Favorite Fictional Characters, #268: Al Bundy
Has there ever been a more pathetic, pitiable creature on television than Al Bundy? The sad-sack, shoe-selling paterfamilias of the long-running schlock-com Married...with Children was the object of scorn and derision from his neighbors, co-workers, and society at large. His wife Peggy was a flouncing, spendthrift nag. His son Bud was a flaccid little schemer. His daughter Kelly was a vapid, promiscuous bimbo. And they all despised him too. There were only two places of serenity for Al - the bathroom, newspaper in hand, or the couch, hand in pants. The rest of his life was an eternal damnation of soul-deadening drudgery at work, mountains of financial debt, and the perpetual disappointment, somewhat bemused, that this is where he wound up.
Because it wasn't always thus for Al Bundy. He was a high school football star, with enough promise to warrant a college scholarship. A life of accomplishment and fulfillment awaited, until a broken leg and a drunken marriage proposal sidetracked him into suburban purgatory. As Al himself would put it, "Never wanted to get married...I'm married. Never wanted children...I have two of them. How the hell did I get here?" Millions of men across America may not share Ed's despair and self-loathing, but the question is still a valid one. Middle age can be a terrifying, lonely experience even for a man surrounded by loving friends and family. Al has none of these. His caustic wit and biting sarcasm are both a defense from and cause of the isolation he endures. Al is a loser.
And yet there are redeeming elements to this misogynistic, lazy, unlucky man. He can throw a punch and take one as well, and there's a fierce loyalty to the Bundy clan that Al inspires. They cut each other down remorselessly, but if any outside threat looms, the family will protect each other. Somewhere, very deep down, he even loves his wife. It's the rest of his life he hates.