Television Roundup: "IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: SEASON SEVEN" on Blu-ray

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Woo boy, did Season Seven of FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” pull one over on us.

For a typically depraved show (if you haven’t seen it, think “Seinfeld” if almost every major character were as sociopathic as Tony Soprano), “Sunny” hit record levels of depravity this time around.  Season Seven began on a grisly, gruesome note; in its first episode, mentally challenged “wild card” Charlie Kelly (the great Charlie Day) vomited up a Kill Bill-quantity geyser of blood, and his best friend/benefactor (don’t ask) Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito, even more unhinged than he was as the Penguin in Batman Returns) proposes to a methed-out hooker who immediately O.D.’s and dies.

“Touched by an Angel,” this is not.

And that’s just episode one.  Before the season reaches its horrifying-hilarious finale – a twenty-year high school reunion where the Gang (Day, DeVito, Kaitlin Olson, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton) finds itself willing to debase any and everyone while chasing the social acceptance that…well, never really existed even when they were eighteen – we’re subjected to scalping-by-amusement-park-ride, bloody gunshot wounds, child-molester-attracting beauty pageants, liquefying dog corpses, rivers of feces, ringworm attacks, torture by dog cage, and mass hysteria.  That last one seems quaint by comparison, huh?

Front and center of this chaos: McElhenney’s deluded gym-rat Mac, who enters the season sporting a mountain-man beard and fifty-plus pounds of very real body fat.  In interviews, McElhenney has talked about his distaste for sitcom characters who get more attractive as the years go by (I’m looking at you, “Friends”), and Fat Mac certainly stands a potent corrective to this trend; there’s nothing sexy about the sweat and food stains on his gut, or how he wheezes uncontrollably when he eats pizza too fast.  But the weight gain isn’t just a stunt.  It’s a metaphor for the content of the show itself – bad behavior given license to fester and bloat.

Here’s the thing: all of that is mere distraction from Season Seven’s most disturbing gamble.  See, while all that scatological detritus was spraying across the screen, the show managed to sneak in the fact one of its lead characters was a homicidal maniac.

As vain lothario Dennis Reynolds, Howerton has always been the series’ unsung hero.  Day and DeVito might get the showiest gags, but Howerton has created a real character out of subtle asides and perfectly timed reaction shots – think Jerry Seinfeld without the self-awareness.  Dennis thinks – knows – that he’s a lady-killer nonpareil, and the show has long mined his efforts to score with the opposite sex for great comic effect.  His exhaustive collection of sex tapes (shot so close to the genitalia at work as to make the sex act profoundly unappealing), his co-dependence-fostering relationship method (The D.E.N.N.I.S. System), his predilection for women of a certain (too young) age: Dennis has always been a monster, but now, he’s worse.

Season Seven builds the case against him, slowly but surely.  First, he’s telling Frank he wants money and the illusion of power “because there’s this big gaping hole inside me.”  We laugh when Frank suggests he fill it with girls (note: the actual phrasing is way more explicit), but something unnerving lingers on Dennis’ face, and it cuts the laughter short.  A couple episodes later in “Storm of the Century,” we start to realize why: Mac and Charlie nonchalantly reveal that Dennis has been using their storm shelter to seduce his conquests, except the shelter looks nothing so much as a dank, dark cell with no escape.  That same episode finds Dennis constructing a sex contract that forces the signer to do whatever he can think of in Said Dungeon Shelter, and in “The Anti-Social Network,” we learn that “whatever” might involve “a fistful of hammers, and a trunk full of duct tape, and zip ties.”  Except you’re going to have to scratch that “might” after the season finale, which sees an unhinged Dennis pulling out his duct tape and zip ties from the back of his car and threatening to do God-knows-what.  It’s only after the Gang catches him that he backs down, babbling unconvincingly that the items are just fetish stuff.

Sure.  And Jeffrey Dahmer loved dinner parties for the sense of community they engendered.  Dennis’ mania has gone from sick to something else; if the show’s path of escalation continues unchecked into the future, the fun of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stands to become…

Put it to you this way: you ever watch “Dexter”?

Fox’s two-disc Blu-ray set presents all thirteen Season Seven episodes in strong HD transfers; gone are the days of grainy, full-frame video.  The discs also come with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks.

Features are scant but amusing.  We get four audio commentaries (they involve various combinations of Day, McElhenney, and Howerton), a terrific blooper reel, and the “Artemis Tours Philadelphia” featurettes.

Luckily, the show is enough on its own.  This is a sick, damn near unforgiving ride, but it’s funny, and that’s got to count for something.

…right?

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Season Seven” is now available on Blu-ray.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing, and catch Season Eight every week on FX.

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