Baseball Toaster Western Homes
Before the Networks Overwhelm You, Try Our Scuzzy Cable Series!
2007-09-19 13:56
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I finally sat down with the special double-issue "Entertainment Weekly" fall preview and both of my DVR remotes and programmed the first week of the new fall season. It was an involved process. There were charts, lists, research, and several circlings and crossings-out with thick Sharpie strokes involved. There's not a lot of new-series premieres coming up that have me terribly excited, but that may result in me sampling a lot more of what's out there. There are a few nights that are wide open, and with the potential to record up to three shows in one timeslot these days, I'm willing to try and keep up with everything there is on that's worth it.

One show you ought not to miss that slipped its season premiere in a week before the network deluge begins is "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," FX's demented little comedy that makes a noble effort to be more discomfiting than "Curb Your Enthusiasm" while mostly adhering to the standards of broadcast cable. The show's first season was barely seen, but since fan Danny DeVito joined the cast as two or three of the younger characters' deadbeat father, it's managed to get an expanded and slightly higher-budgeted second and third season and a way-belated DVD release.

"Sunny" is structured like "Seinfeld" and "Curb" in that it's about a group of self-centered people that always receive ironic comeuppances for their greedy little schemes, but it has an extreme, no-holds-barred attitude that's more like "South Park" or "Family Guy" than any other live-action show. Typical episode topics involve going to an abortion rally to pick up women and switching sides because the pro-life chicks look hotter, being stabbed in revenge by your incestuous, inbred rivals from elementary school, and in the third-season premiere, attempting to get an orphaned infant into a tanning booth so that it can "play Hispanic" in television commercials.

DeVito's addition hasn't blunted the zeal of creator/writer/performers Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton's enthusiasm to offend, and his character Frank has proven an equally deranged foil for the younger quartet of Charlie (Day), Mac (McElhenney), Dennis (Howerton), and Dee (the fearless Kaitlin Olson). However having a fifth wheel in the mix has forced the show's writing away from its original single-subject format, where the writers would happily chip away at your resistances, making you squirm until you finally embraced the equal-opportunity offensiveness of it all and laughed therapeutically. Breaking away from the main thrust of each episode doesn't help "Sunny's" club-to-the-face-subtle humor any. The first two episodes (FX is unwisely running the first half of the third season two at a time for the next few weeks, something that doesn't gel with the show's escalating logic and someone-just-threw-a-live-grenade blackout endings) mute funny main plots involving Mac and Dee's moneymaking schemes for the dumpster baby they're raising together and Mac, Dennis, and Dee participating in an open tryout for the Eagles with dumb subplots involing Frank and Charlie digging for garbage and feuding with the loathsome McPoyles.

Still, it's great to see a show that operates with such verve and freedom on non-HBO cable, and the way that "Sunny" is beginning to have "Arrested Development"-style runners (few of which are repeatable in polite company) is a delicious development in my book. If they ever got more than a handful of episodes on a year they'd have something going.

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