This afternoon I’ve had the pleasure of having to speak to a call centre operative in some far-flung corner of the world. He may have been doing his utmost to help me out but the process of repeating my credit card number three times, finally reading each digit one at a time, pausing each time for the distant mumble of comprehension from the other end drove me rapidly to a state of utter contempt for the entire human race. Thankfully for those in my immediate vicinity my rage has now subsided, and I am sitting in my local pub drinking a nice, cold beer. Sitting here boozing in the early afternoon is helping me feel a little closer to my subject matter, although nowhere near as close as my earlier near-apoplectic customer-service-in-inverted-commas induced fit. 'It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia' has achieved quite a following in the UK, despite only being shown here in the UK on Virgin 1. It is a somewhat unique example of a sitcom. This is no 'Friends'-esque love-in, nor is it a 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' well-intentioned victim of the world’s social injustice. 'It’s Always Sunny…' has to feature the most completely unlikeable, misanthropic, downright bastardly characters known to TV, and yet somehow watching them is consistently hilarious.
Just to put this in context, “The Gang”, who between them run an Irish bar, are collectively responsible for trying to pick up girls at an abortion rally, encouraging under-age drinking and subsequently dating high school kids, lying about having cancer to get a girlfriend, pretending to be crippled veterans to pick up girls (notice any common theme here?), and kidnapping and torturing members of the public in a somewhat misguided attempt to make new friends. In fact they will each do just about anything for personal gain, including screwing over their own friends and family. Thankfully, and usually quite amusingly, they are for the most part as inept as they are sociopathic, frequently failing miserably at their objectives and ending up exactly where they were before. Or worse.
The original pilot of the show was made using a digital camcorder for nothing more than the price of a couple of videotapes. On the strength of this pilot, FX commissioned the first seven episodes. Apparently disappointed with the commercial success of this first series, FX threatened to axe the show, until salvation came in the small, lumpy shape of Danny DeVito, who was a big fan of the early episodes and was very keen to join “The Gang” on a permanent basis. Once DeVito joins at the start of series two, the show kicks into overdrive and his character Frank, father of Dee and Dennis, multiplies the other characters’ depraved moral bankruptcy with an exponential enthusiasm.
Frank’s arrival in the series kinda changes the show’s direction a little. He is a self-made multi-millionaire and provides the financial backing for the gang to undertake pretty much whatever hair-brained scheme they can conceive of. This freedom of choice might get a little annoying but it basically mirrors what has happened in real life, with DeVito allowing the show to continue with sufficient budget to take whatever direction its creators choose. In my opinion this allows the series to really take off and the addition of large quantities of money to the equation only helps to increase the level of greed and backstabbing, which in turn equals increased LOLZ. Plus Danny DeVito, who is always at home playing a scumbag, takes to his role with awesome gusto, creating a character so insanely depraved it makes his role in 'Twins' look like he was playing Mother Theresa.
It’s no real surprise that “The Gang” have been drawn to the life of bar management, and that getting completely shitfaced often seems to be their only solution to life’s problems. When you really look at it these are some very unfortunate people, and life has thrown them all some serious emotional challenges. It’s hard to say whether one is a result of the other, whether their egotistical, evil outlook on life has dealt them this hand or vice versa. Situations like Charlie’s hopeless infatuation and almost complete lack of education, Dennis and his complete vacuum of love and affection for or from anyone but himself, Mac’s petty criminal father and alcoholic mother and Dee’s miserable, lonely childhood as the “aluminium monster” would be tear-jerkers in any other context, but somehow 'It’s Always Sunny…' manages to rise above this. Moments like Charlie seriously assaulting a Mall Santa (as our American cousins refer to them), eyes glazed over, screaming “DID YOU FUCK MY FUCKING MOM?” before biting him on the neck then being dragged off with mouth and chin dripping yuletide blood, are elevated far beyond slightly insane emotional turmoil and into the realm of pants-pissing comedy. If you weren’t laughing so goddamn hard you’d be sobbing into your early morning beer.
So anyway, I highly recommend getting stuck into a slice of 'It’s Always Sunny...', although more than two or three episodes in one go is definitely a struggle. There is only so much you can take of a bunch of assholes shouting at each other before it gets too much. Stick with it though and you will be rewarded. Meeting the milk-drinking, dressing gown clad McPoyle family is a treat of rare proportions, Honey and Vinegar the maverick estate agents are pure unadulterated genius, and when Charlie puts on the stage performance “Dayman: The Musical”, I defy you to keep your underwear dry.