Mac, Charlie, Dennis and Dee sort of run a bar in Philadelphia. They are generally fairly hapless, drifting occasionally into boneheaded and morally reprehensible. Over the course of seven episodes, they get into assorted shenanigans and learn absolutely no lessons whatsoever.
Although there are now six complete seasons of this comedy show in the US, we are only now getting season one on DVD in the UK. It’s unclear why this should be the case, since it is an extremely funny show and although I cannot vouch for later seasons, there is a lot of really clever, strong comedy content on display here.
Each episode is summarily described by its title (The Gang Gets Racist, Charie Gets Cancer, Charlie Got Molested) and fearlessly allows the story to go way beyond what is comfortabke or cosy. It is one of those shows that frequently leaves you yelling at the on-screen characters, “Stop Talking!” whilst simultaneously willing them on to ever more shameful behaviour. Bizarrely, but impressively, we manage to find the characters likable, despite them variously pretending to be dying, hitting on women at an abortion rally, or embarking on relationships with minors. If any of that sounds in poor taste, rest assured that it is so deftly and intelligently handled that it never feels crass or unpleasant. Yes, these characters are unbelievably stupid and shallow, but you can’t shake the feeling that you might actually get on quite well with them.
Although there are excellent elements to all seven episodes, the quality drops of slightly as the series prgoresses. The first three, The Gang Gets Racist, Charlie Wants An Abortion and Underage Drinking are undoubtedly the best, although the season finale (Charlie Got Molested) contains a lot of laughs, not least Mac’s baffling but hilarious displeasure that despite being a cute kid, his gym teacher never tried it on with him. I know, it sounds horrible, but trust me, it’s really, really, funny.
There is a pleasing vein of improvisation running through the episodes, but the writing and direction is kept tight so that the transition between scripted and unscripted is pretty much seamless. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kaitlin Olson, who plays Dee in the show and I started off asking her about this improvisational approach:-
HUG: The new season looks to be as anarchic as ever. How does everyone keep the show and their performances fresh and free from predictability?
KO: I think the writers do a great job of coming up with new ways to explore a subject. If anything seems predictable as they are breaking a story, they continue to flush it out. As far as the acting goes, we’re always trying to figure out what is funny about the characters and how those qualities can be expressed in different ways. The fact that we play around with the dialogue as we’re shooting forces the performances to be fresh.
HUG: How does the show compare, in terms of creative satisfaction for you, with the sketch and improvisational work you have done in the past?
KO: This is a dream job for an actor with an improv background. I’m able to contribute creatively to the character and the dialogue, but I don’t have the responsibility to come up with great story lines! It’s a perfect combo. If I didn’t think the writers were amazing I’d be wishing I had more control in that regard, but I feel really lucky to be able to sit back and get great scripts, then show up and punch up my dialogue if I have ideas about it. I really can’t imagine a better situation.
HUG: Some comedy shows seem to get canned before they ever really get going, others run beyond their shelf life. What sort of future do you see for the show?
KO: Ooh! Hopefully we run this thing into the ground and no one can remember what they ever liked about it. That’s when we’ll know we’ve made it!
HUG: Aside from continuing with the show, what else does the future hold for you personally?
KO: This is my dream job. I have nowhere to go now but down.
Given that the show now has half a dozen seasons under its belt, it clearly has legs and hopefully we’ll see more seasons make their way through to us on DVD before long. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: Season 1 is released on DVD June 20th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.