I'll admit it: I'm new to the charms of FX's seductively hilarious comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I'm not sure how I managed to unknowingly avoid this smart, hip, subversive series, but I'm making up for lost time now in a major way.
Sure, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a certain, er, indescribable quality, but that's why I've fallen head over heels in love with the damn thing. It's sort of the warped love child of the absurdity of Arrested Development, the random observations and quirkiness of Seinfeld, and the wackiness of 30 Rock, blended together with a cast of characters that might just very well be the most selfish and stunted on television. I can't get enough.
Here's the quick skinny on Sunny: Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito) own Paddy's Pub, an Irish bar in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. A bar that seemingly no one ever enters, one might add, and one that is riddled with secret rooms, serpentine air ducts, and a host of other bizarro touches. It's also home to one of the most convoluted family tree this side of Dynasty: Frank (DeVito) was originally introduced as the father of well-to-do siblings Dennis (Howerton) and Dee (Olson), but it was recently discovered that he is not in fact their father (more on that in a minute), but was in fact the father of Charlie (Day). Yes, it's odd, but hilarious.
Along the way, the series tackles any number of controversial topics, such as abortion, gun control, sex abuse, and dumpster babies, with a skewed humor that strikes a chord in the heart of this jaded viewer. It's Always Sunny is far from being a, well, sunny series, and it wears its bleak humor on its sleeve as a badge of honor: smartly done, typically inappropriate, and gleefully absurd.
Don't believe me? Just take a look at the series' third season premiere (which airs Thursday at 10 pm) "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby," in which the gang does just that. As Charlie attempts to adjust to life as Frank's son (sharing a sofa bed with him in the process), the gang chances upon a baby left in a dumpster. Mac and Dee claim the child as their own and attempt to raise it when they believe they can make some quick cash off of the thing by loaning it out as a child actor. Imagine their chagrin then when they learn that white babies have fallen out of fashion. Attempting to pass the child as Latino, they first try a tanning salon and, when that fails, shoe polish.
In the second episode previewed, "The Gang Gets Invincible," Dennis and Mac decide to try out for the Philadelphia Eagles in an open call (just like that "New Kids on the Block movie"), but are thwarted when they learn that a.) Dee has disguised herself as a man and showed them up and b.) that Doyle McPoyle, one of the member of the dreaded McPoyle clan (their nemeses) is also trying out. Meanwhile, Frank takes a lot of acid while cheering the guys on with Charlie, and he ends up trapped in the McPoyle's camper. Again. Or does he?
In episode three, "Dennis and Dee's Mom is Dead," the siblings learn that their loathsome mother has died during a freak cosmetic surgery mishap and left them a contentious will: Dennis has inherited their mother's luxe mansion; Dee has received nothing; and Frank's money has all been left to Dennis and Dee's real father (guest star Stephen Collins, in a hilarious turn). Dennis quickly decides to turn the place into a party mansion and tries to round up some fit guys as friends in a campaign that goes hilariously bad (check out the flier if you don't believe me!), while Dee and Frank pose as a couple in order to steal back their rightful fortune. This episode features hilarious sight gags, kidnapping, and one of the most wrong almost-sex scenes ever to air on television. (Trust me.)
In the final episode offered for review, "The Gang Gets Held Hostage," the gang is taken prisoner at the bar by the McPoyle family in what must be one of the most painfully funny half an hour in television history, deftly blending together a hostage standoff, Stockholm Syndrome, and a terrifying use of tighty whiteys. If anything had turned me into a complete convert for the It's Always Sunny cause, it was this single half-hour; I've never seen anything quite like it before.
It's important to note that the series is written, executive produced, and was created by its leads: Day, McElhenney, and Howerton. Along with Olson and DeVito, they make up one of the most deft comedic ensembles of recent memory. They certainly don't shy away from tackling some rather sensitive issues, nor are they afraid of appearing vain, uninformed, selfish, or as variations of ugly, ugly Americans.
Ultimately, that's the winsome charm of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: the strength of its talented cast, the wittiness and absurdity of its writing, and its ability to invent its own rules for reality and discourse. It's Always Sunny might not always make a lot of logical sense, but it manages to adroitly turn long-ingrained rules of storytelling on their heads. And in an age where network television seems paved with one-note reality series and comedies built around commercial mascots, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an addictive and euphoric antidote to these troubled times.
Season Three of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia launches tomorrow night at 10 pm ET/PT on FX.
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionaryblog.com.