It’s always funny

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s pilot episode only cost $85 to make. You might expect it, therefore, to be as cheap and crass as your average episode of What Katie Did Next. In many ways it is, and it seems like no coincidence that on September 17th, as Ms Price’s latest reality show graced our airwaves for the first time, the American sitcom began its fifth season.

It’s Always Sunny revolves around a group of morally dysfunctional friends who own Paddy’s Pub, an Irish bar in Philadelphia. Sunny’s less than bright characters are the source of the show’s energy and dynamism. Dennis, Mac and Charlie comprise the core of “The Gang”, played by real-life pals Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day respectively (they also write or co-write almost every episode).

Narcissistic and vain, Dennis believes that he is physically flawless, and will go to great lengths to convince himself and others of this. He is also into eighties glam-rock and a big fan of Rick Astley.

Mac, the self-styled tough guy of the group, almost always wears sleeveless shirts to highlight his physique. Despite this image, however, he is very insecure and jealous: when he discovers that schoolmate Charlie has been molested, he feels rejected and is determined to find out why he himself wasn’t a target.

Illiterate Charlie is often disparaged by The Gang, and tedious tasks around the bar are known as ‘Charlie work’. He has a penchant for sniffing glue and lives in squalor, but has a surprising range of skills including sewing, playing the keyboard and an inhuman resilience to injury.

Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Dennis’s twin sister, is often the victim of The Gang’s misogyny and frequently excluded from their activities. However, she is just as selfish and delusional as her friends, and believes most men rate her ‘an 8 or 9 out of 10’. Dennis and Dee’s shady and exploitative father, Frank, is introduced in Season Two. Played brilliantly by Danny DeVito, his dastardly schemes bring a different, and sometimes darker, dimension to the show. A Vietnam veteran, in 1993 he travelled there to open a sweatshop.

The show also has a terrific set of supporting characters, including the incestuous McPoyle brothers, ‘The Waitress’ with whom Charlie is obsessively and unrequitedly in love, and Rickety Cricket, former priest and now a crippled and bedraggled homeless cocaine addict thanks to the remorseless Gang, who address him as a “street urchin”.

It might seem that these characters would combine to provide a mean-spirited and malicious show, but they are so detached from reality and oblivious to the consequences of their misadventures that the mood is always jovial. So whether The Gang are feigning disabilities to gain attention from strippers, throwing burning faeces into a building to ‘go Jihad’ on a business rival or getting hooked on crack in order to abuse welfare hand-outs, it becomes easy to laugh off the destruction they cause in the same way that they do.

The show can at times be predictable and, of course, there have been occasional poor episodes, most notably misguided parodies of America’s Next Top Model and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. However, US broadcasters FX have recently rewarded Sunny’s overall high quality and high ratings by ordering three more seasons. And to promote Season Five, the cast of the show embarked on an ambitious and original six date tour recreating the superb season four finale as a live theatrical production. The musical The Nightman Cometh, written by Charlie in the episode, was brought to life on stage complete with improvisation and audience interaction. The tour was very well received and is an example of the show’s refreshing down-to-earth nature in contrast to its ever-increasing budget.

While the live shows were something different, season five’s premiere ‘The Gang Exploits The Mortgage Crisis’ kicked off with the traditional combination of get-rich-quick scheming and misadventure. While the guys try to sell a house bought by Frank at a foreclosure auction (with a family still living in it), frequent drug and alcohol abuser Dee decides to cash in on surrogate pregnancy. Never one to waste a business opportunity, she asks an interested couple if they had considered ‘doubling down’ to get more value for money, and explains that ‘four or five is where you really start to see some savings’.

Hopefully by now you’ll want to spend some time at Paddy’s Pub, but it isn’t the most accessible bar in town. Although seasons One and Two were aired in the UK on Bravo (2005) and Virgin1 (2007) respectively, Season Three was cancelled in 2008 after only three episodes by trigger-happy Virgin. After all, with important programming such as Sexcetera providing stiff competition for the 11pm slot, no wonder there is no room for vulgar shows like Sunny. Fortunately, the first four seasons can be found on DVD, and will hopefully be available to Warwick students on the internet when US-based web TV service Hulu finally launches in the UK early next year. And with broadcaster FX’s presence on Sky and Virgin Media, it should only be a matter of time before The Gang are once again causing havoc on our screens.

It’s Always Sunny isn’t for the easily offended, but if you’re looking for an energetic and imaginative sitcom to fill the void left by Arrested Development then it is definitely worthwhile making the effort to watch this show. British audiences are being deprived.

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