Netflix and Thrill

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Photograph: Global Panorama

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia 

“The Gang Gets Racist”, “Charlie Got Molested”, and “The Gang Finds A Dead Body” are all episode titles from the remarkably brave first season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, arguably the most outrageous sitcom in the entire Netflix catalogue.

Of course, shock humour is something that wears thin very quickly. Fortunately, Sunny has so much more to offer than controversy (the fact that an entire episode is based on the premise of selling mittens for kittens should testify to this). The show is carried by the cast, who manage to be repulsive, endearing, and entirely believable all at once.

The show’s premise is almost sitcom cliché – four friends run a struggling bar in downtown Philadelphia. However, what makes this show stand out is the characters themselves, who are all to varying degrees selfish and narcissistic. Unlike the close-knit friends found in most sitcoms, this Gang’s conversations mostly end in fierce arguments, often with characters shouting over each other, fighting to be heard. To pull this off without losing the jokes is an impressive feat, made possible by precise scripting and punch-perfect performance.

Each episode sees the gang hatch some stomach-turning scheme with near-childlike glee. They consistently exploit strangers, family members, and even each other for personal gain. They’re not above committing arson, drugging each other, or even arranging fake funerals to get what they want. And not only do they never apologise, they often end up feeling like they’re the ones who’ve been victimised. There are no cheap morals at the end of these stories. Add a deliriously upbeat soundtrack and the occasional interlude where the gang suddenly break out into song, and what you’ve got is a masterclass in creating surreal comedy by contrasting the ridiculously positive with the obscenely dark.

The very first season of Sunny is a real labour of love. It was written entirely by cast members. What’s more – the entire season was produced on a budget of just ten thousand dollars, which is remarkable when you consider that each 25-minute episode of Friends cost ten million to produce. The result is a show with an authentic heart and warmth.

From these humble beginnings, Sunny has gone on to produce eleven seasons, three Emmy award nominations, a book, a touring musical, and even attracted the attention of Hollywood legend Danny DeVito, who joins the show as a regular cast member from the second season onwards.

Back in 2005, when the first season was being produced, the Sunny gang had complete freedom from studio interference. This allowed them to take risks that other shows simply couldn’t. Eleven years later, it’s clear that these risks have payed off. Even by today’s standards the show is edgy, walking closer to the line between funny and offensive than most people would dare. You get a sense of danger watching the show, a sense that at any minute they could go too far and spoil everything. They never do, of course, but the danger still looms. It’s thrilling.