TV on DVD: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- Season 4

Photo Slideshow
Now Available to Own

Still Sunny with twisted glee, the outrageously original brainchild of stars Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day is just as wickedly misanthropic, unexpectedly subversive, politically incorrect, and startlingly hilarious in its fourth season.

No doubt a large amount of the cult success of the FX series is due to the fact that even when the three attracted talented Curb Your Enthusiasm alumni Kaitlin Olson and eventually Danny DeVito to the cast (Olson from the start and DeVito in the second season), McElhenney, Howerton, and Day never lost sight of the humble beginning of their show, which derived from a budget of videotape.

Season four finds them more ambitious than ever. Yet Sunny is still set primarily in and around their Philadelphia bar Paddy's Pub that barely gets a repeat customer due to the self-involved, offensive, and mind-bogglingly dangerous schemes invented by the cast. For those new to Philadelphia, the ensemble consists of friends Charlie (Day), Mac (McElhenney), Dennis (Howerton), and Sweet Dee (Olson as Howerton's twin) along with the twins' father Frank (DeVito).

Essentially the five recurring cast members portray characters who embody the worst in humanity as self-absorbed amoral hedonistic toddlers masquerading as adults. Therefore you're quick to ascertain that there's five different motives and agendas unfolding in any given scene as the “gang” views every situation as to how it will affect each one of them at all time, making it easy to overlook nuances, repetitions, misdirects, and double backs throughout.

Directly fitting their personality types, agenda driven manipulation is still the main modus operandi for the topical series as the guys try to use their sex appeal to get a bank loan to buy gasoline to addressing national health care when they discover to their horror that hospitals don't actually help people for free.

And while the plots run the gamut from ridiculous relationship wars to contemporary issues, the thirteen consistently inventive episodes become even more entertaining on a repeat viewing when you can better appreciate the amount of jokes layered on top of one another and crammed into the thirty shout-filled minutes.

To this end, Sunny combines the subtle with the shocking as we move right from laughing at Frank's constant faux autobiographical references chronicling Stallone's character John Rambo in First Blood to Charlie and Dee's outrageous quest to break into a morgue when they fear they might be cannibals.

Overall, the playful yet perverse Sunny feels like a fearless clown school for comedy fans who don't mind if their humor derives from the wildly trashy side. And while I do grow a bit weary of the lazy reliance on scatological jokes, as a devotee of off-the-wall humor and sheer energetic creative talent, you can't do much better than this series which manages to make the characters from Seinfeld and Curb look like nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize by comparison. Yet to its credit, it doesn't lose its audience in a freewheeling, trippy Mighty Boosh like format by ensuring that whatever odd tangents it leads us down, we're right there with the Sunny gang all the way.

Needless to say, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia dares to go places that most writers would refuse to venture as not too many shows can garner genuine laughs from Sweet Dee having a heart attack, the gang kidnapping a newspaper critic who dares to call Paddy's the "Worst Bar in Philadelphia" and Mac and Charlie faking their own deaths. Furthermore, by taking earnest, on-the-nose jabs at other primetime shows, it turns Sunny from a guilty pleasure to a genius pleasure in episodes that dare to acknowledge the hype and exploitation of pop culture favorite reality programs and fads including Extreme Makeover Home Edition, America's Next Top Model and The Secret.

And sure enough even when it goes a little too far or misses the bullseye, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia proves that anything can be funny given the right set-up, the five right stooges and an audience so devoted to the series they bought up tickets to the two-night only live performance of season four's musical finale within ten minutes.

The four disc set slim designed set from Fox is sure to attract die-hards before the Christmas Special hits shelves within months and it includes the hour long performance along with surprisingly tame bloopers compared to the plots of the show that is since it demonstrates how the level-headed cast can't even get through a scene at its most ridiculous without cracking up. Additionally it serves up a genuinely funny extra that takes off on Dennis' erotic memoirs episode that's presented like Masterpiece Theatre.

Despite the fact that it hasn't hit Blu-ray yet but will for its Christmas release, the transfer quality is great for a show that always placed laughter over cutting edge sound and picture. However one major shortcoming is that it's missing a DVD insert with more details and Fox only lists the episode titles instead of giving even a one-sentence synopsis to help jog your memory more than the often straightforward yet absurd titles provide.

Still fans will easily overlook it the first time the show sends you doubling over as one of the only remaining successful contemporary comedies currently on the airwaves. With Emmy voters beginning to grow slightly hipper in recent years as everything from Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List to The Big Bang Theory and The Sarah Silverman Program has garnered nominations, it'd be nice to see the Sunny gang finally earn some industry respect for their ability to apply risky humor and an unstructured, naturalistic feel to their series.

However, perhaps like other fan-driven shows like Psych, Burn Notice, Dollhouse, and Chuck-- right now it makes Sunny that much more enjoyable as one of the best kept secrets since it hasn't officially caught on or likewise sold out yet... despite the fact that the characters of Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie and Frank would be first in line to do just that.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com

Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.