It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (V)

(2009) *** 1/2 Unrated
43 min. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Cast: Danny DeVito.

/content/films/3647/1.jpgCult TV fans long ago discovered FX's delightfully bizarre sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It's definitely not for everyone: rude, raunchy and given to comical violence, the show sets out to offend delicate sensibilities and to get tough ones laughing their asses off. Abandon political correctness all who enter here. With episode titles like "Charlie Wants an Abortion" and "Sweet Dee Is Dating A Retarded Person," you know very quickly what you're getting into. So if twisted jokes about Christmas are likley to chap your hide, stay far away from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas, the series' "very special" plus-sized straight-to-video episode. The rest of us will enjoy sacred cows being served up as so much hamburger.

As with many of the series' episodes, the special is directed by Fred Savage (one-time star of The Wonder Years). The story kicks off with a winking bit of foreshadowing that one just knows can't end well: the sight—in Paddy's Bar—of a giant, industrial strength snowblower, bought on the internet by two industrial-strength idiots. The idiots are Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day), and Paddy's is the bar they co-own and run (into the ground). Two more idiots walk into a bar: twins Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and "Sweet Dee" (Kaitlin Olson). They're mortified of another Christmas of mockery orchestrated by their spiteful father Frank (Danny DeVito), who every year buys the presents Dennis and Sweet Dee most desire, only to flaunt them and keep them for himself. This year, it's a Lamborghini Countach (just the name is funny, especially as DeVito growls it) and a Sergio Giorgini bag. Determined not to be Frank's bitches any longer, Dennis and Sweet Dee seek out Frank's former business partner Eugene Hamilton (David Huddleston of The Big Lebowski), who Frank thinks has died, in a sadly failed attempt to replicate A Christmas Carol.

On a show like Scrubs, a bloody, vampiric attack on a mall Santa would be a fantasy, but on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it's just part of another wild story. I've already said too much about what happens in the episode, as much of the comedy comes from the incredulity fostered by the plot twists. Since this particular episode isn't limited by broadcast standards, it's a bit more profane and violent (albeit in a sequence of Rankin-Bass style stop-motion animation), and nudity is involved (you'll never forget the sight of a naked DeVito). One-time Taxi star DeVito is clearly enjoying his second sitcom life, but his younger co-stars are not to be neglected: they've become geniuses at playing dumb-as-a-brick jerks—and, in fact, the show was created and developed by McElhenney, Howerton, and Day. The special episode's emphasis on demented Christmas traditions allows for hilarious flashbacks that, in the show's irreverent language, translates the character's terrible psychic pain into comedy for our consumption. Even when DeVito's not naked, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia goes far beyond the pale, and its growing legions of fans wouldn't have it any other way.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/17/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fans of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia who are also Blu-ray adopters should know that the special A Very Sunny Christmas is available on Blu-ray, but in a fashion as unconventional as the show. Truth be told, it's a very odd Blu-ray release: while I'm glad of it, it puts relatively little content on the disc (less than an hour of material), so it doesn't take advantage of BD's storage capacity. And the feature program's video isn't pure high-definition. Rather, it is rough video up-converted to 1080p. So, in a way, the BD's very existence is a high-concept joke. I wouldn't mind seeing more Blu-ray releases of material generally thought unsuitable because of its video standard, but they ought to be releases that take advantage of BD's high capacity, in order to cram more material on less discs (say, entire seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

Anyway, the video quality is, by Blu-ray standards, pretty horrid, a sort of running list of what you don't want to see in a good video transfer. On the other hand, it's in keeping with the show's dingy visual style as seen on FX in the show's original airings, and I was able quickly to adjust and enjoy the show. The "Producers' Blu-ray Introduction" (:50, SD) humorously warns viewers of what they're about to see in terms of picture quality, so that's an essential extra (especially given that the phrase "1080p up-converted" is in microscopic text on the back of the Blu-ray case). Audio is lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but there's very little to "lose" from the source, which almost entirely concentrates on dialogue and can get away with being flat and tinny.

A handful of suitably weird bonus features accompanies the feature, starting with a few "Young Charlie & Young Mac - Deleted Scenes" (2:48, SD). There's a nice little "Behind the Scenes Making Of" (7:24, SD) that includes behind-the-scenes footage and interview clips with the cast and director Fred Savage. And my personal favorite bonus feature: a hallucinatory "Sunny Sing-A-Long" (3:13, SD) that finds the cast caroling on what looks like the set of an Andy Williams Christmas special; it rapidly devolves into a nightmare vision that appears to have been directed by David Lynch.

I recommend this title, even on Blu-ray (after all, consumers vote with their dollars). Why get the Blu-ray? As of this writing, at least, the Blu-ray is actually three dollars cheaper at Amazon. Again, this release seems like not only a holiday gift to fans, but an almost certainly unintentional "high-concept" joke. I'm diggin' it.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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