The secret to comedy is all ab…timing……
Fine, that joke works better when said out loud, but you get the point. Comedy is all about timing. The secret to TV comedy though is a little more complicated.
Good comedy shows are no strange thing. There are plenty of them around. Shows that make you chuckle now and then. You can have them on in the background. They don’t break the mould; they don’t rock the boat; they stay straight down the middle.
Great comedy shows are rarer. Much rarer in fact. They make you want to watch them rather than just have them there because there is nothing else on. Each season will have a few standout episodes, but they will peak and trough over their lifetime. Some will capture the Zeitgeist of the time and introduce memes into pop culture. Everyone remember the Rachel.
Then there’s It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which, having just seen the 8th series, has now supplanted Frasier as my all time favourite comedy TV show.
Frasier was so brilliant because each of the actors had impeccable comic timing and the writers knew how to construct an almost Shakespearian level of convoluted high jinks. The writers knew the actors and as they got to know the characters better with each season they played more and more on their foibles.
It’s Always Sunny works for the same reasons but even more so. Why? Because the show was conceived, constructed and is largely written and creatively controlled by it’s three leading actors; Rob McElhenney, Glen Howerton and Charlie Day. The trio are perfectly complemented by Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito, who, it turns out, is a comedy legend and a man willing to make himself repulsive in the name of a sitcom.
For those that haven’t seen it the set up, as any good sitcom should be can be summarised in a short sentence; five selfish, narcissistic Philadelphians, running an Irish bar, spend their lives working out how to be as lazy and self involved as possible. They are supported by a cast of recurring misfits including the World’s most incestuous, milk drinking, sibling banging, robe wearing family and a crack head priest.
Every season they push the boundaries of their characters further and further into the depths of their narcissism, vanity, stupidity and weird relationships. But it never feels stretched. Never feels stale.They even base an episode around them repeating a previous episode as a knowing nod to how long they’ve been going.
I think the strength in come from the actors developing the characters organically over a period of time rather than by committee of writers and producers who aren’t in front of the camera. It also feels like they have a certain amount of autonomy from the network because it is cheap as chips to make.
Even though most of the episodes are credited to other writers, the majority of the dialogue and interaction is improved or worked through in rehearsals by a comedy troupe who know each other inside out.
I could spend ages rambling on about how brilliantly they make most episodes topical without ever being preachy. Standout ones that come to mind include the Israeli who moves in next door to the bar and commandeers a third of their land, building a fence around it in the meantime, and the gang learning how to use Social Media. But I won’t. Instead I will just allow this to be a short piece about how much I love this show for what it is.
I can’t think of a TV show that I have been able to joyously watch through so many times in such quick succession and never be bored. On last count I am watching this through for the third time in 18 months. It is my go-to for 20 minutes of pure hilarity when I need to kill time or a pick me up. The fact they just got commissioned for a 10th series (9th is already on it’s way) makes me very very happy indeed.