Saying the characters in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” are cruel is like saying Michael Phelps can swim.
In its fourth season, the show’s creators have taken it upon themselves to push “Sunny” into even more demented territory. In previous years, we’ve seen the cast fake paralysis to pick up women, liquor up underage teens and manipulate a homeless man for some extra cash. In the first two episodes of the new season, teabagging, waterboarding and cannibalism are major plot points.
Brother and sister Dennis and Dee Reynolds (Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson), their father Frank (Danny DeVito), and their friends Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) are hyper-self-absorbed alcoholics. Usually, the only time you feel bad for them is when they’re being attacked by one of the other characters; like when when Frank sets Dee on fire.
But likable characters aren’t a must for a successful show. In “Sunny,” you’re never rooting for the gang to succeed. Instead, it’s their missteps that spawn laughs. It doesn’t get any funnier than seeing Charlie siphon gas from his car to a barrel via his mouth, or watching Dennis pop his shirt off in the middle of a bank to convince the teller to give him a loan. Scenes like these are the bread and butter of FX’s diamond in the rough.
“Sunny” has more than its share of guilty laughs, but the characters aren’t one-dimensional egomaniacs. Charlie is the runt of the group, whose struggle to move up in the pecking order is worthy of empathy. Dee is in a constant battle to stave off the gang’s rampant sexism that usually puts her at a disadvantage. Dennis is charmingly overconfident about his sexual attractiveness. Mac is insecure about his ability to attract women. And Frank, well ... he tried to convince Dennis and Mac it wasn’t OK to hunt humans. That was downright decent of him.
There’s also a healthy dose of frat-boyish homoeroticism. In the Season 4 premiere “Mac and Dennis: Manhunters,” Dennis invites Mac to feel his rock-hard nipples. Mac dives right in before exclaiming, “You could cut glass with those things!” Oh, and don’t forget the aforementioned teabagging, which is sure to resurface in future episodes.
The most appealing aspect of the show is its idealization of the man-boy lifestyle. The characters are in their late-20s or early-30s but still behave like fuck-up college kids. There’s never a problem that can’t be solved with a harebrained scheme or a night of binge drinking. If only real life were that simple.
It’s just a few episodes in, but so far, Season 4 of “Sunny” is just as sharp as its predecessors. Newcomers shouldn’t be scared to jump right in. This thing isn’t exactly “Lost.” Every episode is pretty self-contained and damn funny.
Catch new episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on FX.