"A circle of jerks."
The mortgage crisis. The recession. Supporting the troops. Cats stuck in walls. Thank God we have It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to tackle the most important issues of our time. And by "tackle", I literally mean tackle...as well as stomp on, mock and point at while laughing loudly. And as the popular FX series entered its fifth season, I quickly found a new way to enjoy it, one that had previously escaped me: I was almost instantly intoxicated by the necks and foreheads of the show's cast. The five fantastic leads are asked to shout so often and so intensely, their veins constantly look like they're going to burst out of their characters' self-absorbed skin, leaving a bloody mess on the already-sticky floor at Paddy's Pub.
This is one loud, angry show filled with loud, angry characters, a group of vain, soulless schmucks whose sole purpose in life is sabotaging each other's opportunities in an effort to make themselves feel superior. Lines like "What value are you to me?" and "I don't give a shit about any of this!" speak to the show's evil essence, while others ("I told you! People love stupid shit!") wink at us, practically breaking the fourth wall and inviting us in on the joke.
The anything but Sunny is cruel, mean-spirited, politically incorrect, insensitive and violent...in other words, my kind of comedy. If you ever doubted that this show is a live-action cartoon, watch as one character gets brutally smashed in the face with a folding chair. It's done with such unexpected force, catching me off guard in one of many brilliant slapstick sequences. You'll probably laugh as loud as I did, proving that we're all just as bad as Dennis (Glenn Howerton), sister Dee (Kaitlin Olson), dad Frank (Danny DeVito) and buds Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day)--the sad sack of idiots that comprise Sunny's rotten core.
Season 5 doesn't really tinker with the show's successful formula--there aren't any shifts in the format or experimental episodes (some people weren't as keen on last season's semi-experimental "The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell" episode, which I thought was hilarious--if only to hear Dee utter the phrase "dumb-dick boyfriend"). But when the show remains this viciously focused and funny, I don't care. Witness the instant-classic "The Gang Hits the Road". Already one of my all-time favorite episodes, it's invigorated by the raucous, rapid-fire exchanges that have become the show's signature. The verbal sparring usually strikes without warning and often uses the most random of topics as starting points. I gleefully await these inceptions of insanity, my nervous heart pumping fast as I try and anticipate when they will erupt.
And when Sweet Dee proudly arrives in her spanking used Ford Fiesta ("It's pretty sweet..."), Mac and Charlie waste no time getting annoyed as the three make their way to the Grand Canyon during the road trip from hell:
Mac: "You guys wanna listen to some tunes? I got some CDs from Dennis here..."
Dee: "Hate to break it to you, but there's no CD player in here."
Charlie: "...are you shitting me?"
Mac: "Why would you buy a car with no CD player?"
Dee: "Because the guy knocked 50 bucks off."
Mac: "So you had the option?!"
Dee: "Yeah, I had the option!"
Charlie: "Oh my God...and you went with the tape deck?!"
Dee: "Yes I did Charlie!"
Charlie: "That is so cheap, Dee!"
Dee: "You're cheap!"
Charlie: "Why'd you buy this crappy little car in the first place?"
Dee: "Because you guys rammed my last one into a wall!"
Mac: "Okay, whatever...what tapes do you have?"
Dee: "Tapes? Who has tapes anymore?"
Mac: "Well, I would have thought you would have at least made a mix for the road trip."
Dee: "You didn't invite me on your road trip!"
Charlie: "Alright, well you don't keep a good mix tape in your car?"
Dee: "I just bought the car this morning, Charlie!"
Mac: "Are you guys going to yell the whole way there?"
If you had any doubt, the gang has zero patience and zero tolerance--and the lowest boiling points ever known to man. We all know it takes a lot of energy to stay angry for so long--it's draining, and for the cast has to be a challenge (especially when the urge to laugh has to be extreme). That gives me a new appreciation for their skill, and any viewers who dismiss these performances as "easy obnoxious" efforts are missing the beauty in their enthusiastic commitment.
"The Gang Hits the Road" has a lot more going for it, including a visit to the Italian market where Charlie has to confront his fear of fruit ("Pears weird me out, dude"), some wacky misadventures in the back of a cargo trailer (including yet another creative use for duct tape, which the gang uses three times this season to optimum effect), a short yet memorable round of the "name the state" game (the drunk version), an unforgettable scene with a jar and a plastered Dee getting all up in a young hitchhiker's grill ("Oh my God! Oh my God! You're running away from home, aren't you? Oh, no no no! Sweet baby, they're gonna eat you alive in Hollywood! Oh you're definitely going to end up doing gay porn with that tiny little body of yours!").
Like so many of the Sunny's episodes, it beautifully weaves together random subplots, a show staple (this season's first episode even has the guys practically talking to the viewers about how the two unrelated stories are going to dovetail, while Dennis's master plan at a carnival brilliantly falls apart in Episode 10). "Hits the Road" also gets great mileage out of "Runaway Train", one of many songs Sunny briefly employs to optimum effect (also drawing instant laughs this season are ditties from Berlin, Dee Lite, Seal, Bizet and...the WWF?!). In addition to those gems, the show is brilliant with its spares stabs at comedic violence. In addition to the aforementioned face slam, other scenes manage to surprise us even though we're fully immersed in the show's overly aggressive tone (I don't want to spoil more than I already have, but my favorite of these moments comes at the carnival, with "The Great Recession" also having an unforgettable rope gag).
The show frequently likes to point out its own absurdity and the delusion in these characters' minds, bits of dialogue practically highlighted in bright pink neon: "Mac, the real estate business is something that takes a lot of style and finesse, and that's something that the two of us have in spades," says Dennis. It's an easy and obvious running joke that the show makes frequently, but damn if it isn't always funny. I know I should criticize Sunny for employing it a little too often ("These people, they're uncivilized deadbeats!"), but this show is all about excess--its foundation is built on cheap and easy laughs that stoop to the lowest common denominator. "That guy's got some real growing up to do," observes Dennis of a stranger. "Have some respect, for Christ sakes!"
Get it? Yeah, I know you do. So does the show, as its protagonists are frequently called out on their flaws--resulting in more hilarity as they try to explain themselves. It's usually accompanied by a blank look on their faces, a skill the cast has mastered (whether it's caused by shock, stupidity or scorn, the actors have "the stare" down perfectly):
Dee: "You guys are two co-dependent losers who are so wrapped up in each other that it's hard for you to see how pathetic your lives are. It's like you're an old married couple."
Mac: "No Dee, we're more like a dynamic duo."
Dee: "So, you don't think that two 30-year-old men who spend every waking moment together is a little bit pathetic?"
Mac: "Well, we don't spend every waking moment together...what are you, crazy?!"
Dee: "Oh, you're right...I'm sorry. When was the last time you went more than an hour without seeing each other?"
Dennis: "All the time!"
Mac: "Every day!"
Dee: "Without checking in?"
Mac and Dennis: ...
Mac: "...he always checks in with me."
The Mac/Dennis bromance is visited early and often, even getting its own episode ("Mac and Dennis Break Up", while certainly not a new concept in sitcom land, is still a success). Sunny never turns down a chance to go gay on us (and speaking on behalf of the gays, I give it my hearty stamp of approval). Witness when the duo pretends to be a couple paying Dee to carry a child for them:
Mac: "I'll be providing the sperm, of course."
Dennis: "And I'll be providing the money, because I'm the breadwinner in the relationship."
Mac: "And I'm the trophy husband...he's my bottom."
Dennis: "Well, I'm the power bottom, technically. I generate most of the power."
Mac: "Only because I'm giving out so much power from the top. You need to generate power to accept it!"
The muscle-worshipping Mac, practically teetering on the Kinsey Scale since Season 1, continues to flirt with homosexuality throughout the season (he's about one wink away from tossing the salad). "Transporter 2?!" he whines to his BFF. "We haven't even seen Transporter 1, which means we'll be completely lost. Plus, Jason Statham's physique is nothing like the lineup in Predator!" [writer's note: um, yes it is!] Need more proof? Listen in on this exchange, which starts as Mac claims he can scale a stadium wall to deliver a love letter to Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley:
Dennis: "I hate to tell you this bud, but you do not have the core strength to scale the fašade of Citizens Bank. You just don't."
Mac: "What?! I work out all the time!"
Dennis: "Yeah, but you only work out your glamour muscles, and you know it."
Mac: "I work out my core!"
Dennis: "No you do not work out your core, you're totally arm heavy. You're all bi's and tri's, and everything else is just fat and...ribs."
Meanwhile, best buds Charlie and Frank (a.k.a. "The Gruesome Twosome") still live together in blissful squalor. They still aim to be as cool as Dennis and Mac, but a few things get in the way: Charlie's sweat glands and illiteracy (the poor guy never stood a chance with "philanthropist", but I was amazed he could spell "H"), as well as Frank's sausage fingers, his lack of finesse with children ("C'mon, we're gonna go paint your room a color that's not stupid!") and his lame-brained ideas--like his door-to-door vacuum and knife selling business.
But it remains Dee--sweet, Sweet Dee!--who is my favorite, and not just because Olson has the best dry heave/vomit expression of the bunch (we see it a few times this season). Whether she's trying to rent out her uterus, trick a bridal shop clerk or compete for a man's affection, Dee provides some essential estrogen to the show (well, when she isn't saying "dick" or "balls") and often has my favorite lines ("How in the hell did she get out of that?!"). It's also a lot funnier when Dee is subjected to violence, and boy is she roughed around this season (in the audio commentaries, I was pleased to discover that Dr. Drew shares my love for a special moment from Season 4: "My favorite is where she fell out of the shoe store and hit her head on a car.")
Returning guests this season include both Charlie and Mac's moms (Lynne Marie Stewart and Sandy Martin); Dee's pal Artemis (Artemis Pebdani), who has two memorable turns and a dirty dalliance with Frank ("Deandra, you got any bacon bits? We like to put 'em in Artemis's hair and they rain down on me when we bang!"); homeless Rickety Cricket (series writer David Hornsby), a.k.a. the Tali-bum; and the glorious return of The Attorney (Brian Unger), my favorite foil for the gang who was last seen in Season 3 (his confrontations with them--where he amuses the gang before giving them a taste of their own medicine--are delicious; more of him, please!). And don't worry, The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is also back for more punishment in two of the best threads this season. (Sadly no appearances by Brittany Daniel as Mac's tranny love this installment, but the show apparently something planned for the Season 6 debut that will please Carmen fans).
Newbie standouts this season include Travis Schuldt of Scrubs as soldier Ben ("I like turtles!"), a too-nice-he-doesn't-stand-a-chance love interest for Dee (his awkward introduction is Sunny at its uncomfortable best, one of the funniest scenes all season); 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub as "Gail the Snail", Dennis and Dee's creepy cousin (with no McPoyle brothers this season, she wins hands down); and Nick Wechsler as Dee's former acne-riddled high school flame ("You dumped me and you said it was cause I was gonna grow up to look like Edward James Olmos..."). "Rowdy" Roddy Piper also shows doing his best Mickey Rourke impression, while the Philly Phanatic--excuse me, the Philly Phrenetic (I don't want to get sued by MLB, either!)--has a smack down with Green Man in one of the show's poems to the city (M. Night Shyamalan also gets a shout-out in a fantastic skewering of Hollywood, in which the characters ape their own already exaggerated personas).
Also on tap this season are the Birds of War, big-busted women, toe knife, "God dammit!" galore (but not nearly enough "Boom!"), jean shorts, wine in a can (and enough wine-stained mouths to make The Joker envious), the D.E.N.N.I.S. system for being a dick to chicks (the second "N" stands for "nurture dependency", as in "have her car towed, or you can slash her tires...either way, make her dependent on your for rides"), dick towel and "flip, flip, Flipadelphia!" (Awww yeah!) If all of that doesn't convince you that Season 5 is just as uproariously entertaining as them all, I have two words for you: kitten mittons! 'Nuff said!
"Where are you landing on the full penetration?"
The 12 episodes (each around 20-21 minutes) are presented across three discs:
1. The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis (aired 9-17-09) Dennis, Mac, and Frank go into real estate, Dee sets out to be a surrogate for a wealthy couple, Charlie gets into it with an attorney.
2. The Gang Hits the Road (aired 9-24-09) The gang goes on a road trip to the Grand Canyon.
3. The Great Recession (aired 10-1-09) Seeing the effects of the recession, Mac and Dennis try to find a way to keep Paddy's pub going. Frank and Dee go into business together.
4. The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention (aired 10-8-09) When Frank's behavior becomes even more outlandish than usual, the gang decides to stage an intervention.
5. The Waitress is Getting Married (aired 10-15-09) Dee is jealous that she isn't a bride to be. The guys try to reintroduce a broken-hearted Charlie into the dating scene.
6. The World Series Defense (aired 10-22-09) The gang tries to get out of paying a parking ticket that they received on the evening of the final game of the 2008 World Series.
7. The Gang Wrestles for the Troops (aired 10-29-09) The gang puts together a wrestling show for returning troops. Dee meets the solider that she has been communicating with over the internet.
8. Paddy's Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens (aired 11-5-09) The gang decides to expand their business by developing a number of Paddy's products.
9. Mac and Dennis Break Up (aired 11-12-09) Mac and Dennis decide that they need to spend some time away from each other. Charlie helps Dee search for her cat.
10. The D.E.N.N.I.S. System (aired 11-19-09) Dennis teaches the guys his comprehensive seduction system.
11. Mac and Charlie Write a Movie (aired 12-3-09) When Mac and Charlie learn that Dee has gotten a part in M. Night Shyamalan's next film, the two see this as a perfect opportunity to pitch their screenplay.
12. The Gang Reignites the Rivalry (aired 12-10-09) The gang is once again eligible to compete in the Flipadelphia, a flip cup tournament after being banned from it for 10 years.
"My gut feeling is they went a little overboard..."
Sunny has never been a sharp-looking show, and the anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer here continues the trend of previous releases with its faithful presentation of the original broadcasts (presented for the first time in widescreen for Season 5). There's heavy grain, and some shots (including exteriors and some second camera shots during scenes) skew a tad blurry at times. But the majority of the images offer enough detail to please, and it fits the show's murky demeanor.
The 2.0 track enables you to enjoy every shout just fine. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Overall, this set offers a decent collection but still feels slightly unsatisfying considering the awesomeness of the series. Leading the way are six audio commentaries. "The Gang Hits the Road" features Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Danny DeVito; "The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention" has DeVito joined by therapist to the stars Dr. Drew Pinksy; "The Waitress is Getting Married" has Day, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olsen; "The Gang Wrestles for the Troops" has Howerton, Olsen and DeVito; "Mac and Dennis Break Up" has Day, McElhenney and Dr. Drew; while "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry" has Howerton, McElhenney and Day. These are definitely worth a listen for fans, but aren't quite as funny or engaging as you might hope.
Most of the guys are relaxed and have a good time, casually talking and laughing along the way about various jokes, actors and visuals. DeVito sort of disappears on his second track, but his first venture with Dr. Drew was my favorite. The former celebrity doc ("I looove the show!") is a great choice to dissect these loons. "All these characters are quasi-sociopathic, so it's really doubtful that they could actually be treated or helped. I'm always afraid they're going to kill each other," he says. "No boundaries anywhere in any of these relationships...it's like one undifferentiated chaos mass." The doc lets loose on the co-dependent gang: Dennis and Mac? "Clearly gay." Dee? "Heroin in Dee's future, for sure." Charlie? "Always up to something...very, very manipulative." Frank? "I don't see a lot of intellectual horsepower there."
The doc embraces the show's craziness: "These guys all really love each other and get each other's back, but just as likely they are to manipulate and sabotage each other...and that's the charm of this...other people almost don't exist. That's why they can operate a bar where no one comes in, and they're perfectly happy with that because the five of them hang out there, and it's us the viewer that loves to drop in on that."
The blooper reel (7:42, in lower quality time-coded video) has a few laughs and is thankfully longer than previous seasons (by just a tad), but not super funny. A few scenes hog the reel, so it's often like watching the same gag repeatedly. In the audio commentaries, the cast hints at other bloopers that are not shown here (why, they don't say...there has to be more).
Next come 10 deleted/extended scenes (19:31, in lower quality time-coded video): From the intervention episode comes "The Gang Consults a Professional" (extended) and "Frank Wants to Bang the Snail" (deleted); from the wrestling episode comes "The Gang Recruits Cricket" (extended), "I'm da Maniac" (extended) and "Dee Confronts Artemis Before the Match" (deleted); from the break-up episode comes "Mac and Dennis Break the News to Charlie" (deleted, and the source for a hefty portion of the blooper reel) and "Mac and Dennis Make Up" (extended); from the "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System" comes "Charlie Demonstrates Value" (extended); and from the movie episode comes "Mac and Charlie Brainstorming" (extended) and "Charlie Talks Sex" (extended). A few laughs await, but the bulk of the material is actually in the shows...but patient and perceptive viewers will be rewarded.
The Kitten Mittens: Endless Loop (5:44, but with about 2-3 minutes of fresh material; full frame) is pretty self-explanatory: cute little cats walking around with red booties, which is pretty funny even for dog lovers (i.e. cat haters) like me. The Gang's Dating Profile (4:25, full frame) is a mock collection of online dating interview videos with five of the characters (Mac, Dennis, Dee, Artemis and The Waitress) trying to find love. The cast is mostly in character, but you get the sense they're kind of half-hearting it. Artemis wins the low-taste award: "I do not allow condoms in my bedroom...I am highly allergic to latex...swells up like a Christmas tree down there."
The David Schwep Dream Sequence (4:39, in non-anamorphic widescreen) boasts that "23,793 photos were taken to make this video." It's basically a short collection of behind-the-scenes photos edited together to pretty much look like video (including some from the Christmas special released separately) and set to music, which just makes me wish they had a longer behind-the-scenes feature with natural sound and interviews. The pilot episode of the FX adult animated series Archer and trailers are also included.
Angry, offensive, loud and lewd...just another solid season of funny Sunny, where the gang at Paddy's Pub continues to shout its way through more cartoonish capers. Season 5 doesn't toy with the show's winning formula, and why should it? You have to appreciate a series so aggressively committed to its crude comedic core, and the actors' ability to hysterically harness such self-absorbed spite is an underappreciated gift. In the immortal words of Frank Reynolds, "This place is tits!" Highly Recommended.