Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is "Sunny" losing its mojo? Fat chance

 Actors are constantly gaining weight for dramatic roles.DeNiro in "Raging Bull." Charlize Theron in "Monster." The list goes on and on. As for those who gained weight to play comedic roles, there's Renee Zelleweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and .... well, that's about all I can think of. That's why it was somewhat shocking to hear that "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" showrunner and co-star Rob McElhenney had gained 50 pounds for the show's seventh season -- which starts tomorrow at 10 p.m. -- simply because he thought it was a funny idea.

While many actors would be willing to make that physical commitment for awards and glory, few would do it just for laughs. And yet, the idea pays off. God, does it pay off. The weight gain, while not overplayed, gives McElhenney ample opportunity to poke merciless fun at our culture's obsession with looks, the inhuman prettiness of TV stars, and, perhaps most bizarrely and hilariously, those Wilford Brimley diabetes commercials. The fact that Mac's weight gain comes with a magnificent beard and a yen for the work of Sir Tommy Bahama just makes the plotline all the sweeter.

It's an example of why, after six seasons of pushing the envelope, "Sunny" remains one of the most dangerous (and funniest) shows on TV.
Its characters are unlikable and it's not always consistent. But the show is willing to take real risks, as in last season's arc that utilized co-star (and McElhenney's wife) Kaitlin Olson's pregnancy (Actually, I found it hard to enjoy much of last season, because I kept worrying how the show would ultimately resolve that storyline. I knew in my heart that McElhenney and co. wouldn't subject a child to that show's universe, but you can never be sure with these guys.)
The four episodes of the new season that I've seen are actually some of the strongest I've seen in a while, and they're typical of the show's off-color, taboo-flaunting flare. In the premiere, Frank (Danny DeVito) wants to marry his favorite hooker. Somehow, this story leads to Charlie (Charlie Day, whose burgeoning movie career is one of the nicest surprises to come from this series) playing a denim-clad Texas millionaire, which couldn't possibly be a bad thing. Subsequent issues poke fun at child beauty pageants, the Jersey Shore (both the place and the TV show) and the current political climate. Not every joke lands, but the ones that do had me convulsing in laughter. If this season maintains the level of these first four episode, it could be the show's strongest season in a while. 

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