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Somewhere Between The Marx Brothers & The Three Stooges, It's Always Sunny
on December 20, 2012
'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia,' which debuted on the FX channel in 2005 and is still going strong as of 2012, is a highly original and hilariously funny adult comedy series about three callous and self-centered male friends who own a struggling dive bar in Philadelphia: Mac (creator Rob McElhenney), who is obsessed with physical culture, "intel," and defense, believes himself to be the group's leader; Dennis (Glenn Howerton), who is smug, narcissistic and arrogant to an advanced degree, and Charlie (Charlie Day), the illiterate, unwashed 'low man on the totem pole' who does the janitorial work and is romantically obsessed with a local waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) who wants nothing to do with him.
Joining the three to compose "the gang" are Dennis' twin sister, vulgar Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson), who has illusions about her appearance, talent, and social viability, and the twins' raucous, ready-for-anything stepfather, Frank (Danny DeVito).
Whereas many post-1987 American television comedy series, from 'Seinfeld' (1989-1998), 'Roseanne' (1988-1997) and 'Mad About You' (1992-1999) to 'The King of Queens' (1998-2007) were supposed to be funny but simply were not, the vehemently politically incorrect 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' is that rare thing: an American television comedy that actually is funny.
The three leads--McElhenney, Howerton, and Day, who also write or cowrite many of the episodes--are extremely deft and nimble in their verbal and physical interaction, which is critical, since, despite a parade of elaborate set pieces in a number of episodes, typically, the funniest portions of each arise directly out of Mac's, Charlie's, and Dennis' explosive repartee. In this regard, Olson and DeVito contribute only slightly less.
'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' is also an intelligent and fairly sophisticated comedy posing as a lowbrow comedy, not unlike 'Married With Children' (1987-1997). The ghosts of the Marx Brothers hover overhead, but the ghosts of the original Three Stooges are always close at hand too (for example, in the episode in which Charlie and Frank, interlocked and spine-to-spine, crack one another's backs). At the show's best, in both dialog and plot, the writing approaches the nonsense absurdity of Lewis Carroll.
Other than being genuinely hilarious and clever, 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' has an absolutely unique voice and vision, something few television programs of any era can claim.
The Irish, Italians, Blacks, Latins, Koreans, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Anglo-Americans generally, women, the wealthy, the poor, the homeless, unwed mothers, the overweight, the short of stature, the pretentious, the socially gauche, the elderly, homosexuals (same-sex jokes abound, though largely directed at Mac, Dennis, and Charlie and questioning the sometimes murky nature of their friendship, though all three characters are ostensibly heterosexual), transsexuals, aging hippies, drug addicts, surrogate mothers, single adults, priests, cancer patients, children: no religion, race, ethnicity, "protected group" or other sacred cow or cause is spared lampooning; "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby" is a typical episode title, one fans of the show will instantly find hilarious and be able to place in full context.
Everyone and everything is addressed, mocked and skewered in equal measure, and yet 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' manages to do so without being in the least mean-spirited: a genuine feat indeed.
Though all five main members of the cast are highly talented, and each in a number of ways, it is endlessly shrill, highly kinetic Charlie Day who steals most scenes and, occasionally, entire episodes. It is only in Day's favor that his character, Charlie Kelly, is the most complexly shaded member of "the gang." The raspy-voiced and endlessly inventive Day is a comic talent of the first order.
Not all episodes wholly succeed, and some fall completely flat (such as "Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties" and "Frank's Brother" from Season Seven), but these are the rare exception.