Case Number 19720

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: SEASON FIVE

Fox // 2009 // 254 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // September 20th, 2010

The Charge

A circle of jerks.

Opening Statement

In the beginning of the show's run, FX pitched It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia as "Seinfeld on crack." While this appropriately sums up the show's origins, it doesn't do justice to Season Five. If Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer were narcissistic, sociopathic, nymphomaniacal alcoholics; then you'd be getting close to where the series stands as of now. But is it funny?

Facts of the Case

The set contains the following episodes across three discs:

Disc One
* "The Gang Exploits The Mortgage Crisis"
While Dee (Kaitlin Olson, Leap Year) attempts to milk a surrogate pregnancy for all its worth, Frank (Danny Devito, Batman Returns) buys a house and attempts to vacate the former owners with the help of Charlie (Charlie Day, Going The Distance), Mac (Rob McElhenney, Lost) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton, The Strangers).

* "The Gang Hits the Road"
Frank decides he wants to see the Grand Canyon before his death, forcing The Gang to take Dee's new compact car, replete with U-Haul, out of the city.

* "The Great Recession"
After a major financial loss, Frank declares a moratorium on cash handouts. To maximize their earning potential, Mac and Dennis fire Charlie and Dee.

* "The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention"
When a substance abusing Frank drags The Gang to a funeral to hit on the bereaved widow, he inspires them to plan an intervention. Meanwhile, Mac and Frank find themselves competing for the widow's affections.

Disc Two
* "The Waitress is Getting Married"
After Dee discovers a high school boyfriend is marrying Charlie's dream girl, The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis, A Quiet Little Marriage), Mac and Dennis attempt to hide the information in order to keep Charlie from killing them all.

* "World Series Defense"
The Gang enters a court of law to contest Dennis' thousand dollar parking ticket, blaming a traumatic experience that occurred during Philly's World Series.

* "The Gang Wrestles for the Troops"
Charlie, Mac, Dennis, and Frank decide that the world is lacking a super-sized injection of '80s era patriotism, so they start an amateur wrestling promotion "for the troops." Dee meets her online Army boyfriend.

* "Paddy's Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens"
Charlie invents "Kitten Mittens" for a Philadelphia merchandising commission, sparking the rest of the gang to pursue merchandising for Paddy's Pub.

* "Mac and Dennis Break Up"
After Dee suggests Mac and Dennis are too close, the pair find their bromance souring. Frank and Charlie ignore them in favor of extracting a cat trapped in Dee's wall.

Disc Three
* "D.E.N.N.I.S."
Dennis presents his fool-proof, sociopathic system of seducing the opposite sex, leading The Gang to try and extrapolate on the results for themselves.

* "Mac and Dennis Write A Movie"
When M. Night Shyamalan returns to Philly to shoot a movie, Dee is hired as an actor. This sparks Mac, Charlie, and Dennis to put together a script for Shyamalan, while Frank tries to act as the group's agent.

* "The Gang Reignites The Rivalry"
Flipadelphia, a drinking contest between bars, is back on, causing The Gang to pursue a long-dead rivalry with an upper-class bar. They pursue the aid of Dennis' former fraternity, only to find a new rivalry waiting in the wings.

The Evidence

I'm a casual It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia fan. I own a handful of seasons but rarely catch episodes when they premiere. Hardcore Sunny fans, of which there are many, will have already pre-ordered Season Five, having seen each episode five to fifty times, memorized each script, and knitted their own versions of Charlie's kitten mittens.

Which leaves you, the reader, who, like me, is either an on-again-off-again viewer or an audience unaffiliated with Paddy's Pub. If you're thinking about taking the plunge with It's Always Sunny, be warned that you're likely to either love it or hate it because of its completely unsympathetic characters. If you don't see yourself laughing as characters try to solve their situational problems with guns, poison, or sleep-raping; you should probably stick with Friends. For everyone else, the show is a depraved delight facilitated by an excellent cast of quirky characters whose chemistry and effortless performances carry the show.

If It's Always Sunny is about anything, it is about relationships, specifically partnerships. You'll notice "The Gang" is a term that is commonly bantered around in episode summaries and for good reason -- Paddy's Pub is the squalor cement that binds Frank, Dee, Dennis, Charlie, and Mac together. While the characters are amusing enough on their own, the episodes that really sing tend to place them in pairs, together as teams or at odds with each other.

Howerton and McElhenny are consistently amusing as smug pseudo-studs Dennis and Mac. Apart, Dennis is a smug douche bag, while Mac is a dimwitted Casanova. Together, they are a pair of guys thoroughly in love with each other, letting their flaws overlap and making for the show's most consistent "dream team" pairing, never failing to let a homoerotic undercurrent between them go unexploited. The pair's obsession with professional wrestling, womanizing, '80s action movies (Predator and Dolph Lundgren are among the bigger references), and maintaining their status as a "dynamic duo" wonderfully spoofs modern contemporary comedy's overblown obsession with bromances.

Mac and Dennis' ability to exploit their relationship as a means of gaining Charlie and Dee's submission also makes them the most formidable schemers on the show, an appropriate nod to fans as both Howerton and McElhenny are the show's creators and head writers.

Being the only female character in the central cast, Kaitlin Olson somehow manages to come off as the most masculine in the group, playing Dee rude and crude with unflinching confidence. It's rare to see a female lead so willing to shed her sex appeal in the name of character, elevating Dee from "obligatory female character" to the most underrated on the show.

As the outsider of The Gang, Dee is often restricted to following her own subplots that inevitably collide with that of the Gangs', even when they have absolutely nothing to do with on another (a trope mocked to great effect in "The Gang Exploits A Mortgage Crisis"). Dee's third-wheel distance from her group is a trait she carries with both self-righteous pride and a sense of loneliness that results in a string of failed seductions (and an army of cats living in the walls of her apartment) that prove her just as selfish, unsympathetic, and stupid as anyone else in Paddy's Pub. Dee's inability to acknowledge this fact only makes her more appealing.

Despite the strengths of the rest of the cast, its Frank and Charlie who tend to grab the most laughs. Frank is a character Devito has played for most of his career -- a rude, boorish, self-indulgent beast of a man whose main goal in life is having a good time before it all ends. This season gives us Frank snorting pills, pointing guns, hiring busty hookers, puking, and trying to "bang" anything in sight (including his ex-sister-in-law and her weirdo daughter). Barring The Penguin in Batman Returns, Frank is Devito at his most ghoulish extremes, a reformed husband and businessman determined to live as pure and utter id to regain his lost youth. It's a consistently surprising performance that has deservingly brought the seasoned actor back into the mainstream fold.

Charlie creates an excellent counterbalance as Frank's sidekick, a manic, socially retarded illiterate whose only real goal of not being left out (not being Dee) is regularly subverted by Dee, Mac and Dennis. In this season, Charlie Day continues to delicately walk his character's fine line, managing to fall somewhere between extremely stupid and extremely creepy as the show's regular whipping boy. For my money, Charlie remains the best part of the show. He works well with any other characters or on his own, but at Frank's side the duo are capable of carrying out the most illegal of acts to accomplish a common goal, proving to be the show's most unpredictable (and funny) attribute.

The DVD comes packaged with 1:78:1 video that stays true to the show's indie roots. While the show's continued choice of low-tech, handheld digital cameras has been criticized by some, the grainy, often amateurish aesthetic perfectly matches the world around Paddy's Pub, a place where the regulars are homeless vagrants and advertisements are still shot with VHS camcorders. A decent, if unspectacular, 2.0 stereo mix compliments the accompanying images well.

Extras wise, we're not given a whole lot of gold to work with here. "The Gang's Dating Profiles" is a mildly amusing bit of improv, fashioned as a faux Video Dating Profile for Mac (accompanied by Dennis), Dee, The Waitress, and the slutty Artemis (Artemis Pebdani, Ugly Betty). It's a fun way to kill five minutes, though a lack of Charlie Day and Danny Devito is more than felt. "Kitten Mittens Endless Loop" is roughly five minutes of cats walking around, adorned with kitten mittens, set to canned zany music. "23,793 photos in 5 minutes: Schwep Dream Sequences in Montage" is the closest thing we'll get to a behind the scenes featurette, a short, animated photo montage tour of the set as the cast and crew work. An amusing batch of deleted and extended scenes is included, as well as an unfunny blooper reel.

Finally, we're treated to six commentary tracks featuring the central cast in random rotation as well as two guest appearances by Dr. Drew (New York Minute). The tracks are inconsistent at best, the worst of them featuring Danny Devito's dull-eyed, possibly intoxicated on-screen descriptions or Dr. Drew's dull eyed, definitely sober on-screen descriptions. The best of them sport the original gang (Olson, Day, McElhenny, and Howerton) riffing on various aspects of production, but there's too much dead air to claim any of it as particularly great.

Overall, this is a slapdash collection of extras that will only entertain hardcore fans of the show. Everyone else needn't waste their time.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It is important to note that when It's Always Sunny is blasting on all cylinders, its artery blusteringly funny. Unfortunately, these episodes only come along once every so often in Season Five. Thankfully, they're almost always worth the wait, and spending time with The Gang is never anything less than amusing.

This is the harshest criticism I can give It's Always Sunny. For a show that tries to be a kind of anti-sitcom, it too often falls into the trappings of the genre its skewing, relying on gimmicks ("The Gang Takes A Road Trip") or punch lines we can see coming a mile away. It wouldn't be much of an issue if the show wasn't trying to push the envelope with each successive episode. Season Five too often feels like watching your favorite punk band pandering to the Billboard Top 40, thus lessening the impact of the finest cuts it has to offer.

As noted, the performances are almost uniformly excellent, but too often did I find Charlie Day relying on high-pitched voice fluctuation to carry a joke. The conversational tic that was endearing in the first couple of seasons has become something of a crutch. I find Day to be the most consistently inventive performer in the cast, but watching him use this technique in a marathon of episodes started working my nerves around the end of disc one. Thankfully, he tones it down toward the latter half of the season, making it a non-issue.

Also, what's with the weird cover art? Seriously, adult heads on baby bodies with the tagline "A Circle of Jerks" beneath them? What the hell does that even mean? Maybe I'm missing something here, but I find this bit of photoshop tomfoolery to be utterly creepy. Send it back to hell.

Closing Statement

Depending on your taste, It's Always Sunny may or may not be your cup of tea. It's crude, profane, and extremely mean-spirited. If you lack an affinity for tasteless characters then you certainly won't find much humor to be had here. However, if you're the kind of person who loves characters for their flaws, rather than in spite of them, then you'll certainly have a lot to love about It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: Season Five.

The Verdict

Guilty in the best way possible.

Review content copyright © 2010 Ike Oden; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 70
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 254 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Blooper Reel

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0472954/combined

* Official Site
http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/sunny/