Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catchup: Brotherly love is a foreign concept for FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

     Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, Rob McElhenny, Danny DeVito
     and Kaitlin Olson of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

At the climax of the Season 7 episode "Sweet Dee Gets Audited," the anti-heroes of FX's hysterical and absurd "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" conclude that what they're about to do - hosting the funeral for a baby that Dee wants to claim as a dependent but due to its fakeness she can't prove exists to the IRS - is the worst thing they've ever done.

And...whew. That seems like a rather bold statement coming from the likes of Mac (Rob McElhenny), Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day), and the Reynolds family - Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and their "father" Frank (comedy veteran Danny DeVito) - considering Dennis and Dee once got themselves addicted to crack so they could qualify for welfare. Considering the guys once not only abandoned Dee when confronted by an armed mugger, but actually pushed her into him as they ran away. Considering "The Gang," as they like to call themselves, once started jacking up prices at the bar and serving watered-down alcohol to underaged drinkers.

I think you get the idea. These people are among the world's worst. The lowest of low scum.

And yet, it can be so damn entertaining and hilarious to watch them screw with each other for twenty or so minutes.

"It's Always Sunny" has never been and never will be one of the best comedies on TV. It doesn't hit emotionally in the way that "Parks and Recreation" or "Suburgatory" or hell, even "Arrested Development" does, because by its very nature it can't. These are disgusting people, worse than any I think I've ever seen on TV. They go beyond "unlikeable" in the way the Bluths or Hannah Horvath are, where even as much as we're not supposed to like them, we can still sympathize with them and witness moments of redemption for those characters. For "Sunny," the best we can really do is pity and feel sorry for them when they've hit a period of sadness, such as Charlie's existential crisis in "Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats".

And that's why when episodes aren't insanely funny, the show falls kinda flat. It's just middling, psychological warfare that you watch because those twenty or so minutes isn't much of a commitment, having learned that while it isn't always sunny, the sun could very well come out the very next week.

When "Sunny" has a good week, it has a GOOD week. And that's why abandoning the show along the way would have seemed like a rather pointless choice. For every "Mac and Dennis: Manhunters," we'll get a "Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth". At times, it's insanely funny and you have to admire the willingness to touch on the subject matter they're touching on. Drugs, race, sexuality, mental disabilities, abortion, religion, child abuse, terrorism - none of it's off limits to McElhenny, Howerton, and Day, who all developed the show as a short film called "Charlie Has Cancer" (which then evolved into the season one episode of the same name).

Part of what makes that subject matter tolerable aside from how funny it can be dealt with is the show's style and presentation. Though originally chosen because the show's tight budget prevented the creation of actual score or buying music rights at all, the show's soundtrack is comprised of jaunty, classical music primarily in the public domain. Its juxtaposition against a show starring the world's worst people almost allows a sigh of relief for viewers - a reassurance that their judgment of these characters is correct. Intentional or not by the creators, it lets us watch these people's lives as presented through omniscient and contemptuous eyes, akin to the documentarians overlaying Pam Beesly discussing her love of watercolours on footage of her using whiteout.

Another great stylistic element, adding to the sense of contempt, is the show's often hysterical use of titles, which are shown immediately after each episode's cold open. I'll admit that it's kind of easy and, by now, obvious humour, but it still makes me laugh when it's done particularly well. Like the time Dennis was pretty positive that Sweet Dee's new boyfriend was a legitimate retarded person - Dee insisted that there was no way she was dating a retarded person:

Or how about the time Dennis and Dee quit their jobs at the bar, insisting that everything was gonna turn out just fine?

And who could forget the time that Frank wanted in on Mac and Charlie's plan to create a cable access news show. When Dee said this was a bad idea because his involvement in a scheme usually meant that someone would get hurt, he couldn't think of how anyone could get hurt by this:

And again, intentional or not, you have to love that with a title like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," its entire opening title sequence is comprised of footage of the city at night.

When "Sunny" hits, it hits well. And my sense of optimism even when she show has a down week is owed to the fact that the show's best seasons have been its most recent ones (we'll call this a Reverse "Office" - or if you prefer, insert the title of your once favourite comedy series that then fell super hard off a cliff). When Danny DeVito joined the cast in season 2, he was really only brought on board so that the second season could exist at all. At first, he never really added much to the proceedings. Now entire episodes focusing on him can be as funny and entertaining as they come.

And good God, these people are funny. How Charlie Day and particularly Kaitlin Olson have failed to receive Emmy nominations is baffling to me (the comedy supporting actor field is tough and has been clogged with unfunny "Modern Family" actors as of late, so I understand that one. But come on. Not one show of love for the woman who brings Deandra Reynolds to life? I would propose to Kaitlin Olson on the spot if Rob McElhenny hadn't gotten to her first.)

"Sunny" is a show I'm very glad to have finally discovered. And unlike its main characters, it's a show I don't think I'll be turning on anytime soon.