Season 1 of Married with Children is easily the one where all the characters still felt like real people, instead of the silly (albeit hilarious) caricatures they would eventually become in the later seasons. The 80s was chock full of "perfect" family sitcoms: The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Family Ties, Home Improvement, Full House, etc. But MWC was the ultimate ANTI-sitcom, daring to showcase the more realistic, unappealing aspects of the family dynamic. While Al Bundy (the legendary Ed O'Neill) and his wife Peg (the hilarious Katey Sagal) most definitely loved each other, they spent a significant amount of time at odds and arguing, which especially in this first season, felt all too real. And their kids teenaged daughter Kelly (iconic Christina Applegate) and pre-pubescent son Bud (eternally underrated David Faustino) started out real, too.
Al was the star of his high school football team and that was his peak, marrying his high school sweetheart Peg and settling down immediately into a dead end job selling women's shoes. Obviously Kelly was conceived early on in their marriage, if not before, then a few years later Bud was born. In the first season, all the characters were very relatable. While Al and Peg fought a lot, they still had moments where they compromised and showed their mutual love. Al was actually hard working while Peg was a reasonably good housewife. Kelly actually had street smarts and comprehension of the English language early on. And Bud was the all-too realistic annoying prankster younger brother. Rounding out this great cast of characters are Steve and Marcy Rhoades (superbly played by David Garrison and Amanda Bearse). Steve and Marcy were the perfect nosy clean-cut neighbors, a few years younger than Al and Peg, and destined to end up just like them. As Season 1 progressed, as the respective duos of Al-Steve and Peg-Marcy got closer, you could see the Rhodes taking on their personalities and their perfect marriage in the beginnings of it's deterioration. MWC started out REAL. There was also a completely overlooked and forgotten character Luke (memorably played in scene-stealing fashion by Ritch Shydner), who was originally Al's fellow shoe store employee. A lot of fans probably think that Al always worked the store alone until the later seasons when Griff showed up, but Luke was actually there at the beginning before disappearing by the second season.
Having not watched Season 1 in what felt like an eternity, I was surprised at how well-written and focused as it started out and how much the dialogue and situations from that season still hold up to this day. Had the show continued this path instead of going full on slapstick comedy, I almost think it would be All in the Family/Seinfeld/Cheers/Roseanne level of brilliant. Don't get me wrong, MWC became a huge hit and iconic in it's own right for a reason, but I was stunned at how grounded ALL episodes of Season 1 versus the rest of them. Season 2 started introducing rather unreal, silly scenarios and you can really seeds of slapstick comedy being planted. By the later seasons, the show was basically a live-action cartoon. But there's always Season 1 to fall back in if you want to see a real, relatable depiction of the fractured American family.