Normally, for the review of a mid-series release, you'd see plenty of comparisons to previous seasons, like how the new episodes measure up, were the characters consistent with their past, did the writing or styles change, and, speaking of change, were there any tweaks to the formula. In this review for 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's fifth season, you'll find none of that, because, aside from a Christmas special that altered the formula slightly (extending the episode, claymation use), this reviewer had not seen a single prior episode of the show. If you're still reading right now, then maybe you're in the same boat I am, otherwise, thanks for your patience, fans! Since this season is the first to arrive on the Blu-ray format, the question now begsto be asked, is this show easy to jump into at this point, or is it too tied up in its own complexities to be worth the investment of time trying to figure it out?
If I could do it, anyone can.
Continuity isn't important with a show like 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' as the base element of the show is to portray people being obnoxious, self-centered jerks. As the gang (Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney) and Frank (Danny Devito) toil and scheme their days away at Paddy's Pub in Philadelphia, they're never too far away from hair brained schemes, poor decisions, and massive unintentional failures. The lewd, crude, surly bunch may be despicable at times, but they're damn funny. Watch Frank scheme to bed a dead relative's wife, Dee tries to steal the waitress's fiancee, and Frank, Charlie, and Dennis have more surreal misadventures than the kids on 'South Park,' as the fifth season chugs along, picking up steam, hurting plenty of feelings and poisoning plenty of people along the way.
I must say, few shows have had me laughing as hard as this particular season did. It's so amazingly cold blooded in its execution, one can't help but be appalled, yet amused, as the show balances delicately on that delicate line between unacceptable and extremely unacceptable. There's no sense of morality, coupled with a lack of logic, but a great depth of personality, creating a series that's fun, yet horribly mean most of the time. The second episode this season ("The Gang Hits the Road") may be one of the best single episodes of a program I've seen in ages, as there are constant gags and payoffs, both short term and long, in one of the best executed pieces of comedy to fit in a twenty two minute time slot. Period.
The intervention episode is amazingly disturbing, yet equally hilarious, with the disgusting cousin character who made me need to take a shower just from watching her. The events that unfold are so amazingly over-the-top, it's a miracle the show could come close to topping its sheer inanity with the eight episodes remaining on the slate, but it did. We get to see some sheer stupidity and stupid luck (particularly in the form of the wonderful invention of kitten mittens), the constant badgering and abuse of psychiatrists and lawyers, and even have a few random relationship episodes (including Mac and Dennis emulating a couple breaking up, as well as the heartless D.E.N.N.I.S. dating system that was beyond awesome), with no regard to sanity whatsoever.
The fifth season does have a few snags, though. Not even a guest appearance by the Hot Rod himself, Roddy Piper, could save the wrestling episode (though Devito's Frank character comes close with his Trash Man persona), as it became one of those types of comedies where humor lies in being made uncomfortable and embarrassed, which was executed quite well, sadly. The lack of a moving plot is the show's strength, and the lack of need to watch the show consecutively was definitely a highlight, but there were more than a few installments that really were wastes of time, particularly the court case episode centering around a Philadelphia Phillies World Series appearance. This season has its ups and downs, but there are far more peaks than valleys, and way more moments that induced laughter than pity or boredom. 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' is definitely not for all audiences, as it is very difficult and coarse, but those who are into comedies that are rough around the edges should enjoy this great bit of ugliness.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Season 5' is housed in a standard two disc cut-out eco-case, with an insert covering one disc. There is no fancy packaging of any kind, as this release looks very plain and simple. The menus allow users to play individual episodes or the entire season flawlessly, though the loop is a bit annoying. There are a few pre-menu trailers, but one of them is crucial to the enjoyment of this release (keep reading...). The episodes presented here are uncensored, so there is no bleeping over obscenities.
Season five of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' was shot in standard definition, so really, there's nothing they can do to make it what we call "native HD." That's the bad news. The good news is that the show is still extremely funny.>
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas' is in my personal top five (or bottom, however you want to look at it) list of awful live-action Blu-ray discs, so when I heard that the fifth season of the show was hitting Blu-ray, I got ready for some blandness. Funnily enough, the fifth season looks a bit better on Blu-ray (I guess they didn't use that "special" method of conversion this time), but it's still standard definition upconverted content that's painfully limited by its source, and no amount of magic by the "1080p" AVC MPEG-4 encodes (1.78:1) could make this one look like a winner.
Textures are utterly awful, randomly blotted, then clean and normal, blurry, and back again, constantly fluctuating in shots. Skin tones don't have much character, and are splotchy, but since most colors are splotchy, it's not just the small issue here. Aliasing, stairstepping, macroblocking and various other forms of artifacting are quite prevalent. Reds are fuzzy, random shots are blurry (a few feel like they were shot through gauze), shadow detail is impossible, fringing is sometimes blatant, edges are sometimes enhanced, the picture is flat, the list goes on and on. When buying this set on Blu-ray, instead of DVD...I really don't see what one is getting besides possibly less of those problems...if that is even possible.
You can't get honey from a hornet's nest, and you can't get great video out of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' so long as it's shot in SD.
Each of the twelve episodes is given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that blows the previous release out of the water.
Dialogue is clear, and always located in the front channels (the use of the word always is key here), and it is much less shrill than before (though it does have its moments, to be sure!). Rears get music bleed, and some very random light surround ambience, but for the most part it's best to not try to think of the show as immersive or room filling, that will only bring disappointment.
I honestly noticed a ton of improvement here, but it's pretty easy to look great when comparing this to the Christmas special.
'The Gang Hits the Road' with Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Danny DeVito. From discussing mule farts, to comments about what they see on screen, onward to how some shots were made, and back to comments about what is on screen, this track is a bit annoying, and not worth the time it takes to watch. And DeVito's comments are for the most part missing.
The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention' with Danny DeVito and Dr. Drew (Drew Pinsky). Now this is one awkward combination, as the Loveline and 'Celebrity Rehab' host pairs with the comedian/penguin on an issue that Pinsky has milked a whole 'lotta fame out of in recent years. DeVito takes the bull by the horns, as the pair act like Frank is a real person, and discuss his problems and symptoms as such. A fun, crude track.
'The Waitress is Getting Married' with Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, and Glenn Howerton. The trio discuss their experiences filming, and generally reminisce and imagine what some things referenced could have been like on screen. An average track, but nowhere near as entertaining as the Dr. Drew one. Hard to beat that.
'The Gang Wrestles for the Troops' with Danny Devito, Glenn Howerton, and Kaitlin Olson. We learn about Roddy Piper's acting methods, hear about what scenes the cast members like, and get to hear about jean shorts (aka jorts)! A kinda crummy track, sadly, just all yap yap yap, no info info info.
'Mac and Dennis Break Up' with Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Dr. Drew. Pinsky analyzes characters fantastically, while the actors try to play off the famed psychiatrist. Honestly, this track isn't as funny as the other Dr. Drew commentary, but he brings some great intelligence to the mix, analyzing under the surface and making some pretty snide remarks.
'The Gang Reignites the Rivalry' with Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton. This track is chaotic, in a word. The guys react more than they dissect or inform. Skip it.
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' may be the great, unheralded comedy of this generation. Horribly (amazingly) dark, black in its humor, and almost always a laugh riot, this show thrives on having unlikable characters doing unlikable, awful things at every turn. And speaking of awful, a show filmed in standard definition gets a Blu-ray release from Fox, while 'Burn Notice,' 'How I Met Your Mother,' 'Prison Break,' and 'Lie to Me' all get the shaft. This is a great show, but it's not a great disc. For fans only. Fans who best have low audio and video expectations.