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Monday, January 19, 2009


The brilliant Ed O'Neill as the indelible Al Bundy.

As regular Vault readers well know, Yer Bunche regularly suffers from bouts of insomnia and if I can't somehow lull myself to sleep I turn on the flat-screen and pray for something to bore me into the realm of Morpheus. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, and those nights/mornings when there's no fucking way I'm gonna drift off I wait until around 5AM and set the channel to TBS, there to await the credit roll of whatever piece of shit movie was on and spend some quality time with the last of the great "guy" characters in American television history: Alphonse Hercules Bundy, better known merely as Al.

The hapless patriarch of MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN's Bundy clan, Al is a complete failure at damned near every endeavor he's attempted since his days as a high school touchdown god, now trapped in an existential purgatory comprised of his money-grubbing, lazy, stupid, promiscuous and perverted family — those descriptions pretty effectively covering the chief attributes of his wife and kids — and his pray-for-slow-death job as a shoe salesman at the local mall outlet of Gary's Shoes (which is run by a ball-busting woman named Gary).

Once a football hero, now a balding, middle-aged purveyor of shoes to elephantine housewives.

The few instants of happiness he can claim stem from memories of has faded youth, the occasional TV airing of John Wayne movies, futile lusting after nubiles half his age, his collection of "Big 'Uns" magazine, sporting events, and an undying love for the bizarre and borderline-sociopathic Western series "Psycho Dad," but those moments of bliss are inevitably torpedoed by the torturous reality of his family, his neighbors and his job. For Al it's a tried and true recipe for enduring torment, but for the repeat viewer of MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN, that formula spells the stuff of "lowbrow" yucks and a surprisingly deep and heartfelt look into one man's waking nightmare.

What could easily have been a one note role was crafted into a signature and indelible character by the vastly underrated Ed O'Neill, a man whose live-action encyclopedia of facial expressions and gestural nuances would give a classic Warner Brothers animated cartoon character a run for its money. The guy was both deeply likable and easy to empathize with, and his balls-out willingness to explore the darker and more pathetic recesses of the workaday Joe Sixpack's emasculated and psychologically impotent psyche was the stuff of true Herculean comedic greatness. If there were any justice in this universe, there would be a thirty-foot statue of Al Bundy, in his patented (and pathetic) football-passing pose, festooned with solid inches of crusty birdshit somewhere within the Chicago city limits, there to stand for eternity and remind us of dreams deferred by the responsibilities of family and our own total insignificance to a universe that mocks us while we suffer through our own personal, daily Tartarus.

Al, enjoying the benefits of "Bleen" and looking like the the foulest of sex offenders.

I found the anti-adventures of Al Bundy and his brood to be funny from the get-go but as I grow older I understand and appreciate Al's struggle more and more, and I curse the heartless network powers-that-be that allowed Al to take his place among those granted cathode ray immortality without giving him a proper final episode. I have no suggestion as to how his journey should have played out, but perhaps the sudden cancellation after eleven years fits in just perfectly with the baleful energy known as "the Bundy Curse." Somehow I doubt that the Bundy family winning the Illinois State Lottery or saving the world from an alien invasion would have rung true — despite Al once actually having saved the Earth and "a hundred other worlds" in the path of a titanic comet from extinction by giving a crew of friendly extraterrestrials his unwashed socks for use as concentrated spaceship fuel —

Al Bundy, galactic hero, with friends.

so maybe the endless reruns that perpetuate Al's misery serve as an inevitable and appropriate coda to his place among American pop culture heroes. But whatever the case may be, I thank Ed O'Neill for his portrayal of Al Bundy from the deepest and warmest part of my tequila-fueled heart for not only making me laugh my ass off, but also for making my insomniac desolation considerably more tolerable.

I'm astonished to realize just how often I find myself performing this very same gesture. I hear you, Al. I really do.


Mzilla said...


John Bligh said...