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TV Review | ‘Always Sunny’ draws laughs, but shows its age

Strong cast performances overcome tired formula

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 08:12

Still on its ever−descending moral downward spiral, “The Gang,” as they’re known, from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is back for an eighth season on its FX hit series. The owners of the run−down Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia continue to brainstorm get−rich−quick schemes and make ethically questionable decisions. Each of these scenarios plays out with raunchy humor, ensuring that the show still gets laughs this far into its life. Although “Always Sunny” still delivers comedy, primarily thanks to the strong performances by its actors, the single−camera show is beginning to reveal its age with a stale structure and format.

Much of the comedic strength of “Always Sunny” lies in the performances by the main cast members, who have had seven seasons to develop their characters and perfect their comedic timing with their fellow actors. They all display a hilarious level of narcissism and vanity, but each character has found a specific niche on the show. Yet, though they have managed to differentiate themselves from one another, they still manage to complement each other perfectly when acting in groups. That is one of the major strengths of “Always Sunny”: the potential to pair nearly any of the main characters together without it ever feeling flat.

Frank (Danny DeVito) and Charlie (Charlie Day) remain one of the show’s best comedic foils as the two men are essentially in a rat race to the bottom in terms of living in squalor. Dennis’ (Glenn Howerton) sociopathic tendencies have become even more pronounced this season, making him so delusional that it’s even more hilarious to watch him to attempt to manipulate Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Mac (Rob McElhenney).

Where the series is beginning to show its cracks this season, however, is in the formulaic nature of its setup. A perfect example of this is the second episode of season eight, “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.” The premise of the episode is one that has been repeated many times on “Always Sunny”: The Gang sees an opportunity for easy money and derives a shoddy plan to capitalize on this, which inevitably fails.

The unique aspect about this episode is that the writers acknowledge that this plot is basically recycled material. They throw in numerous references to past lines and setups from previous episodes that are a treat for longtime viewers to pick up on. For example, the setup in the back alley behind the bar is an exact copy of the opening of the “Dumpster Baby” episode, something that is explicitly pointed out by Dee when she says, “I think that you guys have done something like that before.”

Even though this episode is cleverly self−referential, it’s still indicative of one of the problems “Always Sunny” is running into: We’ve been here before, and the setups are beginning to feel rather tired. This leads the show to feel derivative at times, and it gives off the feeling of diminishing comedic returns every time it covers old ground.

Despite this, “Always Sunny” has still managed to come up with some innovative episodes this season. “Maureen Ponderosa’s Wedding Massacre” serves as a great parody of horror tropes and found−footage style movies, with the gang fending off a “zombie” apocalypse at the wedding of recurring character Liam McPoyle (Jimmi Simpson). And the highlight of the season comes in “The Gang Gets Analyzed,” an episode that finds each character in a therapy session that is both hilarious and revealing. Each session shows just how truly depraved each character is, with character traits like Dee’s constant need for approval and Mac’s over−compensating masculinity being explored through the lens of an outside character. Times like this is when “Always Sunny” works best, contrasting The Gang to normal outside characters to demonstrate just how twisted their world is.

It’s worth noting that despite the structural flaws becoming more apparent, “Always Sunny” remains a show that is well worth watching. Quotable lines and zany antics are still in abundance, elevated by the great performances and interactions of the cast. Even though some of the scenarios might be getting old, there are still enough laughs to be had in each episode to make a weekly trip to Paddy’s Pub worth your time.

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