"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is like a more caustic, slightly younger version of "Seinfeld." You have three men and a woman who selfish, petty, and vindictive, who consider themselves friends yet who would sell any of the others out in a heartbeat. They're reprobates and narcissists. And they're also hilarious.
The show premiered on FX in 2005, did seven episodes that summer, then returned for a 10-episode second season in 2006. Now all 17 episodes have been released in one DVD package, and while the extras are lacking (see below), the show itself is well worth owning. You can watch these repeatedly and still find something to laugh at.
IASIP was the brainchild of its three male stars, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day, who also serve as executive producers and write every episode. They play Mac, Dennis, and Charlie, three guys in their late 20s who, along with Dennis' sister Dee (Kaitlin Olson), own an Irish bar in Philly. All four are single and unattached. A more vain group of people you've never seen.
Dennis is faux-intellectual, suave, and well dressed. You get the impression his ideal sexual partner would be himself. Mac is more of a ladies' man, a little more blunt and physical. Charlie is the dumb one whose plans most often come to naught, the butt of everyone's jokes. (Cleaning the bathroom at the bar is known as "Charlie work.") Dee is shallow and petty like everyone else, her character not quite as distinctly defined.
The series is shot in a verite style, with dialogue that sounds natural and improvised despite being scripted. The plots read like a list of taboo subjects. Episode 1: Charlie and Mac try to prove they're not racist; meanwhile, the bar accidentally becomes Philly's hottest new gay bar. Episode 2: Mac and Dennis use anti-abortion and pro-choice rallies to pick up women. (They figure the gals on the pro-choice side are going to be, you know, "easier.")
Elsewhere: The bar becomes a hit with underage drinkers; Charlie thinks he has cancer and his friends use it to get sympathy for themselves; Dennis and Dee seek to defraud the welfare system ("Hi. I'm a recovering crack head. This is my retarded sister that I take care of. I'd like some welfare, please") and in the process become crack addicts; when it's revealed the guys' childhood gym teacher molested students, Mac gets jealous that the coach didn't abuse him, too. ("I was cute! I was energetic! I was fun!... Why didn't I get blown?!")
Fake patriotism, terrorist threats, the exploitation of supposed miracles, pretending to be wheelchair-bound, sleeping with your friend's mom, Nazis, gun control, it's all here.
You can imagine they sit in the writers' room and think, "OK, what supposedly taboo subject can be make jokes about?" But what I love about the show is that it never seems to be trying to be outrageous. It has a casual effortlessness about it, and it's always funny. It's never shocking just for the sake of being shocking.
Season 2 introduces Danny DeVito as Dennis and Dee's father -- a completely unnecessary addition, but one that was "suggested" by FX suits who wanted a famous name to draw in more viewers. Luckily, DeVito fits right in with the gang, playing Frank as a horny, shallow jerk just like his children and their friends.
FRANK: Look, I didn't go to Vietnam just to have pansies like you take my freedom away from me.
I also love this rapid-fire exchange, the day after Frank and dumb Charlie went out on the town and Frank wound up locking Charlie out of his own apartment.
FRANK: I want to live like you again, Charlie! I want to be pathetic and desperate and ugly and hopeless!
There really aren't any bad episodes in the bunch. "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom" is one of my favorites, if only for the very last shot of Charlie's crestfallen face as his latest plan has backfired.
The rest all have their highlights, too, like the moment in "The Gang Runs for Office" where Dennis films a commercial using the script written by Charlie, whose reading and writing skills are somewhat lacking: "Hello, fellow American. This you should vote me. I leave power good. Thank you. Thank you. If you vote me, I'm hot. (What?) Taxes, they'll be lower. Sun. The democratic vote for me is right thing to do, Philadelphia, so do."
The show is the right thing to do, viewers. So do.
The three discs come in two thin digipaks (two in one; one in the other), all encased in a glossy cardboard slipcover. Amusingly, it's DeVito'e head that appears the largest on the cover, and his name is the only one shown -- despite the fact that he doesn't appear until Season 2. Kudos to Danny DeVito's agent!
The episodes are divided over the three discs 7:6:4. The episodes appear in their proper production order, which occasionally (in Season 2) differs slightly from the order in which they were aired.
There are no alternate language tracks. There are optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
VIDEO: Presented in its original full-screen (1:33) format and shot on digital video, the picture is sharp and crisp.
AUDIO: Dolby Digital Surround. The show aims for a natural feel, including ambient noise and natural sound effects. Everything sounds almost perfect, with the focus where it belongs: on the dialogue.
EXTRAS: Disc 1 has two scenes (5:30 total) from the original pilot, which served as a demo tape. Both eventually wound up, in slightly different form, in the "Charlie Gets Cancer" episode.
Disc 2 has an audio commentary on "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom" featuring the three male leads and Danny DeVito. Disc 3 has another audio commentary (for "Hundred Dollar Baby"), this time featuring the three guys and a girl who constitute the core cast. Both commentaries are breezy and funny and well worth listening to.
Also on Disc 3 are the rest of the extras:
"Sunny Side Up" (17:00) uses cast and crew interviews to tell the basic story of how the show originated and how it operates. It's pretty enjoyable behind-the-scenes stuff.
Another featurette (5:45) shows Kaitlin Olson's audition for the role of Dee, prefaced by an amusing story of how the producer/creators chose which scene to have her do. (The shenanigans involved there almost sound like one of the show's plots.) Olson, you'll notice, is the only cast member who had to audition, as the other three leads were being played by the show's writers.
"The Gang F***s Up" (4:00) is an outtake reel, and is funny enough as far as it goes. It's hard to believe that after 17 episodes there were only four minutes' worth of amusing outtakes.
Finally, there's a Fox Movie Channel segment (8:49) about the making of the show's second season. Very intriguing: DeVito only had 20 days in which to shoot all his scenes for the entire season. That meant having to do his stuff first, which meant cracking open all 10 shows, rather than shooting each episode in its entirety before moving on to the next one. You can imagine the logistical and continuity nightmare involved in shooting scenes that aren't just out of order, but that aren't even in the same episodes.
The show itself is highly recommendable. It's about as funny and smart a series as anything you'll find on TV today, and I eagerly await the start of Season 3 on Sept. 13. The DVD set is slightly disappointing, though. Only two commentaries for 17 episodes? Only four minutes of outtakes? The commentaries refer to a couple of alternate versions and deleted scenes -- so where are they? Why show a couple scenes from the unaired pilot but not the whole thing? It feels like they're skimping on us for no good reason.
But the show itself? Classic.