Pop Culture Diary: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, S1

My favorite trend of current television: the relegation of good TV away from network television. Yes, FOX owns FX, but with Mad Men on AMC, Californication and Weeds on Showtime and Flight of the Conchords on HBO, television has never been so eclectic. And comedy television, it’s possible, has never been so good. The Office is evolving into one of the great American comedies, and Arrested Development recently finished its short standing as America’s most unsung. And you’ve had some fantastic seasons of comedy, like the first two of Entourage, the first two of Weeds, the first of both Californication and Flight of the Conchords, and the CBS comedies that I’m too afraid to try. Heck, I know people that loved “Angels in America” and “Veronica Mars”, but TV’s just too loaded, or too blind, for those.

So enter “It’s Always Sunny”, a show shipped over to FX because, well, it’s far too graphic for anything FOX could put on. I’m sure there’s an inkling of desire to flatten it down a bit and push it over to the big network, but that they don’t is why it’s fantastic. It also makes me wonder what would have happened if “Arrested Development” had been three years later. But that’s a story for another day.

I’ve been handed recommendations for “It’s Always Sunny” for, it seems like, years now. Why I never jumped in I’m not sure (maybe it’s the Danny DeVito connection), but when I saw the first season available on Hulu the other day, I jumped in and plowed through the first season. It’s an interesting show. The premise are three friends that have decided to open an Irish bar in a nosebleed section of Philadelphia, with fantastically poor results. The plot focuses around the three, along with the bartender, the lone female in the show and sister of one of the owners. She’s the sanest of the bunch, juggling the two with too much ego and the one with not enough (Charlie).

The best thing I can say about the show is that it is pushing the label, probably pushing what they are allowed to deal with. There’s an episode about discrimination, both racially and regarding sexual preference. An episode regarding abortion, an episode about underage drinking, an episode about cancer, an episode about molestation. Tackling big issues with comedy is the same thing “Flight of the Conchords” does in a variety of episodes, but this is far more overt. It’s funny because it truly says things that we can’t say or do, like selling Nazi propoganda. The logo on Hulu has a picture of the characters with a CAUTION sign around their mouths, so you get the idea they’re pushing.

It works, I should start by saying, and there’s some fabulous episodes, like the third, “Underage Drinking: A National Concern”. It’s also a show without a developing plot line, which is undeniably a strength given the way The Office forces you to start from the beginning. But it’s not in that echelon for me — it’s a second-tier show, because often I think you’re laughing at shock value. Shock value has been a part of comedy television for a long time, I know, but in the current landscape of TV comedy, I think we can do better.

Worth watching? Yes. Worth loving? I don’t think so.

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