Married with Children ran for 11 years and became an iconic sitcom, but the same can’t be said for its spiritual sequel series Unhappily Ever After. Starring Ed O’Neill as patriarch Al Bundy, Married with Children focused on a family that all managed to be losers in life in their own ways. Al hated his job and felt stuck in his marriage, Peggy was lazy and unmotivated to do much else but shop and lounge around, Bud was smart but unpopular and socially awkward, and Kelly was attractive but unintelligent and easily manipulated.
Despite these glaring flaws, or arguably because of them, millions of viewers related to The Bundys, seeing Married with Children as an over the top, but oddly more realistic look at an American family. Instead of holding important jobs like doctor, lawyer, scientist, or politician, Al Bundy sold shoes for minimum wage, and the family overall struggled financially on a constant basis. Thankfully they at least seemed to have gotten a good deal on their house before things went downward. None of the Bundys were really remarkable people; they bickered sometimes and often came up short, but endearingly, messing with one Bundy would almost always earn the wrath of every other Bundy.
By the time Married with Children hit its home stretch in the mid-1990s, shows like Roseanne had arrived, and centering a sitcom on ordinary working people was much more common. Not long before Married with Children signed off, one of the series’ co-creators brought Unhappily Ever After to The WB. While sometimes called a ripoff, it was more of an extension of Married with Children‘s themes, spiced up with storylines that got downright bizarre.
In 1994, executives at the WB network approached Married with Children co-creator Ron Leavitt and asked him to create a knockoff of his prior hit. The result–co-created by Leavitt and long-time Married producer Arthur Silver–was Unhappily Ever After, which premiered in early 1995. While its genesis may have been a desire to ripoff Married with Children, at least as far as one can really ripoff their own work, it ended up becoming its own beast, but one that still retained some of the same themes and ideas. Amusingly, Unhappily Ever After leaned into the comparisons, making jokes at its own expense.
Instead of a bickering married couple, the mom and dad of the central Malloy family were a bickering divorced couple. The attractive daughter was now the smart one, and the unlucky with the ladies son was now not too bright. One small addition to the mix was a third child, Ross, played by actor Justin Berfield. The biggest change was that father Jack Malloy lived with a mental health condition and would have hallucinations involving talking to a stuffed rabbit named Mr. Floppy. Unsurprisingly, Unhappily Ever After retained its predecessor’s penchant for lowbrow sexual humor and jokes likely to ruffle feathers, albeit never approaching the controversy Married with Children generated.
One thing that separated Unhappily Ever After was just how strange it would get, including at one point killing off mom Jennie Malloy and turning her into a ghost, then having a “network executive” retcon her back to life in a later episode. When the actress did later leave the show, Jennie was casually written out as having run off with a lesbian lover, not at all taking the development seriously. Unhappily earned enough of a fanbase to run for five seasons, signing off in 1999, two years after Married with Children aired its own unplanned series finale. Today, the show is almost impossible to watch. It’s never been on a streaming service or been released on home video and also no longer runs in syndication. That literally only leaves shady bootlegs as a possible avenue, which is a shame, as while not a classic, anyone who enjoyed Married with Children would probably also enjoy Unhappily Ever After.