After years of futility, the search for a top-notch, 20-something slacker comedy is over, and it took a basic cable network to crack the code. Real-life chums Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day have crafted a single-camera half-hour that’s invariably clever and occasionally a laugh-out-loud riot, all while lampooning taboo topics like race and abortion. The only negative is that FX has saddled the series with the unappetizing “Starved” as a lead-in, but assuming people can find it, the net might have picked a winner in the long-odds lottery for the next memorable sitcom.
Unassuming in concept but dead-on in tone, the series features three modern-day stooges who run an Irish pub in Philly — the kind of knuckle-dragging neighborhood dudes who, in the hilarious second episode, attend an anti-abortion rally strictly with the intent of picking up chicks.
In almost every instance, in fact, the baser instincts of buddies-since-high school Mac (McElhenney), Dennis (Howerton) and Charlie (Day) triumph over the better angels in their natures. When Dee (Kaitlin Olson) — Dennis’ sister, who also works in the bar — invites an African-American friend to meet her around closing time, the guys instantly assume it’s a robbery. They then spend the balance of the premiere trying to convince each other that they’re not racists or homophobes, as the bar suddenly becomes a gay hangout in another sharply plotted twist.
Dennis even takes to flirting with the new patrons, mostly because he enjoys the compliments. “You’re not gay. You’re just really, really vain,” his irritated sister tells him.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the show is how effortlessly McElhenney (who receives “created by” credit), Howerton and Day incorporate potentially controversial themes and just as quickly defuse them by approaching these hot-button issues so myopically, through the self-obsessed prism of their characters’ lives.
As a consequence, Mac can meet a girl at an anti-abortion organization, use false pro-life rhetoric to entice her into a tryst and just as quickly cry “Abortion!” as soon as there’s a hint that she might be pregnant. No wonder Dennis can profess to lack any real convictions, especially if they’ll interfere with getting laid.
Similarly, a recurring gag in the opener has African-Americans, for some inexplicable reason, sparking to the diminutive Charlie, who simply sees the attraction as possible leverage to impress the coffeehouse waitress with whom he is pathetically obsessed.
To her credit, “Drew Carey Show” alumna Olson holds her own in these Spartan surroundings (especially in the third installment), proving as big a moron as the boys once alcohol and horniness begin to work their unique brand of magic.
Even the sprightly theme music and title are fraught with irony, since it’s kind of bleak looking in the boys’ Philly, a town with its own cantankerous streak. And while luring patrons to the show could be a challenge, it’s a good bet that those who do belly up to the bar will be inclined to become regulars.