Funny sociopaths

The nugget at the heart of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—for my money, the best comedy on television—is its insistence on making its characters into monsters.

The nugget at the heart of <i>It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia</i>—for my money, the best comedy on television—is its insistence on making its characters into monsters.

The five people who inhabit Paddy’s Bar, the world in which the show takes place, are each selfish, stupid and, frankly, sociopaths. Dennis, Sweet Dee, Frank, Charlie and Mac don’t care about anyone but themselves. Moreover, they don’t even seem aware that they could be living in a different way.

Maybe this makes Sunny, which just started its fifth season on F/X, sound like a dark and gloomy experience. The thing is, it’s not. While the show has tackled topics such as abortion, child molestation and drug addiction, its madcap free-associative style—like if <i>Arrested Development</i> was angrier and more offensive—keeps the episodes oddly inviting.
The detachment of the characters from any real emotional grounding is what carries the concept, I think. The best moments in the show are when normal people unwittingly become part of the gang’s nest of insanity. Usually, they just kind of stare.

If an episode of Sunny has a standard plot, it’s this: The gang hatches a plan, but because of their conflicting interests, they never get it done. The social dynamics of a group of sociopaths, it turns out, are hilarious.

For example, in the second episode of this most recent season, the gang decides to go on a road trip. Simple enough. They start out fine, but soon get sidetracked. Not only has Charlie never left Philly, he’s never eaten a pear. So the gang goes to the Italian market to “haggle with gypsies” and find some fruit. Somewhere in the middle they throw beer bottles at a bicyclist, destroy a Range Rover, buy wicker furniture for the trailer they’re toting, burn that down and fail miserably at playing a drinking game while driving.

And I’m not even describing everything that happens in the 20-minute episode. Basically, the humor in Sunny comes from each of the characters’ inability to balance others’ needs with their own.

The show started when creator Rob McElhenney and his friends shot a pilot on a cheap-ass digital camcorder and somehow got it into the hands of F/X programmers. They got a deal, and now the show is guaranteed to last into a seventh season. Because all of the show’s core actors are longtime friends—except for the terrific Danny DeVito, who was added in the second season—they wear the writing and acting like a comfortable glove.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a show on television that has the same level of chemistry between its main actors as It’s <i>Always Sunny in Philadelphia</i>.

All of this adds up to a show that feels like a post-modern combination of the different tropes of comedic television, but still entirely unique. It’s about a group of friends who run a bar, sure, but I like to think of it as a high-concept show about a world where people who are all missing the same part of their brain try to live together.

It’s about insanity, and it’s awesome.