"Why did the elf have no pants on?"
If, like me, you have fond memories of the 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a word of warning before watching A Very Sunny Christmas: You'll never look at the animated Christmas classic--or any of its lovable characters, including Sam the Snowman and Hermey the Misfit Elf--the same again.
This 42-minute, direct-to-DVD special of the popular FX series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has one goal in mind: To clobber your Christmas spirit with a Captain Caveman stick and make you as miserable as the mean-spirited gang at Paddy's Pub. This sour bunch of selfish misers puts Scrooge and the Grinch to shame, but it's a risk worth taking because--like the series, which I will happily admit is one of my favorite shows ever and perfectly encapsulates my sense of humor--this hysterical outing was instantly added to my yearly list of must-watch holiday specials (make some room, Yogi's First Christmas!).
If you thought the series was offensive, get ready for an amped-up version that pushes the envelope a little further: A taste more bitter than the most rancid eggnog? Check. Fouler language that's especially unbecoming at Christmastime? Got it! Nudity? Ding ding! Violence? To borrow one of Sweet Dee's favorite words, "Boom!" This is the bigger, longer, uncut version of Sunny, a show that's pretty vulgar to begin with. You'll catch little glimpses of popular seasonal hits throughout--from A Christmas Story (the king of all Christmas movies) to (the overrated) Christmas Vacation, from any number of Simpsons and South Park specials, from A Christmas Carol to It's a Wonderful Life...the influences echo throughout A Very Sunny Christmas, which fits snuggly in between its brethren.
But if I had to pick just one Christmas classic this reminded me of the most, it would have to be (are you ready for this?) the 1984 gem Silent Night, Deadly Night (no, I'm not kidding). And for me, that's a good thing: You have blood, you have a man unhinged at the sight of Santa and you have sex on Christmas. Screw nice, this is all naughty (as Mother Superior says to poor little Billy, "Very, very naughty!"). And I wouldn't expect anything less from Dennis (Glenn Howerton), little sis Dee (Kaitlin Olson), sort-of dad Frank (Danny DeVito) and buds Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day).
It's Christmas Eve, and Mac and Dennis are excitedly decorating the bar as the holiday spirit has them acting like children (okay, like nice children). Their cheer gets a rude awakening when Dennis and Dee cry "Bah, Humbug!" Seems the pain of Christmas past--when one of daddy Frank's cruel habits turned them into the angry assholes they are today--has forever soiled the holiday for them. And if Dennis and Dee can't have a happy Christmas, no one should. Things soon get even worse when Frank's behavior repeats itself, sending the siblings over the edge. Convinced they need to teach dad a lesson, they ensnare one of his former jilted business partners and concoct a plan:
Dennis: "In the spirit of the lord and Christmas and all that, we wanna do a Christmas Carol type thing where we show him the error of his ways through his past, his present and his future."
Dee: "See, Mr. Hamilton...we feel like if Frank can just understand what a dick he's been to people in his past--and he's just gonna probably end up old and alone like yourself--then maybe he'll be able to make up for some of his past mistakes."
The only problem? The religious Mr. Hamilton is all about peace, love and forgiveness, words that are foreign to Dennis, Dee and the show (and that's just one reason their ploy doesn't go off quite as planned.) Meanwhile, Mac and Dennis try to re-jolt their joy by sifting through Mac's closet of old toys, a trip down memory lane that eventually uncovers two deep, dark secrets from their pasts--leading to a chain of unexpected events that proves this series still has some surprises up its bloody, rolled-up sleeve.
Along the way, we see the gang as kids via vintage VHS tapes (young Mac rocks!) and in cartoon form (perhaps the special's finest moment, it's accompanied by a delicious ditty); are treated to a few unforgettable gags (my absolute favorite shot hovers just after the 18:30 mark, where I couldn't stop laughing); briefly see most of our favorite recurring guest stars (although sadly, no waitress); and are reminded of some of the great toys from our youth (poor stupid Charlie...). The laughs come in varying degrees (all of them successful) with the big bits perfectly placed, and the joyous anticipation of waiting to see how a happy ending is spoiled (you know it's coming) is just as fun as the payoff.
I don't want to share much more, because the less you know, the better. Despite Sunny's downbeat demeanor, it still embraces that sense of tradition--and the importance of friends and family, no matter how messed up they are--for the holidays. Deep down, they all have a heart, just like the series (okay, okay, a black heart, but a heart nonetheless). So whether or not you have painful Christmas memories and a dysfunctional family, warm up the cocoa and rejoice in the fact that you aren't Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie or Frank. God bless us, everyone!
Note: Shortly before the release of this DVD in November of 2009, I was driving to work and listening to DC101's "Elliot in the Morning" show. Charlie Day was one of the phone-in guests, and during his interview he noted that this special may (I emphasize may) be released on a future season set (whether in this form or an extended/altered one wasn't made clear).
Sunny has never been a series to dazzle with its technical presentation. This special, like the soon-to-be finished fifth season, finally ditches the full-frame video the series had previously used. It's nice to have an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, but don't expect anything outstanding--like the series, this special has dull colors and an overall dreary, sometimes grainy look, an intentional decision that embraces the show's tone. Nothing wrong here, but nothing spectacular.
No complaints with the 2.0 surround track, which conveys all of the dialogue (including every glorious "Goddammit!") and music just fine. Subtitles come in English, Spanish and French.
A modest collection of extras is better than nothing, right? Behind the Scenes (7:18, in full frame) provides a glimpse into the making of the special, with brief looks at the cartoon and one important shot at the end. Director Fred Savage and the cast chimes in; most of the cast has tongue firmly planted in cheek, including Kaitlin Olson talking about her favorite Christmas memory. Three deleted scenes (2:45) give us more of young Charlie and young Mac. The first two are disposable, but the third ("Bird") would have been a great inclusion. Finally, Sunny Sing-A-Long (3:12, full frame) is an oddity--the cast sings some Christmas songs with a warped, demonic twist. This did nothing for me; it's highly possible they're mocking something I'm not aware of, in which case it may be funnier to those "in the know".
In the sweet words of Dee, "We're trying to give you the Christmas spirit here, dick hole!" We all know that Christmas is really about getting, not giving, so embrace your inner greedy brat and enjoy the holiday antics of the materialistic, self-absorbed slackers from Paddy's Pub. I lost it a lot during these 42 minutes, which will easily please series fans--and also serve as a great introduction for you Sunny virgins out there. While this special has instantly joined my holiday "must watch" list and comes easily recommended, I'll suggest you Rent It for now. It's short (don't pay full price!), and I also have a feeling we'll see it incorporated on a future season set (and if not, it will probably be cheaper next year).