It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may have the most durable formula on TV. It also may be the most formulaic show on TV. It is the Law & Order of sitcoms. For those who love tragic stories in which totally self-involved characters struggle to get what they want and trip themselves up on their own greed and self-interest, Sunny provides that story week after week. And usually with a sackful of laughs to go with it.
This forty-five minute unrated special is not much different. This time around, The Gang tackles Christmas. Charlie (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) are really excited about Christmas, as they are every year. As they reminisce about Christmases past, they come to realize some dark truths they may not be ready to face. Namely that their fondest memories most likely involved prostitution and burglary. Meanwhile, Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) confront their wealthy dad, Frank (Danny DeVito), about his treatment of them every Christmas – which involves him giving them big empty boxes and usually buying for himself the things they most want. It drives them nuts and they want to put the hurt on him.
Charlie and Mac set out to make up for Mac’s past yuletide felonies by apologizing to someone Mac stole a toy from. Dee and Dennis are a little more ambitious – they want to show Frank the error of his ways by performing a real-life ‘A Christmas Carol’ scenario on him. They find an old business associate who Frank thinks is dead to play the ghost and set out to get their vengeance. All of this goes predictably wrong.
This is usually where the ‘hilarity ensues’ portion of the review would come, but honestly, there’s not much hilarity. There’s certainly some hilarity – with Dee and Dennis pursuing revenge in the guise of altruistic moral guidance and Charlie going nuts at a mall – that deserves to be placed in the Sunny hall of fame.
But there’s also a lot here that feels a lazy – the brutal send up of the Bass & Rankin stop motion holiday TV specials is solid, but also feels done to death after similar bits on ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘That 70’s Show’, ‘MADtv’ and many others. Also, Charlie and Mac’s story line isn’t nearly as hilariously wrong-headed as it easily could’ve been. Sure, Mac’s family stealing presents from neighbors and passing it off as the Christmas tradition has its chuckles, but it is hardly pushing the envelope. Frank driving around in the Lamborghini that Dennis wants and eating Cheetos out of the purse that Dee wants is so-so, but there’s not real edge to it. Both of these scenarios could be found in an episode of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ without anyone being terribly surprised. For a series that started with an episode titled ‘The Gang Gets Racist’, it’s hard to believe there’s not at least a crucifixion in here somewhere, right? Usually this show just stomps all over taboos. But here – the touch is strangely light. And the laughs just aren’t plentiful.
Not helping things any is a very sub-standard picture. What’s the point of putting something on Blu-ray if this is the picture you’re working with? And if it’s a special, why not bump the budget up just a tad and rent a High Def camera for a week or two? A producers intro mentions that this is to maintain the general aesthetic of the series, but nuts to that. This lo-res picture doesn’t make the show any funnier.
So this special is kind of a shame, considering how much of an open, bleeding heart many folks have for Christmas. Sentimentalism is at a fever pitch this time of year. It’s such a big, soft target for a show like Sunny. Here’s hoping they give this kind of special another try and really knock it out of the park.
The special is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and standard definition, making this Blu-ray release the ugliest you’re likely to find anywhere. Most likely purchasing the regular DVD and letting your own equipment up-convert would be a better gamble. The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital, subtitled in Spanish and French. No complaints about the sound – it does the job.
Producers’ Blu-ray Introduction – McElhenney and producer David Hornsby explain why the picture on this Blu-ray looks so god-awful. They do not offer to return your hard-earned money. (0:56)
Young Charlie & Young Mac Deleted Scenes – Some pretty strong back and forth between Charlie and Mac as kids wandering around Philly. Too bad this didn’t make it into the show. (2:49)
Behind-the-Scenes Making of Featurette – Could’ve done without this, probably. A few chuckles to be had, but this is a 45 minute special. What is there really to see? (7:23)
Sunny Sing-a-Long – The Gang sings Christmas carols in a Tim & Eric-style cheesy video FX free-for-all. (3:13)
A Very Sunny Christmas isn’t the best episode of this series and the Blu-ray presentation is poor, but there are some worthy moments.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas. Directed by: Fred Savage. Starring: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito. Written by: Kristi Korzec and Rob McElhenney. Running time: 43min. Rating: Unrated. Released on Blu-ray: November 17, 2009. Available at Amazon.com