"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is sort of an "indie" TV series. The pilot was shot by a group of actors for $200 bucks on a digital camera, then shopped around to networks, with FX deciding to pick it up. The pilot was then re-shot and the result is an interesting mix. The series is like a deeply politically incorrect, rough mix between "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Friends" and looks like it was shot with the low-key, low-tech feel of an Ed Burns film.
This is a series about being completely and utterly antisocial, immoral, rude and generally terrible to your fellow human - and it's deeply, utterly and sometimes even sublimely funny. In terms of being antisocial, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" makes "Seinfeld" look like "7th Heaven". In a time where many shows seem to be sanitized and diluted to make sure they're not offensive to anyone, it's amazing to see a series that looks like every third or fourth scene would get a note from network execs that, "Gee, you can't do that."
The show focuses on Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton), three pals who decide to open up a bar in Philadelphia in order to have a place to drink and meet women or meet drinking women. They're joined by Dee (Kaitlin Olson), the sister of Dennis who occasionally makes a slight attempt to be the voice of reason before being dragged down into the various schemes. The remarkable thing about the series is how it's successfully so twisted without seeming forced. It's all because these characters are truly, deeply who they are. They're self-centered, completely immature jerks who are not only proud of it, but unaware that there's any other way to be.
The show's writing is wonderfully demented, but it's the performances that make the series work as well as it does. McElhenney, Howerton and Day are priceless, which is rather surprising, as none of the three have much experience with comedy, aside from Howerton, who was one of the stars of the short-lived "That 80's Show". Danny Devito, playing Dennis and Dee's estranged father Frank, blends in well and gets some big laughs since joining the cast in season 2.
The fifth season doesn't see any toning down of the characters being who they are, but the writing backs off a little bit - some episodes are not quite as consistently one-after-another as prior seasons and don't try to push the envelope quite as consistently. The season premiere, "The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis", is a fine example; while there are tremendous moments in this episode (the opener where Dee announces her plan to make money by becoming a surrogate, while the guys yell at her that they're much more interested in participating in Frank's scheme to flip a house; the parents, who have apparently not researched Dee much, ask: "Any history of mental illness?"), neither story line gathers the kind of momentum hoped. "The Gang Hits the Road" is another, where the gang tries to take a road trip to the Grand Canyon - the attempt at a trip generates a few chuckles, but not a whole lot more.
The season gets better with "The Great Recession", where Mac and Dennis completely botch their attempt to rip off a Dave and Busters promotion, while Charlie comes up with a new venture - collecting crabs by the sewer runoff (one of the funniest lines of the season is the most simple and said with the utmost seriousness: "We're crab people now, Dee."
The middle of the season sees the pace continue to pick up with the bizarre "World Series Defense", a hilarious tale of woe as the gang manages to lose their tickets to the game, yet still tries to scheme (including an appearance by Green Man) to come up with a way to sneak in. This story is all, of course, being told to a judge. "Mac and Dennis Break Up" is another terrific episode, and on this DVD, you can hear Dr. Drew (who gets the show just right: these are people who really love each other and will have each other's back, but are just as likely to sabotage each other) analyze the two co-dependent characters on the commentary. The episode is one of the season's best, as not only is the core story (Mac and Dennis try to spend time apart, which negatively effects everyone else's lives) a hit, but the B story - Dee gets her cat stuck in the wall - is deeply funny, as well.
While the finale isn't nearly the hit that last year's was, the two episodes that come before - "Mac and Charlie Write a Movie" and "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System" - offer up some great laughs, especially the latter, where Dennis tries to explain his overly complicated and incredibly mean-spirited way of seducing women.
Overall, this season doesn't quite reach down into the depths of darkness and find hilarity as consistently as prior seasons, but there are certainly some superbly funny episodes, especially in the second half of the season.
• Season 5
46 5-01 IP05008 17/Sep/09 The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis
47 5-02 IP05005 24/Sep/09 The Gang Hits the Road
48 5-03 01/Oct/09 The Great Recession
49 5-04 08/Oct/09 The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention
50 5-05 15/Oct/09 The Waitress Is Getting Married
51 5-06 22/Oct/09 The World Series Defense
52 5-07 29/Oct/09 The Gang Wrestles for the Troops
53 5-08 05/Nov/09 Paddy's Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens
54 5-09 12/Nov/09 Mac and Dennis Break Up
55 5-10 19/Nov/09 The D.E.N.N.I.S. System
56 5-11 03/Dec/09 Mac and Charlie Write a Movie
57 5-12 10/Dec/09 The Gang Reignites the Rivalry
VIDEO: "It's Always Sunny" is presented by Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality is generally good and presents the low-budget material pretty well overall. Sharpness and detail are generally fine, although some scenes (especially a few interiors) can seem mildly soft. Some minor shimmering was spotted at times throughout the show, but the majority of the presentation appeared crisp and clean.
SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack remained dialogue-driven throughout. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Commentaries from the cast are offered on: "The Gang Hits the Road", "The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention", "The Waitress is Getting Married", "The Gang Wrestles for the Troops", "Mac and Dennis Break Up" and "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry." Dr Drew joins in for the commentaries for "Mac and Dennis Break Up" and "The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention" and the results are very funny. We also get the pilot episode for the FX series "Archer", a mildly funny gag reel, deleted/extended scenes, the gang's dating profiles, an endless loop of "Kitten Mittens" and "23,793 photos in 5 minutes: Schwep Dream Sequences Montage".
Final Thoughts: The fifth season of "Sunny" really gets going in the second half of the season. The DVD set provides some terrific extras, as well as fine audio/video quality. Recommended.