When you talk about television success stories, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not likely to be among the first shows that you mention. Whether or not you've heard of it, there is no denying the fact that the trio that got it started struck gold. Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney shot a pilot for $200 and shopped it around. FX picked it up and they were off. The show found decent success on the cable network, as well as some critical success. Of course, I wasn't so sure about it at first. Rewatching it on DVD for the first time since it originally aired, I have found it to be a much more enjoyable experience.
I have seen the show described as "Seinfeld on crack." That is a pretty accurate description, if you cross it with the setting of Cheers, the single-camera look of Arrested Development, and some decidedly non-PC dialogue. It is about a group of friends doing nothing, or rather the situations find them and much comedy ensues. Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney), and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) are a group of friends from high school who have never grown up. Together with Dennis' sister, Dee (Kaitlin Olson), they run an Irish bar in sunny Philly. The bar never seems to do much business, unless the story calls for it, that is.
When I first saw it, it was paired up with Starved on FX Thursday nights. (I think it was Thursday, maybe it was Tuesday? Doesn't matter.) Starved was the lead-in, and it was not all that good (save for the hilarious enema gone wrong scene). The lackluster lead-in didn't do our Sunny friends any good, yet it was the one to survive to see a second season while Starved has become nothing but a bad memory.
Season one ran seven episodes and aired in August and September of 2005. The episodes all had a slacker's work ethic and a rather cynical attitude. My first impression was that it was being edgy for the sake of being edgy. Watching again, I find a show that had a spot on tone and some fantastic dialogue and goofy characters. The first season brought up issues of racism, abortion, underage drinking, and guns. Generally the four will split to both sides of the issue while never really taking a side. The show presented a sort of heightened reality that feels genuine, yet not really. The dim-witted gang all have faulty brain-to-mouth translators, meaning that whatever comes to mind they say without thinking of the consequences.
In short, the first season is classic in retrospect. I find that I did not appreciate the sheer zaniness during its initial broadcast. Nearly a year later, the second season arrived and the show had changed, not for the better. It was a case of nearly jumping the shark. Fonzie was lining up the motorcycle and preparing to jump.
The lesser of the two seasons, this second go around with the goofy gang saw the success of the show lead to the addition of a big name to the cast. While that could be seen as a coup, it also wedged in an element that did not mesh very well. Danny DeVito joined the cast as Frank, Dennis and Dee's father. As funny as DeVito can be, he brings an unwelcome addition to the buddy dynamic of the other four.
Don't get me wrong, the second season is still funny. The problem is that DeVito's Frank comes in as a recently separated man of wealth seeking to relive his lost youth by moving in with Charlie. It was an odd fit. The gang became more active in the schemes while Frank was a major instigator. The end result of shoehorning Danny DeVito into the cast was the overall feel of the show becoming more scripted, plotted, and less organic than the first season. Don't worry, you will still laugh, there are some great lines and moments through the 12 season two episodes.
While I will complain about DeVito's addition in season two, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a funny show, considerably better than I originally thought. The humor is wild, over the top, and memorable. You won't be disappointed if you give this a shot sight unseen.
Audio/Video. The show is presented very nicely. The audio is presented in Dolby surround and it sounds fine. The series is primarily dialogue driven and it is always clear. The video is 1.33:1 full frame. It has a low budget, slightly gritty look that matches the irreverent tone of the show. In other words, it is fine.
Extras. A modest selection of extras rounds out the three-disk set.
- Commentaries. There are two tracks featuring the lead characters. Both tracks are pretty funny as they pal around reminiscing about the episode. The episodes are "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom" and "Hundred Dollar Baby."
- Sunny Side Up: Making-of Featurette. This consists of interviews with all of the primaries, and a few of the other producers. They talk about casting Kaitlin, bringing in Danny DeVito, and the writing in terms of offensiveness. (17 minutes)
- Kaitlin Audition Featurette. This was pretty funny, as they went through the casting process. It includes her audition footage, which was a scene that wasn't even written for her! (5.5 minutes)
- The Gang F*#!s Up: Outtakes. Your standard line flubs and such. (4 minutes)
- Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This focuses on bringing in Danny DeVito and his shooting limitations. It was interesting to hear that they had to shoot all ten episodes worth of Danny's scenes before anything else, as he was limited to 20 days of work. That limitation brings in all sorts of production issues impacting continuity and budget. (8.5 minutes)
Bottom line. It starts off stronger than it finishes. I like the irreverent tone that the show takes. There is an offensiveness that isn't offensive. It is a tightrope to walk. Not to say this is genius or anything, but it is pretty darn funny.