Oddly enough, my first exposure to the popular It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been on two separate bus trips. To Philadelphia. Granted, a bus full of soccer hooligans making a two-hour trek to the city is going to make for an eventful day of alcohol-marinated adventure, but the few episodes I remem, er, saw on the trip, I did manage to get a few laughs out of it, so I was glad to take on checking out the Blu-ray of Season Five (released in time with the Season Six premiere on September 16).
For those unfamiliar with the show, it's set in the City of Brotherly Love and follows five people who run (or frequent) a bar in Philadelphia called "Paddy's," The group is lovingly called "The Gang," starting with Dennis (Glenn Howerton, Crank 2), his best friend and the bar's "Head of Security" Mac (Rob McElhenney, Wonder Boys). Dee (Kaitlin Olson, Leap Year) is their friend (and Dennis' twin sister) and works at Paddy's also. Charlie (Charlie Day, Going the Distance) is a co-owner of the bar and possibly the most slovenly of the bunch, but he runs neck and neck with Frank (Danny DeVito, L.A. Confidential) in that contest. Frank is significantly older than anyone else in the Gang, but he's Dennis and Dee's father, and might possibly be Charlie's father, hence his place with the group. The show's 12 episode run (split over two BD-50 discs) mainly follows the exploits of the Gang with the occasional deviation or two.
As one who's barely familiar with the show's structure and dynamic, the benefit of being new is that the show's standalone episode format makes for very little to have to acquaint yourself with. The only episode that I was left scrambling for internet help with was "The Waitress is Getting Married," where Paddy's former waitress is, well, getting married. Perhaps coincidentally because the waitress (Danny DeVito, L.A. Confidential) is a recurring character or not, but it's one of the funnier episodes in a hilarious season, and from a gut laugh factor might be the funniest thing I've seen from the 2009 television season.
It's due to the chemistry that Howerton, McElhenney and Day possess. I don't know how much time the trio spent together before the show first started airing on F/X in 2005, but they fully commit themselves to the material and executing it in such a way that heralds back to a variety of shows. I was getting the handheld camera intimacy of Arrested Development, the interpersonal apathy and obliviousness of the characters from Seinfeld, and the awkward laughs in an almost improvisational nature that Curb Your Enthusiasm shares. The outline of the show appears fairly conventional; you get the setup for what an episode's story is going to be within the first two minutes. Many times it gets to a resolution that would seem to fall in line with what other sitcoms would employ, or it leaves the story's ending out there unanswered. However, the joy in watching Sunny is the journey rather than the path. Howerton and McElhenney have a great rapport, but Day uses the most of his screen time and provides for the season's funniest moments. Seeing his creation of mittens for cats has entertained thousands that are junkies of animated .GIF files, but he's possibly the funniest character on comedic television right now and with the rise of some shows in the recent season or two, that's saying something.
Ultimately the cast enjoys the journey and revels in the jokes it tells, no matter how ridiculous or cringe-inducing they may be. They commit to their path and have faith in the material, and with their abilities help propel it from being just funny to being a show that's a staple for F/X's broadcast schedule and appointment television for millions.
The Blu-ray Disc:
All of Season Five's episodes are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and use the AVC codec. One of the first things that comes on screen when you pop in the first disc is an introduction (1:07) by Howerton that talks about how the show was shot in standard definition, and the discs replicate the gritty, low fidelity feel that the creators planned on. There's some distortion, jagged edges and noise in the image. In a sense, the picture image reminds me of my bus trips to Philly. I'll be happy with what's here in this set and chalk it up to doing what they could with what they had.
The episodes all contain DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround and it's serviceable for a show with this lack of production quality. There's nothing in the way of subwoofer involvement and in terms of directional effects, the cat meowing behind the wall in "Mac and Dennis Break Up" was the only thing I could really pick up on in the rear channels. Otherwise, the sound's limited to the front channels and sounds clear and balanced without distortion.
Commentaries are included on six of the season's 12 episodes ("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") with the stars, and celebrity therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky appears on "Intervention" and "Break Up." The commentaries are pretty quick and free of a lot of information or comedic jabs of one another, but they're a thoughtful inclusion to the set.
The rest of the extras find the pilot episode of the F/X show Archer on Disc One (21:33), which left me feeling underwhelmed. Disc Two has a blooper reel (7:47) that's pretty funny, along with ten deleted/extended scenes (19:10) of Philly goodness. An endless loop of kittens in mittens is next (7:47), while the gang's video dating profiles follow that (4:30). Something called the "Schwep Dream Sequence" includes hundreds of stills chronicling the behind the scenes look at the show. It's only 4:54 but is pretty cool to watch.
Season Five of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia brings the funny like few other shows on television are currently doing, and it unashamed of how they do it. While shows that do this normally suck, Sunny actually has quality laughs. From a bonus perspective it's got a bunch of stuff here, though I'd recommend fans stick with the standard definition set to avoid disappointment. As it stands, the show is definitely recommended to new fans like myself.