Married with Children... All Things Episodic



On the surface, "He Thought He Could" appears to be a traditional enough
"Married with Children" episode.  There is the token fat woman, a desire
to return to the false happiness of childhood, and Al carelessly
embarrassing the family for something of trifling advantage.  On the
wider scale, "He Thought He Could" probably defined the show's format
more than any episode before or since.  Previously Al had been a
character we laughed at with condescension rather than understanding. 
Admittedly, episodes such as "Sixteen Years and What Do You Get?" had
attempted to be a little darker, but none managed to put forward such an
eloquent and moving argument.  What this episode does is to take our own
opinion of Al, and turns it inwards towards the viewer, making for some
uncomfortable comparisons.   

The librarian's hideous mental vivisection of Al is probably no more
condescending than what do when we laugh at him ourselves, but for once
we can feel the results ourselves.  When Ed O'Neill delivers his closing
monologue, it should be funny.  But it isn't.  Even the studio audience
sounds uncomfortable.  O'Neill plays against the comedy of the speech
and for once we hear Al without the irony.  There's no attempt to skirt
issues with pithy insults or obtuse comments - Al has nowhere to run,
and is forced to contemplate his lot.  The switch from comedy to tragedy
is seamless, and the writers and performers carry it off beautifully. 
His memorable speech turns him from a social outcast to someone capable
of articulating the concerns and regrets of our society.  He becomes
almost heroic as we realise that through his self-mocking, Al is
admitting to his problems, but reminds us that no solutions present
themselves.  Al Bundy would never be the same again, and the character
gains an inherent heroism as a result.    

The third season of the show was criticised for its lack of morals, yet
the underlying message of "He Thought He Could" is actually highly
moralistic.  Al rediscovers his sense of self-respect, and l