“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” doesn’t fit sitcom standards, and that’s not by accident. Throughout its 12-year run, the show has steered clear of award shows. Well, they were nominated for an “Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program” Primetime Emmy, but that’s beside the point. This comedy created its own formula and plays by its own rules. No multi-camera setup, no abundance of throw-away jokes, no ridiculous lighting. Executive producers, writers and co-stars Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney pride themselves on their show’s originality. Something they also pride themselves on? Ridiculing the s*** out of their opponents, who will forever be the cliché situational comedies that plague our television screens.
This leads us to this week’s review of “Sunny” season 12, episode three: “Old Lady House: A Situational Comedy.” Before the theme song even begins to play, the audience is treated with an inside look of the intricate delusions of the Kelly family. When Charlie shows the gang a letter his mother sent him, which most definitely emulates a ransom note, Dee asks, “Is that a hieroglyph of a dog?” to which Charlie replies, “Yeah, that’s the animal she fears the most! She feels trapped inside her own home!” Before divulging any further, it’s worth mentioning that Mrs. Kelly is a delusional woman who does everything in three’s, such as locking the door and switching the lights, to keep her son Charlie alive. Charlie’s concern leads him to rig his mother’s home, which Mac’s mother co-inhabits, with cameras.
Once the Kelly house is literally set up with a hidden multi-camera setup, we see the gang in their most voyeuristic nature — watching the camera feed in the back office of Paddy’s Pub. Except the raw footage isn’t enough for Dennis. He realizes that if he edits the footage of Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Mac, he could create — yes, you guessed it — a successful situational comedy! Dennis plays on the two elderly ladies’ horrifying squabbles — look for Mrs. Kelly’s attempt to hit Mrs. Mac on the head with a hammer — using their natural repertoire. In his makeshift media room, Dennis explains that “the grunty one abuses the shrill one and the shrill one psychologically abuses the grunty one. And it plays.”
Witnessing Dennis add laugh track and a self-composed overtly expository theme song featuring each star makes for the most cliché sitcom of all time. For example, let’s consider “Friends.” It might be one of my guilty pleasure ’90s shows, but even I can see its unoriginality. Go back and watch an episode purposefully, listening to the laugh tracks. Without them, would every joke be funny? The answer is no. “Sunny” edits their episodes with zero pointers as to what we should laugh at. Instead, we as an audience are able to decide what we personally find humorous — without the manipulation of invisible ghost laughter.
And what about the “Friends” theme song? I absolutely love it, and have it downloaded on my phone, but have you ever stopped to consider its intention? Just as every other sitcom, it’s final edit is formulaic. The stars are featured individually, as always, and the song is ridiculously happy and upbeat. Again, “Sunny” created its own spin on the otherwise static genre of situational comedies. “Sunny’s” theme song is a jazzy instrumental song paired with footage of Philadelphia shot unprofessionally by McElhenney himself.
Another part of this well-crafted episode that had me laughing was “Sunny’s” take on the outlandish plot arcs that occur in typical situation comedies. For example, Frank has a past of sleeping with Mrs. Kelly, and therefore wants to join the show by creating a love triangle between himself, Mrs. Kelly, and her brother Jack — who is beyond creepy and has a hysterical obsession with the size of his hands.
This commentary is purely straight-forward. What better way to make light of the ridiculousness of sitcom love triangles than to attempt to create romantic love between two siblings? It’s also worth mentioning Frank’s angry exclamation of “I had a four episode sex arc,” when learning of Dennis’ cancellation of the show. It was amazing.
Another great cliché “Sunny” tackles is the overrated wacky neighbor who, without fail, always dawns a catchphrase. Dee, refusing to give up her dream of being a comedian, runs to the Kelly house with a notable Hawaiian shirt to embody the archetype. Thinking she will up the ratings, she yells strange phrases like “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” around the room. Back at the green room, Dennis is so unphased by Dee’s lack of comedic skills that he can’t even bring himself to add a laugh track.
Watching “Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy” beral typical sitcoms is amazing. Even better, “Sunny” is telling its audience that they refuse to succumb to the ass-hatery that is the original sitcom format. Stay tuned for next week’s review!