It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was setting itself a bit of a challenge by doing a Christmas episode, which was released on DVD last year and has now aired on FX, especially once it was allowed the extra swearing/nudity leeway granted by a DVD release over a basic cable airing. There had to be the right balance of coarseness with sweetness; too much gross-out stuff would have made the whole thing a juvenile affair, but I doubt many Sunny fans were looking for sap, either. "A Very Sunny Christmas," for the most part, strikes a healthy balance, not holding back on the gang's sick childhoods but allowing that together they can at least help each other stay above water.
In accordance with the spirit of Christmas specials (remember, this thing was made a year before Community's stop-motion extravaganza this year) Sunny includes an extended stop-motion fantasy sequence that gleefully pushes the envelope with Frank repeatedly subjected to graphic acts of violence by the rest of the gang. But even though that's the most visually arresting part of the episode, it's probably also the least interesting, the only point where it really feels like they're forcing a Christmas episode.
The central stories of "A Very Sunny Christmas" are much more engaging, especially since they build to the lovely coda of the four characters throwing rocks at trains as a Christmas memory that can't be taken away from them. Mac and Charlie, remembering their childhoods, realize that their holiday rituals were nothing more than Mac's family stealing presents from other families and Charlie's mother using the holiday to be banged by an endless procession of "Santa Clauses" because she is, as we know, at least a part-time prostitute. The revelation of both truths, through flashbacks, are a little drawn out but totally worth it for the payoff, especially in Charlie's case with the naked elf. Sunny's skill has always been making something horrifying also a little sympathetic and funny, and a young Charlie staring at this elf's ass is pretty much right on that line for me.
While Mac is shaken by the idea that he was stealing, his plot never really gets resolved, and is definitely the lesser of the two. The visits to the house of Ricky Falcone (Paulo Schreiber, aka Nick Sobotka) are fitfully amusing, as is their obsession with the "rut" they think he's in, but the joke never really pays off. We do get to see some Omnibot dancing, but I kept waiting for a reveal, like that Ricky's life really wasn't so bad, but he seemed to be just an excuse for Mac to act foolishly. But really, that barely mattered, because the sight of Charlie going apeshit on Santa's face is what's really important. His childhood trauma is much harder to process. Mac, after all, knows that his incarcerated father is a criminal, but Charlie really has to think about his mom being a prostitute. So it takes him gazing into Santa's eyes to bring it all out. "Did you fuck my mom?" he asks, over and over, before wreaking toothy, bloody violence that you think Sunny couldn't ever top, 'til Mac elbows a woman in the face.
The bloody Santa carnage is one of the episode's two big set-pieces that you probably couldn't normally do on television, along with Frank emerging naked from a leather couch at a party. But while the Mac/Charlie plot really felt like it earned that insane cathartic violence, the Frank "birth" scene is hilariously gross, and I'm glad it's in there, but it's much less necessary from a plot point of view. While Mac and Charlie's Christmas traumas are genuinely horrible, Dee and Dennis' problems are a little less intense, as they whine about Frank never giving them gifts and generally being an asshole dad. Frank's definitely an asshole, now and forever, and whining in an over-privileged manner is typical for Dennis and Dee, but I just didn't care as much.
I appreciated David Huddleston (glory be, the Big Lebowski himself) as Frank's business partner Eugene because his reversal from forgiveness Jesus type (he's so big and cuddly-looking!) to gun-toting revenge madman (he's such a mean old bastard) fit the actor very well. And Dennis and Dee's unease/disgust with his talk of the Lord felt authentic too, almost as if Jesus' very name causes their soulless bodies to writhe in anger. But the whole "haunting Frank" bit goes on for way too long. Frank's joyous epiphany makes a sort of sense in that he's afraid not of God's wrath but the gang's wrath, but it's still almost too cute for this show, even with Eugene's snowblowing exit at the end to make sure nobody ends up happy.
But let me return to that great moment at the end, with everyone throwing rocks at trains. Sure, every other Christmas tradition, be it vodka-glugging, Santa visits for mom, or going to other people's houses to get their presents, may have been torn to shreds. And they may not have gotten Ricky out of his rut or saved Dennis and Dee's Lamborghini and designer handbag. But Mac and Charlie know they can still take pleasure in the simple joys of life, and everyone else figures it out too. The Sunny gang bonding happily over throwing rocks at trains is the kind of emotional, sappy moment I can appreciate from this show.
- I'm reviewing the profane, bloody DVD version which I'm sure many of you have seen, but I'm sure there was editing by FX for the TV version. What did you guys spot?
- "What would that expression be for? For someone who has TWO lefts?"
- "Stealing millions of dollars from your ex-business partner is how you made your millions." "Do not speak ill of the dead." "She's speaking ill of YOU!"
- Charlie appeared to be inspecting a Raggedy Ann doll at one point, perhaps one that Mac had maybe violated?
- Charlie playing Simon is funny enough to be the basis of a whole episode. "Now, three happened, and I have no idea which three."
- Little Mac is way too excited to be getting a Cabbage Patch Kid.
- "Your dad is like a thief and a murderer who eats people, so he's not really trustworthy!"
- "Based on the story you just told me, I think your mother was a prostitute."
- "I catch Charlie pounding off, all the time." "Why do you want to catch Charlie masturbating? No, I don't care."
- Charlie says the Omnibot "has fallen under the finders keepers law of America."
- Mike Schmidt is the all-time leading home run hero. "Among white guys, he is." Except for Babe Ruth, Charlie points out. Also Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew and, well, Mark McGwire.
- "Dude, nobody knows who Von Hayes is. Relax."
- The best part of the stop-motion violence is either the gator pit or the racist raisins.
- "Why did the elf have no pants on?"
- "You go fuck yourself and your fat fucking ass."