Merry Christmas in July! It is Day #29 of the month-long celebration of Christmas entertainment. Each day this month I will be sharing reminisces about Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies with a IT'S A WONDERFUL SUMMER attitude. Yes--this month I'm sharing brief essays about TV adaptations of the 1946 movie It's a Wonderful Life along with TV programs with significant references to the movie. Just a little something different and a way for me to show off the diversity of holiday stories I've collected in the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV (the updated and expanded 2nd edition being released soon).
Today's discussion is on the memorable 4th season episode "It's a Bundyful Life" from the irreverent sitcom Married...With Children. This Christmas episode originally aired as an hour-long episode but has since been broken into two parts to re-air in the traditional half-hour time slot. This series' version of It's a Wonderful Life flips the original meaning of the 1946 movie on its side. Let's look at it a little more closely.
In the first half of the episode, father Al Bundy promises Christmas this year will be different because he has opened a Christmas club savings account at the bank--there will be money for presents! However, Peg, Kelly, and Bud each greedily try to convince him to spend all of the money just on them. Meanwhile, neighbor Steve has gone home to his mother for the holidays leaving his wife Marcy to attend her debauched office Christmas party by herself. On Christmas Eve, Al doesn’t make it to the bank before it closes, leaving him broke as usual.
In the second half of the story, Al finds that his family members aren't very forgiving when he comes home without the money from his Christmas club account. Al regrets that he was ever born and his guardian angel arrives to show him what his family's lives would be like without him.
|Comedian Sam Kinison-Als' guardian angel
Before moving on with the summary, let's talk about Al's guardian angel. One of the reasons this sitcom adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life is so memorable is because of the casting of Al's guardian angel. The angel is played by boundary-pushing, stand-up comedian Sam Kinison who was well known at the time for his anger, frustration and scream-filled approach to comedy. So when the audience sees Sam Kinison as Al's guardian angel, we know the disrespected and unloved Al Bundy will not be given the sympathy, compassion, or understanding that he craves.
In the guardian angel's vision of life without Al Bundy, wife Peg becomes a devoted June Cleaver-type homemaker, and Al's children Bud and Kelly are intelligent and squeaky clean. Peg’s new husband Norman Jablonsky is a hard-working professional and a very loving husband and father. Of course, Al can’t stand how happy the Jablonskys are without him so he insists that his guardian angel return him back to his former life so they can all be miserable together.
This dark parody of It's a Wonderful Life sets itself apart from the many other TV adaptations of the 1946 movie. The perfect casting of Al's guardian angel in Sam Kinison captures the tone of this cynical comedy and alerts viewers that this will not be a feel-good story, like most other Christmas TV episodes.
Fans of Married...With Children know that Norman Jablonsky here is played by actor Ted McGinley who would later be hired again to play Marcy’s second husband Jefferson D'Arcy, starting in season 5.
There’s also a funny running gag throughout the episode that the Bundys keep trying to pretend they aren’t home to avoid the roaming carolers in the neighborhood.
The cast includes Ed O'Neill as Al Bundy, Katey Sagal as Peg Bundy, Amanda Bearse as Marcy, Christina Applegate as Kelly Bundy, David Faustino as Bud Bundy, Ted McGinley as Norman Jablonsky, and Sam Kinison as Al's guardian angel.
Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing
in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can
be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare:
Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story"
was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the
encyclopedia for an upcoming release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website:
*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com