As an early advocate of this politically incorrect comedy, I take little pleasure in observing that the program’s modest success (embraced by critics, if not a ratings hit) apparently went to FX’s head — prompting changes that dilute the maiden season’s good-natured dimness. Recruiting Danny DeVito to play the estranged dad to half the show’s central quartet might have seemed like a good idea, but the result is a more uneven and mean-spirited show that overreaches and forces some gags. Despite occasional moments of silliness, then, all is not quite so sunny in “Philadelphia.”
For those who skipped season one, the series follows the exploits of three utterly self-absorbed, none-too-bright high school chums — Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) — who, as twentysomethings, now own a neighborhood bar along with Dennis’ sister, Dee (Kaitlin Olson). In year one, their activities included faking cancer in an effort to get laid, turning up on opposite sides of an abortion rally for the same purpose and allowing high school kids to drink at their pub.
Almost willfully stupid, the four are back, but now saddled with Dee and Dennis’ dad, Frank (DeVito), who has split with his wife (Anne Archer) and appears intent on grabbing a slice of the good life he’s been missing. To Frank, that means getting rid of his money (to the horror of the kids) and moving into Charlie’s decrepit apartment to have some fun again.
The first three episodes essentially pick up where season one left off in the “dare to be insensitive” department. In the premiere, Charlie injures his leg and discovers that having a wheelchair wins him extra attention from strippers, prompting Dennis and Mac to feign being disabled in hopes of similar treatment.
The second installment involves an Israeli guy buying the bar out from under them, while the third (and probably the best) boasts the self-explanatory title “Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom.”
“It’s Always Sunny” still possesses considerably more energy then your average comedy, and the deadpan situations (which include Mac and Dennis vacating their wheelchairs in a crowded mall) are occasionally quite funny.
Bringing honest-to-god adults into the equation, however, somewhat deflates the bubble around the group’s hermetically sealed little world, as if a middle-aged guy (and, in Archer, his predatory wife) should know better.
In addition, the anti-Semitic utterances (all quickly debated and apologized for) and exploitation of the physically challenged feels less organic and more like an attempt simply to top what’s gone before.
That said, it’s hard not to root for this series, which was famously sold after its creative trio shot a presentation for a few hundred bucks — a fact FX has worked into a marketing campaign looking for the next ground-up-generated comedy.
It’s a clever enough conceit, though the net’s more pressing task would appear to be locking in “Philadelphia’s” freshness before trying to duplicate its promise.