lamented I had no shoes until I saw the man who sold them." Well put, Norman... well put. Shortly after, he announces that his Christmas gift to the family is that he bought a new house (a mansion, actually) that they're all gonna move into. To pour even more salt in the wound, they all do a "Whoahhhhhhh Jablonsky!"
Now I know you're thinking, "Wait, that's not Norman, it's Jefferson!" Well a little fun trivia fact is that this "It's A Bundyful Life" episode was Ted McGinley's very first appearance on the show. It wasn't until later in season 5 that he became series regular Jefferson D'Arcy, replacing Steve as Marcy's husband. Yet another reason why this episode is awesome.
The family then rejoices in their utter happiness in life by repeating "I love you" over and over again to one another. According to Al, that final disgusting display of affection was the straw that broke the camel's back. Sam confesses to Al that he failed his mission, because he couldn't come up with one good reason to show Al why he should be alive. But Al has a revelation and tells Sam he wants to live.
And just why does he want to live? Because his family doesn't deserve to be so happy after all the grief they've put him through. Al screams, "I WANT TO LIVE!!" Nothing says Christmas like some good ol' Bundy spite, eh? Sam is ecstatic, for now he'll get his angel wings after all. With his mission complete, he spouts out some more insults at his ex-wife, then spins around and vanishes into thin air. Well done, Sam.
Al wakes up outside in the snow to find his family standing above him. He's so excited to be back in the real world he starts quizzing them to make sure he's alive:
• Al asks Bud what's more important, love or money - Bud says money, because he can always buy love.
• Al asks Kelly what's the color of an orange - She requests multiple choice answers to help her figure it out.
• Al asks Peggy to bake him something - She tells him to drop dead.
Yes indeed, all is right with the world once again. The four of them sit on the couch together, complaining that it's been the worst Christmas ever, but as he kicks his feet up on the table (with a hole in the bottom of his shoe), it's clear that Al is happy about getting his family back. As Al looks upwards, we hear his guardian angel Sam up in heaven saying he's back and wants them to open up the golden gates. They ask for his I.D. badge, but he says it's in his luggage which was apparently lost during his trip back to heaven. Sam then lets out one last scream: "Ohhhhhhhh ohhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!"
And that pretty much does it for the "It's A Bundyful Life" episode. There were plenty of other Married With Children Christmas episodes over the years, and they were always a blast, but this one was always my favorite of the bunch. If you want to watch the episode, it's on the season four DVD set and Netflix. Also, for you old school collectors out there, it was released as a standalone VHS tape back in 1992 as well. Regardless of your preferred format, I highly recommend making it a part of your annual required Christmas holiday season viewing material. Whooooahh-ho-ho Bundy!
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