DVD Review: 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Seasons One and Two'
Gun control, abortion, Middle East politics and welfare are all fair game on this FX comedy
"If you make something funny, it's in good taste," Day explains. "If it's unfunny, it's in bad taste."
It's a good thing that taste is subjective, because on all objective levels, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" should be one of the most tasteless shows on TV, which is mostly ameliorated by the fact that it's also one of TV's funniest shows.
Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Day) and siblings Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson) run a dingy, relatively unsuccessful blue collar Philly bar. What Paddy's Pub lacks in financial rewards, it makes up for in downtime, giving our four anti-heroes plenty of mid-week, mid-day opportunities to get into selfish, politically incorrect trouble, usually with the intention of getting rich or getting laid with minimal effort.
With its third season premiering in mid-September, "It's Always Sunny" is making its first appearance on DVD on Tuesday (Sept. 4) with all 17 of the show's first and second season episodes packed onto a three-disc set.
In the seven-episode first season, the original quartet had fun with guns, flaunted local drinking laws, dealt with repressed memories of sexual molestation, battled cancer and took sides in the abortion debate, all without much narrative momentum. To push things along in the second season (and hopefully boost ratings), the show introduced Danny DeVito's Frank as Dennis and Sweet Dee's father, a man who only amped up the gang's competitiveness, rather than adding any sort of parental authority.
I've never been convinced that DeVito's presence enhanced the show, but nor did the addition of the familiar face prove any sort of distraction. Even as a moderate success for a cable network not known for sitcoms, "It's Always Sunny" has resisted the temptation to improve its rough-around-the-edges aesthetic, a relatively ugly look that harkens back to the show's genesis as a spec pilot largely made by McElhenney.
That original pilot is a big part of the DVD's bonus features, which are scattered across the three discs. Scenes from the spec, which became "Charlie Has Cancer," are on the first disc and exhibit both a visual style and comic timing that have remained untouched over the years. The unlikely origin story is central to a pair of making-of documentaries on the final disc, including the 17-minute "Sunny Side Up" featurette and a Fox Movie Channel doc concentrating on the unusual production process that had the team shooting 10 episodes at once in the second season.
As the major cast member without a producer credit, Olson is a sometimes-underrated part of the "Sunny" cast, but the group's distaff standout is the focus of the "Kaitlin Audition" featurette. Olson's original interview is intercut with cast members raving about her comic timing, though nobody watching "Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare" (in which the siblings also get hooked on crack) or "Hundred Dollar Baby" (Dee takes performance enhancing drugs to become a boxer) had any doubts.
All four leads pop up for a semi-informative commentary track on "Hundred Dollar Baby," where they rave at "the cheapest title sequence ever" and poke fun at a certain Clint Eastwood-directed Oscar winner. Olson, who mostly serves as a moderator for the boys, is replaced by DeVito on the commentary for "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom," a second season episode that may be the show's creative high water mark.
At times, "It's Always Sunny" has seemed a bit to self-congratulatory for my tastes, too proud of its glib obscenities and risk taking, too ready to wink at the audience and assure viewers that they people on screen know what they're saying is oh-so-wrong. But even otherwise misguided episodes can feature moments that bring tears, I'm thinking Charlie's "Rock Flag and Eagle" song from "Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody's Ass" or Dennis' reading of Charlie's semi-literate speech in "The Gang Runs For Office." When everything comes together -- thing "Charlie Wants an Abortion" or "The Gang Goes Jihad" or "Mac Bangs" -- "Sunny" is a small wonder.