Blu-ray Review: It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (2009)

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If TV was high school and the programs that aired on every network were members of a graduating class, FX's It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia would no doubt earn the yearbook honor of being dubbed the series “most unlikely to make a Christmas special.”

Yet if there's one thing we've learned well into the fifth season of the most consistently daring, enviably creative, and genuinely hilarious non-premium cable TV series currently on the airwaves, it's that much like the weather, Sunny is a force of its own that's impossible to predict.

Similar to the tagline of Kevin Smith's Clerks, which set up the characters via “just because they serve you... doesn't mean they like you,” the cheerfully misanthropic and outlandishly dysfunctional gang spend less time running their Philadelphia bar Paddy's Pub and more time scheming their way into hysterically awkward predicaments.

Yet rather than hide it in a tagline, as we discover right from the brilliant do-it-yourself pilot developed and executed by its three main stars for essentially the cost of videotape, they're incredibly open about how much they dislike not just their nonexistent patrons but the other members of their own codependent group as well.

However, unable to function without the rest and similar to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, unable to be remotely tolerated by anyone else for more than the length of an episode, they repeatedly form ever-changing alliances driven by their selfish quests to outdo the rest like kids on a playground all fighting over which one gets to go down the slide first.

And despite the fact that the show's originally cult following has grown over 95% with new fans tuning in all the time, for those who have yet to venture to the anti-Cheers setting of Paddy's Pub, allow me to give you the instant replay version of the players and their modus operandi.

Overall, Sunny is comprised of the following: vain siblings Dennis and Dee (Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson), Danny DeVito as Frank the unscrupulous prankster who raised them, the possible biological son of Frank in the form of Charlie O'Day as the show's zany Buster Keaton mixed with Jerry Lewis character, and the street-smart but wildly confrontational tough, Mac (Rob McElhenney).

In the gang's first straight-to-disc special, the traditional Paddy's greeting of “Hey-oh,” becomes “Merry Christmas, Bitches,” with the release of this inventive, uproarious and no-holds barred Very Sunny Christmas which the cast filmed in June of this year under the helm of one of their most effective directors, Fred Wonder Years Savage.

And unlike the perpetually DVD only installments of the fan frenzy favorite which have now become the sort of “must own” comedy staple accessory like the seasons of Arrested Development to find like-minded, discerning fans with good taste, A Very Sunny Christmas marks the first time Fox offered a Blu-ray option for those who wanted to bring Paddy's home in high definition.

And despite the fact that McElhenney prefers to continuously call it a DVD in a special Blu-ray introduction (prompting the use of subtitles to humorously correct his phrasing), technically speaking A Very Sunny Christmas is on par with the razor sharp clarity of Fox Blu-ray and accentuates the broken beer bottle sharp wit of Paddy's Pub.

Freer to go even wilder with the language, nudity, and violence of the FX rated MA show, this Sunny lets the f-bombs fly in subversive send-ups of wake up calls regarding memories of Christmas Past and trying to make amends in Christmas Present when Charlie and Mac grow as Scrooge-inclined as Dennis and Dee when they realize that the traditions of their childhood may have involved felonies.

Likewise, it offers Savage a chance to play with powerful cinematic cameras and effects including a very naughty Sunny take on the holiday claymation specials of our youth along with the endless sight gags, and a deviantly hilarious Charlie vs. shopping mall Santa smackdown after he confronts the bearded one a la De Niro's interrogation of Joe Pesci in Raging Bull.

Hoping to generate more Christmas spirit than their tradition of throwing rocks at trains on Christmas morning, Charlie and Mac revisit old home movies and Mac's preserved childhood bedroom and '80s treasure trove of the addictive Simon, Raggedy Andy, Cabbage Patch memories, Omni-Bot and a Karate Kid poster to match the karate trophy Mac cherishes which he'd simply found in the street as a boy.

While neither man is able to accurately assess why exactly their traditions and recollections of Christmas are alarming without the help of the other, Dennis and Dee decide to use their Scrooge meets Grinch attitude of the holiday to pull a Sunny version of A Christmas Carol on Frank.

Although the roughly forty-five minute disc shortchanges us in the extras department, the main draw of Sunny is the new feature length hilarity itself which more than makes up for its bogus bonus bummers. From Jesus freaks to a naked Frank sewed into a leather couch to carol singing at four in the morning, the winter special filmed back when it was actually Sunny manages to deliver one of the most memorable-- for wit as much as for its shocking use of wit-- new Christmas titles in recent memory.

For those who've never gotten Sunny, it may just seem like a TV spin on Bad Santa in terms of how far entertainment can push audience buttons rather than the cliched “envelope.” Yet admirably, and despite the fact that
Bad Santa is a damn funny movie, it's also one that had to go to the crude well incessantly to set-up its comedy.

As far as Sunny goes, their methodology for crudeness works in precisely the opposite way. With only very few and mostly dialogue based exceptions, Sunny never takes the immediate lewd shock shortcut for laughter by understanding that it's better to be startled right along with the ridiculous characters who seem just as shocked as we are to find themselves in any given situation such as picking a fight with a shopping mall Santa in a misplaced attempt to save Charlie's mom's honor. By firmly understanding what's funny and why before they explore it comically, this Sunny endeavor ensures it's a very “Merry Christmas, Bitches” indeed.

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