Al Bundy angry

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It’s been 35 years since "Married … with Children" first hit the airwaves and introduced audiences to the hilarious Bundy brood. The show made its triumphant debut on April 5, 1987 and ran for 11 seasons, making it one of the longest lasting sitcoms in television history. Thanks to its sharp writing, off-kilter characters, and fearless cast, "Married … with Children" was an instant classic and redefined what was possible for American sitcoms.

Though there have been some other series that also dared to defy expectations about the perfect television family and instead lean into middle class malaise, "Married … with Children" is still one of the best shows to ever upend the traditional sitcom. Even three and a half decades after its release, it’s easy to see why the series was such a massive hit and remains a reliable favorite to stream. Here’s a look at some of the reasons we still love "Married … with Children."

It’s the anti-sitcom sitcom

Al Bundy family on the couch

Sitcoms have been a staple of American television ever since the beginning. But when "Married … with Children" first debuted, it offered something altogether new to the genre: at the center of the story is a household that isn’t always wholesome and happy and heartwarming. Though the structure of the series is still quite similar to other sitcoms, every single other element of the show turns tradition on its head in hilarious and refreshing new ways.

In place of the usual doting and fun-loving dad is Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), a bitter, cash-strapped shoe salesman who loves to complain about, well, everything. Meanwhile, the matriarch of the family is Peggy (Katey Sagal), who heckles her husband and kids with her acerbic humor and otherwise avoids responsibility. Daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) is not the sharpest crayon in the box, and she has a lot of casual boyfriends, while son Bud (David Faustino) is a loner with a very dirty mind. Even the family dog Buck is a bit of a bummer in his regular voice overs, and he gets ignored so often that no one even notices when he runs away in one memorable episode. Throw in some very odd neighbors, and you’ve got one twisted take on the sitcom family formula that makes this show delightfully novel right from the get-go.

Nothing is too taboo

Peggy and Al Bundy sitting

With such a colorful crew at the center of the action, "Married … with Children" has a lot of room to explore some situations that would undoubtedly be off-limits to other shows of its ilk, and the series constantly makes good on that potential. For example, one of the most frequent topics of the show’s edgiest jokes has to do with Kelly and her parade of hookup partners, which her parents are willfully ignorant about despite Bud’s many, many racy jabs at her bedroom behaviors.

Some of the best episodes of all center on the strained relationship between Al and Peggy, whose marriage is pretty cantankerous on the best day. They are absolutely not the usual hunky dory duo, to put it mildly, and they’re all the more entertaining as a result. Al has an unabashedly wandering eye and regularly (and openly) fantasizes about other women. Not only that, but he tends to even spurn Peggy’s the advances when she’s in the mood to make use of their iconic couch, making for some uproarious exchanges that just couldn’t happen between another screen couple. Put simply, "Married … with Children" isn’t afraid to explore the nitty gritty of adult partnerships — for better and for worse — and bring some real raunchy hilarity to some oddly relatable relationship moments.

It’s the little things

Bundy family dressed up

Another reason "Married … with Children" continues to delight and surprise fans throughout all 11 seasons and to this day is that the characters are so firmly established and well written that their jokes can apply to almost any situation, no matter how small. Consider how many laughs the show earns when Al decides he simply must have a new toilet to claim as his throne, or the stitch-inducing fallout that follows when Peggy takes a job so she can buy herself a new VCR. Their low-income status isn’t entirely new to the sitcom world, of course, but the absolute self-deprecation and self-awareness they have about their financial struggles is completely unique to this family — who else would pillage a dead relative’s house at his wake and then compare the spoils back at home?

The show is also fearless when it comes to exploring new possibilities that are well outside the realm of ordinary life experiences. In a memorable Season 5 episode, for example, Al has a head injury that leads to him seeing little green men from space invading his house. And in a standout story arc from Season 11, Peggy gets amnesia and turns into a happy homemaker extraordinaire all of a sudden. No matter the main ingredient of the day, "Married … with Children" always cooks up something truly delicious with its signature blend of sour and spice, making every episode a true treat.

It has the ultimate wisecracker

Al Bundy reading a dirty magazine

All of the main characters in "Married … with Children" are incredibly funny, but there has never been a TV dad quite like Al Bundy. Audiences fell in love with his resting sneer, his tendency to tuck his hand into his pants in front of the tube, and the many, many one-liners he levels at his loved ones.

On top of that, he’s also hilariously dense about political matters, making his next-door neighbor Marcy (Amanda Bearse) a formidable foil. He’s an outspoken misogynist, while she’s a fierce feminist who often tries to bring Peggy into her inner circle. As the most outspoken advocate for "No Ma’am," a rowdy men’s-only organization that he founded, Al says and does things that are purposefully obtuse and offensive, and he usually gets handled in hysterical ways — including earning national notoriety as "Mr. Empty Pants," a comic strip version of himself drawn by Peggy. At the same time, he is always at the ready with his unique pearls of wisdom about his little world, which makes for so very many quotable moments from the character. You might not ever want to know an Al Bundy in real life, of course, but he sure is funny to watch even now.

The rest of the family refuses to fit the mold

Peggy Bundy in the kitchen

For those TV fans who grew up on some of the more model sitcom-moms, Peggy Bundy is a welcome change of pace. Unlike others of her stature, Peggy doesn’t cook, she doesn’t clean, and she has a terrible decorating sense. She also has family members that are somehow even more bizarre than herself. The beauty of Peggy, though, is that she’s absolutely into herself, flaws and all. She knows exactly who she is, and her loud and proud fashion sense and signature poufy hair echoes with her unshakable sense of self-confidence. She’s also incredibly loyal in her own way, to both her husband and her teenagers. She may not be the kind of mom who bakes cookies — or anything, for that matter — but she is ferociously herself and doesn’t put any unreasonable expectations on her kids, instead accepting everyone in her life for exactly who they are.

Speaking of Bud and Kelly Bundy, there’s also something quite charming about the fact that these two are their authentic selves all the time, and their parents don’t demand that they fit any kind of mold. In fact, one of the best things about the entire Bundy bunch is that everyone has already figured out exactly who they are, and they are humbly accepted for their quirky personalities, even if they have to endure a heap of jokes made at their own expense (and our benefit) every single episode. What results is an entire series built with tough love, even tougher characters, and a lot of laughs for those of us watching from the couch.