"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is sort of an "indie" TV series. The pilot was shot by a group of actors for $200 bucks on a digital camera, then shopped around to networks, with FX deciding to pick it up. The pilot was then re-shot and the result is an interesting mix. The series is like a deeply politically incorrect, rough mix between "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Friends" and looks like it was shot with the low-key, low-tech feel of an Ed Burns film.
This is a series about being completely and utterly antisocial, immoral, rude and generally terrible to your fellow human - and it's deeply, utterly and sometimes even sublimely funny. In terms of being antisocial, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" makes "Seinfeld" look like "7th Heaven". In a time where many shows seem to be sanitized and diluted to make sure they're not offensive to anyone, it's amazing to see a series that looks like every third or fourth scene would get a note from network execs that, "Gee, you can't do that."
The show focuses on Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob ) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton), three pals who decide to open up a bar in Philadelphia in order to have a place to drink and meet women or meet drinking women. They're joined by Dee (Kaitlin Olson), the sister of Dennis who occasionally makes a slight attempt to be the voice of reason before being dragged down into the various schemes. The remarkable thing about the series is how it's successfully so twisted without seeming forced. It's all because these characters are truly, deeply who they are. They're self-centered, completely immature jerks who are not only proud of it, but unaware that there's any other way to be.
The show's writing is wonderfully demented, but it's the performances that make the series work as well as it does. McElhenney, Howerton and Day are priceless, which is rather surprising, as none of the three have much experience with comedy, aside from Howerton, who was one of the stars of the short-lived "That 80's Show". Danny Devito, playing Dennis and Dee's estranged father Frank, blends in well and gets some big laughs since joining the cast in season 2.
Early in this "Sunny" Christmas special, Mac and Charlie talk about how they're looking forward to waking up on Christmas morning and going to throw rocks at trains. Dee responds: "Why would grown men throw rocks at trains?" Mac, in disbelief, replies, "Why wouldn't we throw rocks at trains?". That's the dark humor of the series in a nutshell - it might be mean and cause damage, but as long as we're having fun, what's the harm (at least to us?)
The Christmas special sees Dennis and Dee trying to get back at Frank (Devito) by using the business partner that Frank scammed years ago (and who he thought was dead.) When Dee and Dennis have difficulty convincing the man - who has long since forgiven Frank - they realize they have to take matters into their own hands in order to teach Frank a lesson.
Meanwhile, Mac learns that Christmas tradition does not mean going to your neighbor's house and taking their presents, as his father taught him as a child. While Charlie has to teach him of his error, Mac quickly finds himself explaining to Charlie about how one of his Christmas traditions isn't exactly normal, either. While Charlie initially represses everything, it all eventually turns out like the "Seinfeld" theory of "serenity now, insanity later."
Not surprisingly, the episode follows the traditional Christmas formula, but in "Sunny" fashion, the characters are no wiser or kinder than when they've started. After realizing that he stole a toy robot when he was a kid, Mac and Charlie walk the robot back to say that they're sorry, but that they are keeping the robot (because, as Charlie notes, it falls under the "finders keepers" rule.)
The episode has some good laughs, although the Mac and Charlie subplot is more demented (and therefore more amusing) than Dee and Dennis trying to help Frank become a better person - a storyline that stumbles a bit on its way to a conclusion. Overall, while it may not be the show's finest 45 minutes, "It's a Very Sunny Christmas" is a mostly very amusing holiday affair.
VIDEO: Fox presents "A Very Sunny Christmas" in 1.78:1 (AVC). There is a special introduction for the Blu-Ray edition where co-creator McElhenney and producer David Hornsby (who has also been seen in the series as Cricket) discuss the fact that the special was not filmed in HD and the special was upconverted for the Blu-Ray edition. The result is a presentation that looks satisfactory, considering the material.
The show is a little grainy and gritty, and the Blu-Ray presentation once again presents the show as it usually appears. Sharpness and detail are average, as while the picture never appeared overly soft, clarity and detail did vary throughout the show. Some light noise and a few traces of pixelation were spotted, but most scenes appeared smooth and clean. Colors appeared bright and generally appeared well-saturated, but a few scenes in the bar looked a tad smeary.
SOUND: The special is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. As one might expect, this is a basic comedy mix, with little in the way of surround use and the majority of the audio spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is just fine, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: A short "making of" documentary watches the cast and crew as they go through the rather odd process of filming a Christmas special in the Summer. We also get a sing-along and a few deleted scenes that follow Charlie and Mac as kids.
Final Thoughts: Overall, while it may not be the show's finest 45 minutes, "It's a Very Sunny Christmas" is a mostly very amusing holiday affair. The Blu-Ray offers a few minor extras and satisfactory (considering the material) audio/video quality. Fans should look for the title on sale.