Ahh, Pay TV, where would I be with ye? Probably on the couch way more than I am already, since (among other things) Pay TV has accelerated the growth of outrageous sit-coms started with All In The Family. TV on DVD only makes the equation sweeter, since even the lowliest shlub like me can afford the price of a rental every now and then to gorge on something I've never seen before. But now I wonder why it's taken me so long to make it to It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, with Season 5 arriving DVD already. Those who like brash, stupid, outrageous and offensive comedy know that Philadelphia is the real deal, so go ahead and saddle up for this release.
This sit-com set-up is as generic as it gets, four guys and a gal work at a bar in Philly. They get into lots of trouble. That's about it. Any number of banal or incongruous situations finds 'the gang' acting like complete selfish idiots and ruining everything. Call Philadelphia a lowbrow cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, then, as I'm sure many already have, and toss in a heaping helping of Cheers. And if that were it, then I'm sure Philadelphia would be a fine, fine show. But of course there's more.
Clearly the show's calling card it its no-holds-barred approach, presenting a quintet of thoroughly unlikable characters that are completely idiotic, self-centered, and not-exactly politically correct. These louts are Jerry, Elaine, Costanza and Kramer on entirely appropriate steroids. They care nothing for anyone save themselves. They'd bump their siblings into an industrial shredder if it meant getting World Series tickets behind home plate. Thusly the pathetic, doomed, totally implausible situations they find themselves in are equally objectionable. If this doesn't sound palatable to you, then you're desperately out-of-touch with the human race, but a few seasons of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia ought to set you straight.
Highlights from Season Five should be revealed sparingly, since plenty of Philadelphia's juice comes from shock value. Those of you who've been riding this train longer than I will appreciate these little reminders though, which will set you to giggling. The season starts strong, including a hilarious bit involving the ever-popular good realtor/bad realtor dynamic, strong enough to intimidate even the most casual lookie-loo into buying a house. Episode Two takes time to revel in a drunken Dee Reynolds (the scary-funny Kaitlin Olson) serenading a terrified hitchhiker with Soul Asylum's classic tune 'Runaway Train'. There's Rowdy Roddy Piper as a washed up wrestler, there's wine-in-a-can, and much, much more. Plenty of this material is pretty over-the-top, maybe not as aggressively taboo-bashing as Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it's definitely emblematic of the freedom Cable TV offers - and it's goddamned funny, too.
Of course none of this would work if these folks were truly hateful. Buffoons? Yes. Moronic? Most of the time. Yet, thankfully, whiffs of realism and compassion elevate these characters from caricatures into approximations of humanity. I even counted one instance of almost-noble behavior in Season 5, which really knocked me for a loop. Thankfully such dignified acts are kept to a bare minimum, (one) in favor of earthier manipulations, calls to drinking, and sheer stupidity. From complete dumbass Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) comes the brilliant idea for paw-silencing 'Kitten Mittens' (noted as 'Kitten Mittons' in his terrible infomercial). When Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito in terrifying form) decides to radically increase his alcohol consumption, a half-hearted nod to the dangers of perpetual inebriation ultimately gives way to the realization that the world we've created for us pretty much requires drinking. There's plenty more where that came from in these 12 24-minute episodes. Mostly, there's not enough - me and the missus devoured the entire season in two fuzzy evenings, but we'll certainly now dive back in with Season 1, since It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (and its 9.5/10 rating on IMDB.com) soundly smashes the comedy barrier with base, smart, thoughtful comedy, a potent mix that leans heavily on the base, a freaking great thing to do.
Anyway, here's what's on the disk, episode-wise: