Saturday, August 12, 2006
The premise of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is three late 20-something guys, Charlie, Mac and Dennis, who run a bar in Philadelphia with the help of Dennis’s sister Dee. Early reviews of the show compared it to Seinfeld, and tossed about phrases like “edgy”, “politically incorrect” and “totally unlike anything that’s ever been seen on TV before”. These terms have all managed to become clichés, thanks I would argue, to Seinfeld, and the generation of snarky Yuppie comedies it inspired. What makes Sunny worth watching is that it’s actually funny. Really funny. Laugh until you can’t breathe, “I cannot believe I’m watching this happen” television.
Not only did these buddies manage to sell a TV pilot for which they are the main producers, writers and stars, but they even managed to add Danny DiVito to the cast. DiVito hit sitcom gold with Taxi twenty some odd years ago and has had no reason to return to television since. The lure of Sunny proved too strong to resist. DiVito plays the role of Dennis and Dee’s ne’er do well pop Frank who moves back to Philly to help them run the bar, a role he tears into like a rottweiler with a bloody steak.
One of the things I really enjoy about Sunny is the full minute of parental advisory warnings FX shows before each episode. First, an FCC add about the joys of using the V-chip to control children’s viewing habits, then a black screen with MA-VL and a lengthy definition of what that means, complete with voiceover. Unlike the joking tone that accompanies the warnings for shows like South Park or Jackass, these are straight up THIS PROGRAM IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN type warnings. I’ve always felt that FX is Fox’s attempt at correcting the karmic imbalance from Fox News. The message is clear: beware ye all who enter here. Should you become offended, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Well fine, you say. In a world where “edgy” is used to describe a program like Desperate Housewives, what is it that you’re telling me? A quick visit to some episode titles for It’s Always Sunny might be helpful. “Charlie gets Molested,” “Charlie has Cancer”, “Charlie Wants an Abortion”, “Dennis and Dee go on Welfare”, “Underage Drinking”, “Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom” and “Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass” are a pretty representative sample.
The first episode I happened to catch was “Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare”. When it was finished, I nearly wept with joy. I wanted to gift wrap it and send it via strip-o-gram to the Parent’s Television Council, in hopes that they might spontaneously combust, or just surrender all their TV sets and move their families to Alberta. I can explain to you what happened in the episode, but no part of my explanation will capture the genius and lunacy of the show.
Angry at the way Frank is running the bar, Dennis and Dee quit at which point they discover the joys of unemployment payments. Each decides they are going to use the unemployment to fund the pursuit of their respective career goals, vet and actress. Meanwhile at the bar, Mac and Charlie are tired of doing double duty covering Dennis and Dee’s old jobs, so they convince Frank to apply for a “welfare to work” program that would allow them to hire cheap government subsidized labor, who they have the unfortunate habit of referring to as “slaves”. When Dennis and Dee find their unemployment running out they panic for a way to continue on welfare and, after some wacky misadventures, find themselves addicted to crack. (I swear to you it’s funny) Meanwhile Mac and Charlie head down to the welfare office and ask the officer if there’s some kind of book they can look through to pick the slaves, um, laborers, that they want to come work for them. (I swear to you it’s funny, too).
In “Charlie Wants an Abortion”, Mac begins hanging out with anti-abortion protestors when he realizes that it’s a great environment to pick up women. He hooks up with a pro-lifer who rewards his passion for the cause with passion in the back seat of her car. The girl is, according to Mac, a total freak in the sack and the best sex he’s ever had. Before you roll your eyes, allow me to refer you to recent studies from Yale and Columbia universities which suggest that teens who take ‘abstinence only’ pledges are more likely to engage in both oral and anal sex.
This is the genius of It’s Always Sunny. Crack is not funny. Welfare is not funny. Abortion is not funny. But Charlie, Frank, Dennis, Dee and Mac ARE funny. They’re clueless, self absorbed and compulsively watch-able. What you realize watching this show is that while crack, welfare and abortion aren’t funny, America’s clueless, self absorbed attitudes about these things are in fact, hysterical.
The phrase “politically incorrect” is virtually meaningless in this day and age. When I attended college it was a loose collection of symptoms which led us to label the most benign issues controversial for fear of offending anyone and everyone from the Vegan Libertarian Front to the Campus Crusade for Christ. Lately it has come to define everything from what people used to call plain old straight talk to simply mean-spirited behavior. The best comedy which often earns the title “politically incorrect” is that which hits the Left and the Right equally hard. It shows that as long as we take them seriously, it’s the wing nuts from both sides that ruin life for the rest of us. The only solution for the rest of us is to join the circus and laugh them offstage.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is finishing up its accelerated summer season this week. I’m tickled to see that guest starring in the final episode is Stephan Collins, none other than the Reverend Cameron from 7th Heaven. My theory about FX being Fox’s karma bitch apparently holds for actors on the Fox network as well. Welcome, Reverend Cameron! It’s never too late to join the circus.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The heart and soul of the site remains the same: disconcertingly thoughtful analysis of popular culture and anything else that catches my fancy.
As I make this transition, I'll be posting new articles to both Popular Librarian and Populucious, at least for the next month or so. Eventually though, PopLib will be gracefully retired and Populucious will become the only place to be!!!
Sunday, August 06, 2006
It started off semi promising. Cassie is a pretty blonde teenager struggling to fit in at an exclusive boarding school of the sort that only seems to exist in Great Britain. It’s set on impossibly lovely and remote grounds, the school resembles an ancient castle, the students appear to be able to leave the grounds with impunity in order to visit the local uber-hip pub and the urbane headmaster dismisses them with bon mots like: “Be free and try not to multiply”.
Cassie’s roommate is Thelma who is, of course, a Lesbian who dresses in some BBC wardrobe mistress’s idea of “goth chick” chic. Thelma loves Cassie. Cassie loves boys and yearns to be popular. There’s the cool in-crowd headed by a cruel bitch named (I’m not making this up) Roxanne. Through a series of wacky misadventures Cassie discovers that she is descended from a long line of witches and is being stalked by a sexy fallen angel named Azazeal. Azazeal wants Cassie to have his baby who will, as is so often the case in these instances, unleash unpleasantness on earth.
Azazeal has been wandering the earth trying, unsuccessfully, to impregnate many generations of blonde waifs since being drummed out of heaven some thousand years ago, apparently for his penchant for trying to knock up blonde waifs. (Note to fundamentalists: Even God wants his angels practicing "safe sex"!) Azazeal is tall dark and handsome, with dreamy eyes and cheekbones that could cut diamonds. One would think he’d not have much problem pulling tail. However, his means of seduction involve driving Cassie’s mother insane, revealing himself in monstrous demonic form, possessing a boy Cassie’s dating, stealing her unborn baby and murdering her roommate. Maybe next time he could try buying a girl a drink. Seriously, it’s worked for millions.
So far, a pale imitation of Buffy, yet somehow even with magic and complicated mythology and stone gargoyles turning into real ones Hex is in fact excruciatingly dull. Part of the problem is Cassie. She drifts around trying to get boys to like her when she ought to be, I dunno, figuring out how to stop Armageddon. She discovers magic powers but never seems to use them when they might be useful. When given explicitly clear guidelines for her safety, such as “He can’t harm you if you wear this pendant” and “Whatever you do, don’t leave the safety of the pentagram”, she’s the sort of girl who’ll promptly lose the pendant and run out of the pentagram to chase after a loud crashing noise in the dark yelling “Hello?” While plenty of 98 minute horror films are based on this particular type of lass, an 8 week TV series is an entirely different matter. One begins to root for Azazeal to just sacrifice her already, and on to the next generation please.
Any entertainment to be had comes from Thelma who, after being offed by Az, returns as a ghost. A goth chic Lesbian ghost. The thing I really love about the BBC is that much of their television seems so quaint. Sitcoms regularly star characters in the most ridiculous guises with no attempt to hide bad wigs or fake padding. The network motto ought to be “Hey gang, lets put on a show!” Thelma is eventually joined in her struggle by a demon hunter who dresses like Barbarella on her way to a Prince concert. No one in the school seems the least perturbed by this new 30-ish student wearing a purple lace trimmed black leather cat suit and duster jacket. British boarding school is so awesome!