It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia started out seeming like just another crude comedy about a few dudes (and one chick) drinking away their mediocrity in some random bar. Airing on the FX Network, its cult following has managed to grow steadily by word of mouth and social networking sites, and now, in the show's fifth season and following a one-of-a-kind live tour for their breakout episode, The Nightman Cometh, the Sunny gang is finally getting some wider spread success as well. For the creator of the series, Rob McElhenney, this recognition is really not surprising: "I personally definitely saw this happening-- at some point. I think it was always just a matter of time."
"There are a lot of guys on the show; it's a very guy heavy cast," Glenn Howerton joked in agreement with his co-star and co-producer. "And you know, men just continue to get more handsome as the years progress, and I think it [the growth in ratings] might have something to do with that."
In all seriousness, though, McElhenney was cognizant of the fact that the show was going to need some time to catch on with the mass audiences. After all, these characters are one giant leap ahead of the Seinfeld or South Park gangs in their escapades, and for some, that might make them irredeemable. "The show is definitely an acquired taste," McElhenney acknowledged, "and that is certainly by design. We wanted to do something that was completely different and that you're not seeing everywhere else."
Howerton didn't necessarily have any expectations for the series, but he was adamant that they had to create something of which they could be proud and that people would enjoy as well. The show, which does often derive a lot of its humor from picking on the shortcomings of its characters (Charlie's illiteracy is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but Sweet Dee's childhood in a back brace comes to mind as well!), has also become a go-to for social commentary. McElhenney pointed out that there are "always interesting things to deal with as long as American culture continues!"
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has grown not only in ratings and fandom since it's premiere, but also its style and its savvy within the television industry as a business. This season alone, the show has seen the addition of some gore, which McElhenney called "a coincidence," with Howerton adding: "the episodes sort of led us to those places in a very natural way. It was never by design that we intentionally set out to say 'let's show gore here.'" Also this season was an episode devoted to the business model of Dave & Busters, which set out to make fun of it in a tongue-in-cheek way, but which of course also served as a very heavy product placement for it. "Networks are always looking for new ways to incorporate advertising," McElhenney explained why the show was ultimately willing to focus an episode on such a concept. Though he and Howerton were quick to point out that following each show break with a commercial from the sponsors was not part of their plan, nor something they knew would happen or would happen again. Sunny and its gang knows the fans would much prefer to see bits about "milksteak" at their own successful restaurant and bar-- Paddy's Pub-- anyway!
Just last week, Entertainment Weekly ran a feature on the cast and creators and their unprecedented release of A Very Sunny Christmas special on DVD (available now in stores and online retailers near you!). It is a bold move for a show that doesn't quite scream holiday cheer! but the perfect move for those slightly darker, slightly more jaded fans who are sick of the same old sap. The guys pontificated on the "Why now?" of this special and its timing but the overall response from the fans really has been "Why not??"
"Every year we come up with a lot of different things we know we're never going to get past the FCC-- just in terms of the censorship of being on...cable television," McElhenney explained. "So we usually just bank them and say 'Well, maybe one day we'll be able to get away with it.' And then this opportunity was brought to us by the people at FX, who said 'Hey would you ever want to do a direct-to-DVD episode where you put all that stuff on?' And we thought that was a great idea. We had knocked around the idea of putting these characters into a holiday situation-- into a holiday special-- for a few years now. As we knocked that around, we thought it could be really interesting as a stocking stuffer to just put all that stuff that we'd been talking about for years into an episode so we can get away with whatever we want."
Since the show has found such a supportive group of fans who take to Twitter quoting their favorite episodes and/or dressing up as Greenman or the characters from Charlie's aforementioned musical for Halloween, it is no surprise that the fans are the ones who are also driving the merchandise releases of the show. McElhenney and Howerton were both animated when discussing the potential of a soundtrack for the show-- featuring all of their originals, of course! "We've been talking a lot about releasing all of the Sunny music, and it's something we're going to be talking a lot about this year just in terms of all of the Nightman stuff, the Dayman stuff, the Birds of War song from this year. There's been a lot of demand from the fans to release a CD."
And hey, if www.dicktowel.com is actually getting sales, there is no telling what else will come next! Lucky fans who were in attendance at the LA stop of The Nightman Cometh tour were screened the season five finale "Flipadelphia." With weeks to go before that episode airs wide, though, pre-orders for the official competitors' tee the gang wears in the episode have already begun! With fan-driven campaigns like these, there should be no stopping the Sunny gang from (finally!) receiving nominations next awards' season!
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs at 10 p.m. every Thursday night on the FX Network.
And come back tomorrow when I pick my Top 5 Episodes from the series so far!!