In a synergistic use of the Web to build interest in this hip but little-seen series, FX is offering a sneak peak of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” via MySpace beginning Aug. 16. Dubbed “Mac is a Serial Killer,” the episode contains some of the spark and irreverence that made the show a breath of fresh air initially, before Danny DeVito’s awkward addition and an increasingly nasty streak undermined season two. Overall, this latest half-hour falls somewhere in between, with a manic energy and mix of pop-culture references that helps steamroll past some of its shortcomings.
There’s nothing particularly distinctive about the premise, with three idiot buddies and one’s sister running a Philly bar. Grafting on DeVito as the father of Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) was a let’s-give-it-some-star-appeal procedure that didn’t take, mostly because having an actual adult hanging around (even if he acts like they do) feels incongruous in this world of youthful stupidity and self-absorption.
In this episode (not the Sept. 13 season premiere, by the way, so presumably the best in FX’s quiver), Mac (Rob McElhenney) is hiding the fact that he’s dating a transsexual, and his peculiar behavior inspires the gang to suspect he’s responsible for a string of serial murders. (For ostensible friends, it’s remarkable what these guys will immediately believe about, and do to, each other.)
Meanwhile, pal Charlie (Charlie Day) has become obsessed with “Law & Order” reruns, convincing him that he can handle Mac’s problem, while Dennis and Dee plot a sting operation to catch the actual killer.
“Sunny’s” pilot was famously shot on a shoestring, and the show still adheres to those values, shooting episodes in bunches to save money. As the run has progressed, however, the dialogue has become louder and less clever, although a last-act gag here spoofing a certain insufferable NBC News program by itself makes this episode worth the price of watching, downloading or whatever.
Despite its flaws, the series invariably has moments, and it’s difficult not to root for any promising comedy given the difficulties plaguing the genre.
Still, the show’s freshness factor evaporated with surprising alacrity, suggesting this might be one of those instances where the British TV model would have proved helpful — that is, simply allowing the “Sunny” guys to make like auteurs by producing a dozen episodes or so before riding off into the sunset.