We have talked about Married With Children before, about how Al is grudgingly playing along with the game of Life that someone has roped him into. Unhappily Ever After was co-created and written by Ron Leavitt, who also co-created and wrote much of Married With Children. Unhappily appears to be a continuation of the themes of Married, but it soon becomes self-aware and begins commenting on its relationship with the viewer.
Unhappily starts up where Married may have left off: a couple, married with 3 children and just as many dogs, splits up and the husband moves into a ramshackle apartment. Finally on his own, Jack begins to talk to a stuffed animal which talks back to him. Many times Jack refers to the fact that he is crazy and knows that Mr. Floppy is actually a part of himself, but he has more fun with the bunny than he ever had in his family life (it is also hinted at many times that Mr. Floppy is Jack’s sexual drive). In the second season, Jack moves back into the house and is cast into the abyss of the basement while the rest of the family lives on the second floor. They meet as a group together on the ground floor each descending or ascending to be together as a familial unit.
Just as in Married With Children, the show is filmed before a live audience, but Unhappily uses the audience at times better than any show I have seen (except maybe the Gary Shandling Show). The characters begin to break the fourth wall and refer to the viewer at home and the audience in the studio —sometimes relying on a solicited response to complete the written joke. Not all characters can see through the fourth wall, and some can only see through it at certain times. This setup mirrors the setup of Jack and the Bunny, and here is where the show points the finger at the viewer, asking how much vicarious enjoyment are we getting from the fantasy we are diving into each week. The show is Mr. Floppy and the viewer is Jack. In the first few seasons, Unhappily drags the viewer down from upstairs into the family room and makes us sit amidst cheers from the audience at inane jokes and activities. In its fourth season, the show makes a big deal of producer involvement dictating which characters will survive, as the family unit is torn down and the mother is killed, eaten, turned into an apparition, revived, and ultimately flees into exile in season 5. After the family unit is dissolved, the show devolves into a parade of low cut tops and asinine ramblings set to cat calls and ever louder cheers from the studio audience. The viewer has now been dragged into the abyss and the show spends more and more time in the basement with Jack and Mr. Floppy.
It is clear that the show was only kept around for a fifth season so that it could reach the magic 100 episode mark which allows a series to be sold into syndication. In the final episode, the writers show that once Jack begins to move out of the basement, show initiative in his life, and try to be a success, Mr. Floppy dies. The show is about to die on its own, and if the viewer can rise above the vacuous nature the show extolls, they can find success in life. However, just before the series can come to an end, Jack expresses unhappiness in his success, drinks himself into a stupor, and Mr. Floppy returns to life. The show has hit 100 and will live in syndication forever. The majority of the viewing public wants escapist television that they do not have to think about, and they can return to the basement now whenever they want so that they may live unhappily ever after.