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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season Five
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:
The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis
The Gang Hits the Road
The Great Recession
The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention
The Waitress Is Getting Married
The World Series Defense
The Gang Wrestles for the Troops
Paddy's Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens
Mac and Dennis Break Up
The D.E.N.N.I.S. System
Mac and Charlie Write a Movie
The Gang Reignites the Rivalry
A decent looking widescreen 1.78:1 ratio picture points out the show's low-tech, hand-held camera aesthetics. Compression artifacts and other transfer problems don't crop up, though the picture does display grain, and a slightly harsh digital sheen not found on other, shall we say, high class shows.
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Sound won't wow anyone with a nice home theater set up, but it won't disappoint anyone either. Dialog is loud, clear and up front in the mix. Incidental music doesn't overpower the rest of the audio, either. You can hear the jokes perfectly clearly, unless you're laughing too loud.
On this three-disk set you get a good helping of extras, including Commentary Tracks for six of the 12 episodes. Varying cast members and others trade off dishing on these episodes, ('Hits the Road', 'Frank's Intervention', 'Waitress Gets Married', 'Gang Wrestles', 'Mac and Dennis', and 'Gang Reignites Rivalry') and levels of entertainment also vary. DeVito and Dr. Drew reach interestingly uncomfortable levels on the 'Intervention' episode, for instance, but mostly you get somewhat intermittent comedic reflections on these episodes, with commentary audio levels that jockey back-and-forth with episode audio. Considering most tracks consist of cast members making jokes, at times it's hard to tell just what you're listening to. Disk One also includes the Archer Season One Pilot Episode. This 21-minute Flash-animated super-spy spoof sports dry, deconstructive wit which should easily appeal to Philly fans. Disk Three includes 7 minutes of hilarious Bloopers, 20 minutes of hilarious Deleted and Extended Scenes, and an endlessly repeating 5 minute Kitten Mittens Loop, highlighting real cats tortured by these paw covers. Also, a 5-minute The Gang's Dating Profile spoofs online dating videos to hilariously disturbing effect, and Dave Schwep contributes over 20,000 still shots, animated with a theme-song remix into Schwep's Dream Sequence - a hypnotic tour through the entire season. Closed Captioning, English SDH and Spanish, French and Portuguese Subtitles finish the slate of extras.
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The Complete Season Five keeps rolling on with clever, crass, really politically incorrect and totally hilarious humor. Part Seinfeld, part Curb Your Enthusiasm, (check out how they deliver the theme song) season five of Philly earns its keep with very loose comedy and just-sympathetic-enough characters that violently wrench laughs from deep in your gut. Highly Recommended.