The popular FX show It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia was cruising along in its sixth season, when one of the show's stars decided on a drastic personal change for Season Seven. Mac is played by Rob McElhenney (Wonder Boys), and McElhenney thought it would be a great idea to gain weight for the show as a joke. But not just a pound here or there mind you, McElhenney gained more than 50 pounds and grew his beard out to boot in a DeNiro/Bale-esque type of drastic appearance. And he did it for the show. Why would anyone do such insanity?
More on that in a minute. First and foremost, the gang is all back for another round, aside from Mac. You've got Dennis (Glenn Howerton, Crank 2), Dennis' sister Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson, Leap Year) and Charlie (Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses). Frank (Danny DeVito, Hoffa) also returns to boot, and the group knock out 12 episodes in Season Seven. Oddly enough, the overall quality of the show's episodes (from beginning to end of the season) may be among the best in its life.
There are a couple of obligatory swipes at the current pop culture and/or media landscape which prove to be clever ones ultimately. "The Anti-Social Network" and "The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore" are two of the self-explanatory ones where even with the predominant stories in those episodes, the Gang manages to go further into their own lexicon and make it their own, such as (in the latter) Frank's 'RumHam,' which is exactly how it sounds, or (in the former) Frank shooting a viral video for the bar that winds up backfiring on the rest of the gang. The episodes may be slightly abrasive because of their topical nature, but they are funny episodes regardless.
It is the episodes that delve into long, perhaps conveniently forgotten backstory that make for some of the season's best moments. The episode where we get to meet Frank's long-lost brother (played by Jon Polito of Miller's Crossing fame) is funny yet more disturbing than I was expecting, and the Gang expressed it as much. But "Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games" is one where I found myself crying from laughter. It incorporates subtle nuance from each of the characters and puts DeVito in a dog cage, primarily because it can. It ends how you would expect it to end, easily and in a way that makes you feel silly that it would end any other way. The two-part finale where the gang goes to their high school reunion is stellar as well.
Through the year, McElhenney's transformation is flirted with occasionally after the first episode (and the gang looking at Mac and his state is pretty funny), but in "How Mac Got Fat" we find out why. But more to the point, McElhenney gained the weight for a slightly larger message; the evolution of a show's characters at a deep point in a show's life. As a show gets into its fifth, sixth or seventh years, the main characters tend to look better than they did than at the beginning of the show. McElhenney believed such a makeover was silly and decided on getting pear-shaped to say so, even at the risk of his personal health. "How Mac Got Fat" serves as a cautionary tale to similar popular shows, but also has an additional note: if you don't sacrifice for your work as McElhenney did for his in It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the chances of your show sucking are high.
The Blu-ray Discs:
More 1.78:1 widescreen, high-definition glory for Sunny as the AVC encode is used for the show's episodes, and the overall result remains solid. The Philly exteriors look clear and the wider shots have a slight multidimensional feel to them, and the soundstage/studio shots look good too. Image detail is adequate though not jaw-dropping in the foreground and background, and the show's look is consistent with its original high-definition broadcasts.
DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround is the track of choice for the set, and the results are a nice surprise. Dialogue is steady throughout the season, with channel panning and directional effects being somewhat evident as well. During the Jersey Shore ep, I could swear I heard a 'rhythmic slapping noise' under the boardwalk that I will forever need ear and brain bleach for. And during the "Chardee MacDennis" ep the speed metal music packs a small low-end punch of sorts. All in all this is solid listening material, for better or worse.
A little underwhelming to be frank. On Disc One, a commentary on "The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore" with Day and McElhenney as they cover ideas for a particular scene, or spotting someone in a scene, and a very brief flirtation with McElhenney's weight loss. On Disc Two, Howerton joins the boys for commentaries on three eps: "The Anti-Social Network," "The Gang Gets Trapped" and Part Two of the High School Reunion episode. Thoughts about each episode abound, writing inspiration and background actors are pointed out. Day drives these tracks more than anyone, but there is a good portion of watching what happens on the screen, and what little they contribute is boring. On Disc Two, a blooper reel (9:54) is funny though not mindblowing, and "Artemis Tours Philadelphia" (7:01) is where the actress playing said Artemis walks through Philly. It is a little long, but arguably funnier in parts than the blooper reel.
Season Seven of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia gives us a cast member we are not used to seeing in his condition, but the result gives us some of the best episodes in years from the gang. Technically it is solid and faithful to the broadcasts and the lack of any worthwhile extras (nothing on Mac's weight gain behind the scenes?) is the only thing holding it back from a Collector's Series rating for me. As it is, a definite rental for those unfamiliar with the show, and for fans of it (or those attempting to come back to the show after a year or two) a solid addition to your library.