Friday, September 19, 2008

“Seinfeld on Crack” returns, don’t miss it

By Rick Morris

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, the weird and wonderful ensemble comedy on FX, returned for its fourth season tonight. If you have a healthy sense of humor, you need to watch this new season. Trust me.

I had been told about this show by friends for a long time, but with our FDH programming on Thursday nights for the past few years and the fact that I was already taping “My Name is Earl” and “The Office” on Thursday nights … well, that didn’t leave any room for checking out a show just based on hearsay. But then I stumbled upon the complete archives of the show at Hulu over the summer and I was blown away. I would strongly urge all of you to check these shows out as well; I’m only about 1/3 of the way through them, which really enthuses me inasmuch as I know that I have a lot of great hours of entertainment remaining to be consumed.

The show revolves around The Gang – a fraternal twin brother/sister duo, two male friends of theirs and the (as it turns out, non-biological) father of the siblings, played by Danny Devito in one of his trademark hilariously sleazy roles. They collectively operate a dive bar in Philadelphia and go through some of the most hilarious misadventures in every episode.

In terms of a comparison to SEINFELD, the characters are all slightly younger, by perhaps 5-10 years, but the program really diverges from “The Show of the ‘90s” by how far they take their plots. Bolstered perhaps by the fact that the boundaries on cable are less stringent, the incidents involving The Gang are way further out than anything even George Costanza dreamed. Members of The Gang are equally greedy and stupid and they think nothing of throwing each other under the bus on the slightest provocation – indeed, they seem to draw some of their greatest joys from getting over on each other. Alliances among them are routinely formed and discarded according to the whims of the moment and they outlandishly take on each other with great relish.

I would think that most people who watch the show will be drawn to one character in particular, just as they did with SEINFELD. Personally, I find Charlie to be the most entertaining of the bunch, which is not surprising because I enjoy broadly-drawn, over-the-top characters. He’s probably the most stupid of The Gang, certainly the one who will take things to the furthest extreme in any given circumstance and to me he’s just relentlessly entertaining.

I’m noticing a trend with programs that I enjoy and I think it may have something subliminally to do with me being a writer and certain elements that may be popping out at me. Somewhat like my favorite show on TV, THE OFFICE, SUNNY is largely written by the actors involved in it; on THE OFFICE, some of the background characters are on the writing staff. After watching some of the behind-the-scenes footage from The Office Convention in Scranton last fall on THE OFFICE SEASON 4 DVD (a review of which shall be coming shortly), I learned a great deal about how unusual it was for a program to integrate both the acting and writing sides of the process as seamlessly as they do. SUNNY takes that approach to an even higher level, with the co-creators of the show being directly involved in the writing and formatting and acting of every episode. Of course, any show will flop without great material, but the processes involved in these two shows may have much to tell the television industry about how best to put together successful sitcoms.

At any rate, this program is gut-wrenchingly funny, although you could easily structure a drinking game around the number of times you find yourself exclaiming, “That’s just wrong!” as you’re viewing an episode. You can’t enjoy this show if you’re easily offended, but if you’re not, you’ll never find anything better on a comedy level. Don’t miss it.

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