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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's never sunny in Green Bay

I did myself a favor yesterday and picked up one of those "a lot of trusted folks on the Web rave about it, but for some unexplainable reason, I've never seen it" shows on DVD. Actually, I just like a good deal and as the writers' strike drags on, also feel the need to combat extreme TV boredom by adding to my DVD collection. So with that in mind, I grabbed the first two seasons of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for a measly $20 at Best Buy.

Only six episodes in and I'm already giving the show my highest recommendation, particularly for fans of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "Curb" has long been called a crass, uncensored version of "Seinfeld" because of how Larry David (he plays himself on the show) reveled in ratcheting up George Costanza's worst qualities, leading to unspeakable havoc in the personal lives of those around him. Plus, being on HBO allowed David to really take the gloves off, for instance, giving sweet Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) an opportunity to drop an unabashed f-bomb during a Season Two story arc, or gratuitously stabbing Ben Stiller in the eye with a toothpick in Season Four.

Truthfully though, "Curb" is David's show, not an ensemble piece in the purest sense. Like "Seinfeld," "It's Always Sunny" revolves around four central characters (childhood friends Dennis, Mac, Charlie and Dee, Dennis' sister) who run an unsuccessful Irish bar in Philly called Paddy's Pub. The theme is roughly the same: four incredibly immature, emotionally stunted individuals riffing of a variety of controversial topics with no real censor for what's right and wrong. Except in the case of "Sunny," the conversations aren't quite as random and the dialogue is much looser (lots of "dudes") giving it a fresh, improvised feel like "Curb." "Sunny" builds its episodes around a singular explosive topic, for instance, "Gun Fever," in which Paddy's is robbed and the male bar owners invest in a gun, only to become intoxicated by its ability to make them feel bad-ass. Even worse (read: funnier), entire episodes are devoted to meeting women at abortion rallies or setting up the floundering bar as a safe haven for underage drinkers, which spirals out of control and traps the foursome in a clique-ish high school web that gets three of them asked to Prom. Most absurd of all, the newly "popular" trio (plus "going stag" Mac) plans to attend.

Danny DeVito is also on the show, but has yet to show up (presumably he comes in Season Two), which means he's the most recognizable actor among a group of talented unknowns. In a not-so-odd coincidence, Kaitlin Olson, the actress who plays Dee, made guest appearances on "Curb" as Cheryl David's sister, so there's another parallel.

Anyway, because the show is on FX Network, it's easy to ignore. Then again, if it were a network show, it probably wouldn't be as edgy, demented or funny (Dee's repulsion at the sight and touch of old people is especially hilarious.) So my advice: quit whining about the strike or relying on the 800th viewing of the Soup Nazi episode for laughs. Instead, go buy some cheap DVD sets and find new favorites.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



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