The eighth season of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia found us wondering what would become of the show after ‘Fat' Mac (Rob McElhenney (Wonder Boys) came and went in Season Seven, to be replaced by the return of normal sized Mac. While McElhenney decided to keep wearing the Fat Mac Johnny Bahama shirts in episodes as a de facto tribute, the show seemed to recover rather nicely in the interim.
If there are still some folks new to the entertainment, set in the City of Brotherly Love, mainly at a bar called Paddy's, Mac works as security, while Dennis (Glenn Howerton, Crank 2) maintains the operation. Dee (Kaitlin Olson, Leap Year) is Dennis' sister and works at the bar while Charlie (Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses) tends it. Frank (Danny DeVito, Hoffa) is Dee and Dennis' father and serves as the occasional bankroll for the gang, back for their eighth season in a slightly shorter ten-episode run.
I am going from memory on this, but I seem to recall one of the members of the Gang mentioning at the onset of Season Eight that seeing how Dan Harmon was handling Community and that they expressed a desire to do more bottle episodes, particularly after the success of Season Seven's "Chardee MacDennis." And they do experiment with that more in Season Eight when "The Gang Gets Analyzed" at a therapist's office. The individual members' reactions to the attention are funny in its various ways. Much funnier for my money is when "The Gang Dines Out," when the group finds themselves at various tables in one restaurant. Not a bottle episode per se as the cast involved is far larger than in "Analyzed," it is a nice look at when happens when The Gang enters an innocuous environment, corrupts and eventually destroys it.
The show's biggest strength in Season Eight appeared to be after McElhenney lost the weight, there seemed to be a renewed focus or cognizance as to what they were doing and how they were doing it. In the first couple of episodes ("Pop-Pop: The Final Solution" and "The Gang Recycles Their Trash") they are aware that this ground may have been seen by devotees before, but they go into it headlong with that in mind and still manage to bring the viewer some laughs with some solid work by Day and McElhenney in particular. It ventures into dark areas such as Charlie's manipulation of an attractive woman in "Charlie and Dee Find Love," and in "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre," we get a little bit of everything, from extending of mythology of some supporting characters to tributes to previous movies. If the gang never makes an episode like The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes, this is the closest they come to it, complete with cameo by Day's Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro.
The show is not without some valleys in the season. Sean Combs cameo aside, there is very little funny going on in "Charlie's Mom Has Cancer." "Frank's Back In Business" may be the weakest of the bunch and "Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense" is another bottle ep where they tried to replicate "Chardee" but failed. However, Howerton's performance in the latter episode was the final notch on a belt of good performances in weird, twisted directions, and if there was a star for the season, he would definitely be it.
All in all, Season Eight of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia gave us healthy Mac, strange-r Dennis, a possibly smarter than we expected Charlie and nice support from Dee and Frank. The group all are aware that things may be the same, but as one of the gang members would likely say, ‘who gives a shit?' They emerge with some newfound vitality post-Fat Mac that is nice to re-experience.
Fox gives us Sunny over two discs and all episodes come in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. I do not have the Blu-ray release to make a comparison, but speaking purely for the standard definition set I can say with such pristine source material there is little to complain about here. No edge enhancement or artifacts are present, though film grain appears to be, and going from old Video On-Demand episode viewing spot checks, these discs look altogether decent and well worth the time to view.
The two discs contain Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks and sound decent. The source material is clean and free of chirping or hissing during listening. Dialogue sounds fine and requires little compensation, and channel panning does the bare minimum here, not to mention directional effects. Subwoofer engagement is nearly nil, but the show's dialogue-driven nature does not afford many moments to play with the soundstage. It is fine for what it is.
Compared to previous seasons, the extras are about the same both in entertainment and quantity. Disc One has three commentaries with Day, Howerton and McElhenney on "Pop-Pop: The Final Solution," "The Gang Recycles Their Trash" and in "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre," with Editor Josh Drisko participating in the latter. The tracks themselves are somewhat dry, with a lot of watching, some joking among friends and pointing out what goes on onscreen. For his part, Drisko does talk about his part in pulling the episode together. Disc Two has a commentary on "Charlie's Mom Has Cancer" with Day and Howerton that continues the general silence and lack of decent information. Disc Two also has three deleted scenes (4:40) and a gag reel (7:10), both of which are worth a laugh or two. "Lady House: The Lost Premiere" (6:17) is a funny look at what goes on under the room where Charlie and Mac's mom share a residence, while "Frank Reynolds' How to be a Warthog" (1:32) is a television commercial where he shares his business secrets. "Fat Mac: In Memoriam" (2:05) is a recollection of the character from the cast.
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia may have shaved off Mac's beard and his considerable paunch from the previous year, but have regained and recalibrated the sights on their comedy rifle, hitting many targets center mass. There were some weak moments in the year but they were easily shrugged off by the gang. Technically the discs are good and supplementally things are the same. If you have bought the prior seasons by all means grab this, but if not this is also a decent jumping off point for the fan curious about life at Paddy's.