Frank: "Why did you drag us to a place like this? It smells like the bottom of a birdcage."
Sunny ups the ante in Season 3 with an even more outlandish scope and more episodes (15, up from 10 in Season 2 and 7 in Season 1). Dive bar Paddy's Pub is the center of the action--the establishment is run by thirtysomething siblings Dennis (writer/executive producer Glenn Howerton) and Dee "Boom!" Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson). They are joined by farmer-tanned dimwits Mac (series creator/executive producer Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (writer/executive producer Charlie Day), who complete the quartet of shouting slackers. All are watched over by Dennis and Dee's non-biological father Frank (Danny DeVito, whose pronunciation here of the word "whore" never ceases to crack me up), who we learned last season may be Charlie's dad.
Before we go any further, know this: Nothing about this show is grounded in reality. Sunny is a cartoon come to life, a loud, exaggerated fantasy world of silliness: outlandish yet simple stories full of crude dialogue, tasteless situations, visual gags, laughable violence with no consequences and parodies of pop culture and current events. Season 3 takes aim at homeless people, sex offenders, North Koreans, cheap labor, media whores, Italians, jockeys and a horde of other targets.
The gang has a lot in common: all of them are greedy, entitled, self-absorbed, alcoholic posers who lack any sense of social responsibility--and their sole mission in life is to one-up each other. Each is prone to falling for fake flattery, an Achilles' heel that leads to constant (and severe) embarrassment. In short, they all possess every quality you find detestable. Each character takes turns providing a small voice of reason, but by and large they're the same person. Mac sums them--and the show--up best: "Sitting in judgment of other people is the greatest way to make yourself feel better."
Dennis--who redefines the word "vain"--is the favored one, the leader with a penchant for college girls; Dee--still tortured by the childhood teasing she received for her back brace--always draws the short stick in the group, frequently turning to booze to fake confidence; Mac is the volatile "yes man", a follower still seeking approval from a father figure; and Charlie is the easily agitated, sexually frustrated illiterate who lives in frat boy squalor with Frank, the gun-toting manipulator who just wants to fit in with the boys.
Highlights of this season include an ill-fated attempt by the guys to make new male friends (love the flyer!); Dennis and Dee's serial killer research (followed by the funniest chase sequence I've ever seen: "If you weren't squeaking around like a God-damned psycho clown, she never would have noticed us!"); a Philadelphia Eagles tryout session (reminiscent of a funny Lisa Simpson quest); Frank's plan to get his dead-wife's money back ("You've got to stop thinking of me as your father, and start thinking of me as your fiancé, Shamus"); an American Idol parody during Paddy's talent show tryouts ("Winning a talent show that you throw for yourself is just about the saddest thing you've ever done, Dee"); the gang working at an Oldie's Rock Café; Frank pimping out Dennis; Mac and Dee becoming Guardian Angels/accidental white supremacists ("I'm not putting on a beret...we look like Rerun"); and the formation of the band Chemical Toilet, which has Mac shunning Dennis' "early '80s glam-rock fem shit":
Mac: "Aww, man...really?! C'mon, dude...what's with the sash and the codpiece?"
But my favorite episode of them all is the finale, where the gang turns on each other in a dance marathon with ownership of Paddy's Pub at stake. The episode is an assault of hysteria, the show and cast firing on all cylinders. "The cream always rises to the top," warns Charlie. "And I'm about to show you the white hot cream of an 8-year-old boy."
As hysterical as the exaggerated situations are, the series is at its best when the gang is just talking about meaningless topics that provide fodder for making fun of each other. High points include Dennis, Frank and Mac debating gay sex roles in front of a business investor (Richard Ruccolo, doing an outstanding job of being disgusted), Dennis and Dee debating fame tactics ("I think I'd like to avoid the nip slips and up-skirts, but I think I see where you're going with this...") and the boys ganging up on Dee:
Frank: "The serial killer killed another woman last night. It says here he's targeting young, attractive blonds."
The action is Season 3 raises the bar on absurdity, led by "The Gang Gets Held Hostage", the craziest episode of the bunch. It has the bar under siege by the incestuous McPoyle brothers (Jimmi Simpson and Nate Mooney), two of many supporting characters that return this season. Also making appearances are Dennis and Dee's biological dad, the anti-Frank do-gooder Bruce (Stephen Collins); Mac's surly parents (Gregory Scott Cummins and Sandy Martin); Charlie's sweet, suffering mom (Lynne Marie Stewart); newly homeless priest Matthew "Rickety Cricket" Mara (series writer David Hornsby); Carmen the transsexual (good sport Brittany Daniel); and the best of them all, "The Waitress" (Day's real-life wife, the fantastic Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who still harbors a crush on Dennis while constantly rejecting Charlie's advances. (Sadly, no more Anne Archer this season).
The cast plays off each other brilliantly, the non-stop overlapping dialogue fitting together like a puzzle. They all have perfect timing, and each has mastered a wide variety of facial expressions--led by the deadpan stare of disgust and the jawdrop stare of shock, two of the show's trademarks. While each cast member is stellar, I am increasingly in stitches with Olsen's performance. While she provides the essential estrogen in the show, she's still one of the guys--which makes her behavior all the more hilarious. I love her scenes with DeVito (as always, a comedy genius; he and Olson have real spark), and her frequent drunken stupors provide some of the show's funniest sequences (and her beat-down of a club bouncer is delicious). Her thinly veiled contempt for a former classmate's success is one of many reasons I think she deserves a Supporting Actress Emmy nod. (Olson is also responsible for my favorite line of the season: "Am I in America?!")
The show's Seinfeld influence has been frequently mentioned, and it's a fair comparison. If you made Jerry's gang about 1,000 times more hateful than they were in the series' finale, you'd have Sunny. This show has just as much in common with South Park and Family Guy, but it continues to carve it's own path as one of the funniest shows ever. It even has an uncanny ability to perfectly integrate each episode's title card as a punch line after the opening scene's dialogue, always prompting hearty laughs--just like the brief, perfectly utilized song clips (Rick Astley must be so proud!). And with an additional 39 episodes on the way--that's on top of the 13 starting with Season 4's September 18, 2008 debut--life will be sunny for a long time to come.
1. The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby (aired September 13, 2007) Dee and Mac decide to raise a baby they found in a dumpster. Dennis joins an environmental-activist group. Charlie wants Frank to take a DNA test to determine whether they're father and son.
6. The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation (aired September 27, 2007) The gang declares war on a Korean restaurateur who threatens to bump Paddy's from its coveted and profitable spot on the city's annual pub crawl. Meanwhile, Dee is determined to hold a talent show.
11. Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender (aired October 25, 2007) Dennis is mistaken for a recently released child molester; Mac tries to bond with his ex-con father; Frank moves out of the apartment he's been sharing with Charlie.
Sunny Side Up: Volume 2 (6:27) is a very brief behind-the-scenes look that's mostly tongue in cheek. The three guys return, donning singlets and wrestling as they give random bits of self-aware comments about the show. It's a bit in itself, which is cute--but it would be nice to see them all act like their actual selves and give some straight talk about the show (we get almost no window into the show's creative process). The three directors chime in: Fred Savage (yes, from The Wonder Years), Jerry Levine (also an actor...his shirt from Teen Wolf returns this season on Mac) and Matt Shakman, who notes "They were called 'Seinfeld on crack' wen they first came out, and I think they've taken that literally." Writer/actor David Hornsby notes that Season 3 "was so much fun to write, and it's about taking the show one step further." And Olson amuses as always: "I think it's been obvious from the beginning that what those guys think is funny is when I look as terrible as possible, and physically and emotionally as miserable as possible."
Meet the McPoyles (5:32) is another tongue-in-cheek extra, with Jimmi Simpson and Nate Mooney talking about their creepy characters only half-seriously (if even that). The Dancing Guy featurette (5:57) is like a music video, extending a gag from one of the episodes (the least entertaining of the extras). You also get three TV Spots (1:27) for Season 3, and trailers for other releases, including a short but funny spot for the debut of Season 4.
The best extra is the gag reel (6:00), but--like the first set's release--it's too dang short. (There was at least one scene--DeVito and Day in the dumpster--that I couldn't place from any episode.) I have a hard time believing that a show like this doesn't have a boat load of funny bloopers, along the lines of The Office (which gives us 20-plus minutes a release). The guys even mention various takes on the audio commentaries...let's see them!!!