“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (9 p.m. Central Thursdays) is getting so crazy that even the FX network seems jittery about it, running so many “mature content” advisories that you’d think it was screening “Hobo with a Shotgun” instead of a half-hour comedy.
Not that I blame them; Thursday’s Season 7 premiere, “Frank’s Pretty Woman” — the first new episode since December — featured Charlie vomiting geysers of blood; Frank becoming smitten with a dirty, coke-snorting hooker; and the newly diabetic Mac shooting insulin into his belly while chowing down on a Glad garbage bag full of chimichangas.
“Always Sunny” makes “Seinfeld” — the pioneering show in the “characters who never learn or grow” genre — look like a bland, run-of-the-mill sitcom by comparison. Seven seasons in, it has resisted the urge to soften its obliviously self-centered Gang of Five and give them some positive traits. (Actually, in the season premiere, Charlie argues that Frank has at least one positive attribute: When he finds a box of jeans washed up on the riverbank, he shares them with Charlie.)
Between Frank and Charlie’s boiling of denim, Mac’s gaining of 50 pounds (yes, Rob McElhenney literally put on 50 pounds for the sake of the role), and the prostitute stumbling into a high-end clothing store and pouring liquor all over the place, “Always Sunny” is laughing- and snorting-out-loud stuff. It’s the only scripted show on TV that shocks me with what it dreams up. You can be at the end of a horrible day, tell yourself you won’t laugh at “Always Sunny,” and you’ll still laugh (when it’s at its best; it’s had a few misfires through the years, certainly).
It’s also the only show I can think of where the actors deliberately make themselves look worse, rather than better. After the season premiere of “Parenthood,” critics commented on Haddie’s and Amber’s regrettable new hairstyles, the implication being that the show’s stylists dropped the ball. But when I watched the episode, I just thought it was a case of teens going through a bad hair phase, as can happen in reality. As viewers, we can’t imagine a show purposely making its stars look worse. (It’s a cliché that when a TV character is told “You look like hell,” they usually still look better than those of us watching from our couches.)
“Always Sunny” is the exception: The gang always looks hilariously bad, and we all understand that’s part of the joke (along with the disgusting dive bar they operate and their insanely unkempt apartments). Mac wears a shirt that’s way too tight for his new physique and spills salsa on it. Charlie wears head-to-toe denim, covered in blood. Dennis looks OK, but his smug self-delusion shines through; he thinks he still looks 20 (actor Glenn Howerton is 35), and he’s arguably the biggest jerk of the group because, unlike the others, he seems smart enough to know better. Frank looks so bad that you have to fear for Danny DeVito’s health. Even Dee, the token female, unattractively cakes her face with eyeliner; when Kaitlin Olson pops up on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or other shows, she’s almost unrecognizable because she’s a normal-looking woman.
There might be a point in the future where “Always Sunny” goes too far for a laugh (Seriously, McElhenney put on 50 pounds between seasons just because fat people are funnier! Absorb that for a moment.) But it’s not there yet. In the Season 7 premiere, “Always Sunny” goes just far enough to be brilliant.
What were your thoughts on “Frank’s Pretty Woman,” and what are your expectations for the upcoming season?