"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": A Mid-Season Review

11/22/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Sam Roos

Outside of the occasional episode of “South Park,” no comedy on TV so consistently relies on Blue (gross out) or Black (dark/disturbing) comedy as FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” At a very basic level, the show is about five self-centered alcoholics who are consistently dumber than they look. Just by looking at the first season’s episode titles, we can pull out key words that most sitcoms wouldn’t even think of touching without a strong moral message at the episode’s heart: Racism, Abortion, Underage Drinking, Cancer, Guns, Nazis, and Child Molestation--and they don’t even attempt to inject any kind of morality into these plots. These characters are terrible people, who do things we would find morally repulsive… and it’s positively captivating to watch.

This show wouldn’t have flown 20--or even 10--years ago. But with the Internet collectively lowering our national moral standards every day, America (or at least 18-26 year old males) seems to have embraced this group of jerks with no redeeming qualities. Clearly, the show has hit upon something new and fresh that has real appeal to a wide market.

That being said, the plots are often (very) thin, always involve the same five main characters and five minor characters, and pretty much always involve the gang drinking a lot, and somebody getting hurt. There’s not a problem with this formula--the fact that the show is past 50 episodes now from FX proves that--but sometimes, particularly late in seasons three and four, the episodes start to run together. That’s why season five has been so impressive and fun so far--they’ve done an excellent job of giving each episode a very different style and story.

Ultimately, the show works because we like watching the main characters keep screwing things up. So, there’s always going to be a sense of repetitiveness because of that. But, when an individual episode takes the gang to a new place (whether that be physical or emotional) it’s usually enough that we don’t mind that the characters are behaving the same as the last 50 episodes--in fact, that kind of consistency is comforting so long as it’s kept in fresh context. This season, they’ve done a fantastic job of really switching up the style from week to week. One episode was told entirely through a flashback from a courtroom, while one focuses on the gang trying to come up with merchandising ideas, and another is all about wrestling. While the show’s writers have always included a few drastically different episodes every season (last season’s finale in which the gang performs a musical comes to mind), but this season they’ve been able to make each episode’s frame really different, and unlike the last two seasons, I’m still interested even as we work towards the end of the season.

The one consistent comedic tool that “Always Sunny” has always used well is to change up the alliances between the characters. Just like the plots, which have to keep shifting to hold our attention, the pairing of certain characters together gives an episode a fresh energy, which as I’ve said seems to be the writers’ most important task week-to-week. This season, they’ve done an excellent job, even better than usual, of keeping the pairings varied. It brings out fresh sides of the characters and prevents them from getting stale or repetitive, which is the show’s biggest pratfall in the past. But this year, it looks as if the writing staff has become aware of that problem. If they continue to keep changing things up and keeping each episode fresh, this could be the best season yet.

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  1. Anonymous said...

    I agree! Nice post, I love Always SUNNY!