I am a huge fan of the subversive and often disturbing “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. They are funny, and they always put the situation in situation-comedy, placing themselves on par with South Park for their ability to combine bizarre irreverence with social commentary while stitching together a cohesive and engaging plot that is rife with humor.
“It’s Always Sunny…” is worthy of study if you are a student of the form. There are a few scripts out there, and they can be read as PDF. Here is what makes the show so special:
The most obvious feature is that they allow the characters to be depraved without constraint. They are pure libido unleashed on an uncaring world. They are childlike for their innocent wonder at temptation, sin, and corruption. This combination of raw desire and unbridled enthusiasm makes them endearing and charming (assuming you are not horrified and offended).
The show itself reflects the simple nature of its characters. There is little, if any, artifice in the show’s production. It is a two-camera shoot. Often the sound is poor, and echoes are heard because they are apparently using the built-in microphone of a hand held camera. They favor medium two-shots for dialogue, forgoing close-ups that would require extra takes and editing.
And speaking of dialogue (hey, I made a pun!) the scripts read more like Mamet than Sheldon. The jokes are tossed out two or three at a time in a given exchange with hardly a pause for a chuckle. There is no sound-track, and often no punchline—just a stream of banter that makes one squirm at what is being said and then, shocked and surprised, laughter spews forth to relieve the tension.
The rhythm swings easily from stationary discussions to physical mayhem. They take the time to show the pain ad discomfort of being with each other in their face. Only Frank, the patriarch, seems to take true pleasure from the company of the gang; the rest of them are trapped in their own selfish worlds, and drawn out only by jealous anger to attack one or two of the others.
The tension in their stories is played out by the gang separating into pairs to compete for some prize, be it real or imagined. The fifth wheel, typically Sweet Dee or Frank, is left to fend for themselves, but also to ensure that no one attains their heart’s desire. Once chaos reigns supreme, the tension is released, and the gang unites once more and retreats to Paddy’s Pub to get drunk again.
In spite of their shallow and narcissistic personalities, they represent family at its most basic level by enabling the self-destructive disorders they each possess. They are co-dependents, and each knows that the dysfunction they create is the best thing going, and so they seek each other out. There is no warmth or caring exchanged, but it is love nonetheless. And besides, with friends like this, who needs an enema.