Sunday, September 25, 2011

Premiere Week: Sunny's first two episodes

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's opening two episodes both highlighted different ways the show can succeed.

The opening episode took a familiar plot (the "Pretty Woman" prototype) and gave it the Sunny treatment.
In the Sunny version, Frank wants to propose to his whore and the guys think she'd bring down the standards of the gang (not particularly easy to do, mind you). In classic Sunny style, there's no real charitable purpose other than the image problem.

Rather than try to make the whore into a lady, Dennis gets distracted by Mac's weight and Dee decides midway through that perhaps the life of a whore has its upsides.

I've praised the show in the past for being written so well that each scene could stand alone as a textbook great scene. One of the B-plots, involving Charlie trying an elaborate scheme to get Frank a better woman, didn't get enough time to get off the ground, but we got one knockout scene out of it that made my whole night. Similarly, the other B-plot (or maybe we'll call it a C-plot) had little to offer other than that one hysterical scene at the doctor's office. While the show does great comedy set pieces, the fact that both B-plots were essentially excuses to lead into one awesome scene shortcutted any sense of narrative.

As for the second episode, the Jersey Shore narrative had all the makings of a winner. Unlike the first episode, this one had a sense of hope to it. The first episode was about depraved characters seeking to bring someone into their depraved world (under the pretense of improving her) while this episode began with two characters attempting to recapture their childhood nostalgia. In both real life and on TV, attempting to go back to some earlier time in your life is usually a bittersweet experience that hits some somber tones when it's more bitter than sweet.

The twist here is that while some characters do indeed have a magical time in Jersey Shore, it turns out to be the other three guys. Charlie bumps into the waitress and she's actually nice to him for once. He has the night of his life with her. Wery wisely, the reset button is pressed on that subplot. Sunny's strength is that the characters are too far entrenched into their own purgatory for happy endings to occur. Mac and Frank have a great time with a rum ham and a ship of guidos. I can't imagine any other series on TV being able to work a rum ham so well into an episode: the ram ham is the comedic version of a Hitchcockian McGuffin.

Dennis and Dee make some new friends only to find out that they're pretty decrepit and this evening soon morphs into what seems to be the most terrifying night of their lives. There's a slight problem here: Because Dennis and Dee usually associate with people at the bottom of the barrel, this experience doesn't seem too atypical. Fortunately, the night of terror is glossed over in montage and intercut with the great night the other
guys are having.

For such an optimistic outing (consider this the Sunny equivalent of the "Disneyworld" or "Hawaii" episode on most family sitcoms), I was pleased to see it wasn't an episode that ended with a crowning moment of misery for all characters involved. Three of the five characters had the time of their lives, the twist being that it wasn't the characters who you expected.

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