Ed O’Neill: ‘Married… With Children’ Was the Only Show Honest About Bad Married Sex

Bundy sex interrupted? Oh well, there’s always next month
Ed O’Neill: ‘Married… With Children’ Was the Only Show Honest About Bad Married Sex

Ed O’Neill was pretty sure Married… With Children was getting kicked to the curb. “I thought it would be canceled every year,” he told Kelly Clarkson recently. “Every year.”

Clarkson couldn’t believe this comedy staple of her childhood would ever get the axe. Why was O’Neill so worried? “Because we were making fun of all sorts of people,” he said, a comedy sin for which he didn’t believe the show could be forgiven. “I think we were the only show before or after that dealt with the sex not being great in the marriage.”

O’Neill has a good point — if family sitcoms of the era dealt with sex between parents at all, the implication was always that things were good. Certainly, the Huxtables over on The Cosby Show were satisfied. Howard and Marion got “frisky” on Happy Days. “Even in Roseanne, they would make up and go flying up the stairs,” laughed O’Neill. “And as they’re running up the stairs, I’m watching going, ‘Yeah, right.’”

That was never the case on Married… With Children, where spousal sex was one of Al Bundy’s least favorite chores. ”I had one show with Katey Sagal when we were arguing. And it was the only show we did in 265 shows where she was wrong. I was always wrong,” O’Neill said. “So in this episode, she said, ‘I know I was wrong.’”

“And I said, ‘Yeah.’”

“And she said, ‘I apologize.’”

“And I said, ‘Great.’”

“She said, ‘Can we go upstairs?’”

“I said, ‘No, because after all, I wasn’t wrong here.’”

The Bundys’ infrequent, unsatisfying sex life was a constant punchline on the show. On another episode, neighbors Marcy and Steve drop by at an inopportune time.

“Peggy, Al, I hope we aren’t interrupting anything,” says Steve.

“Naw, just a little sex with the wife,” replies Al. “But what the hell, there’s always next month.”

The terrible romance resonated with viewers. “The sexual wrinkle worked,” O’Neill says in the book Married… With Children vs. the World. “We started talking about how sexual bliss was not exactly part of our marriage and that was like a bomb that went off around the country — the fact that a husband and wife might not find each other wildly exciting after a number of years. We not only talked about it, we had fun with it. And I think a lot of people in their living rooms were going, ‘Yeah, that’s how it really is’ or ‘Thank God, someone is worse off than we are.’”

All of which served to make O’Neill a sitcom legend, not only for Married… With Children but later on Modern Family. Clarkson wondered which show people brought up the most when they met O’Neill.

“Depends on where I am,” he replied. “If I’m in Beverly Hills, it's Modern Family. If I’m in Vegas, it’s Married With Children.”


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