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If there’s one television show my friends have demanded I pay attention to its 30 Rock. But the fury of the people that demand I watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia eclipses those more even-tempered Tina Fey fans. Unfortunately I still haven’t gotten around too it, even though it’s available for free on Hulu, so this Christmas special is acting as my introduction to something I’d apparently be an evil, mentally retarded bastard to not love. The story synopsis for this episode probably won’t make any sense to anyone that doesn’t watch the series regularly, so here’s the official word:

Ho, ho, heyooo! Christmas is upon us and the Paddy's gang has got the spirit. Well, not really. For them, the holidays have always been a time of trickery, backstabbing, and disappointment. But this year things are going to be different as they are determined to rediscover the joy in Christmas. Join Mac, Charlie, Dennis, Dee and Frank as they embark on a holiday adventure filled with stolen toys, childhood videos, naked elves, and a bloody run in with Santa Claus that is guaranteed to blast Christmas spirit all over you!

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas
I’ve got nothing particularly bad to say about this elongated episode, but I’m not finding myself appropriately mind-boggled. I have to assume that if one knows these characters a bit better one would laugh harder at these offensive hijinx. The sheer meanness of the whole thing isn’t quite enough to eek out the painful belly laughs the back of the box promised. But I like the meanness. It’s brass ball humour at its most pure. The mean streak even cuts through the gross-out stuff, which is usually the last bastion of a lazy and untalented comedy writer. The Always Sunny writers own their gross-outs through energetic, and aberrant ingenuity. The unpredictable nature appears to be the most indelible and defining element of the series. Anyone claiming suspicion of a Rankin Bass styled stop-motion musical break-down should themselves be looked upon with suspicion. I can imagine the show’s belligerent style developing into a draining affair, especially if one were watching a whole season set in one sitting, but I’ve also got to respect this particular episode for never letting up, or giving in with an iota of sweetness. In the end the only real objective criticism I can muster has to do with the fact that this is just an episode, and I wouldn’t want to spend my money on a single episode of even my favourite television show.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

Video


This Blu-ray opens with some of the actors reading a producers’ introduction warning us that this ‘episode’ was not shot in true high definition, and was up-converted from standard broadcast definition. I didn’t need the intro, and neither will you, it’s plenty obvious. The print doesn’t even look like a particularly good up-conversion, frankly, it looks like an acceptable DVD transfer (I actually re-watched some Deadwood the same night, and that SD DVD looked better). There aren’t many compression artefact standards not covered here, though a lot of it is clearly the fault of the show’s natural style, which features a lot of source lighting. The print is grainy, and the grain itself is large and poorly defined. Blotchy would be a good word. The establishing shots are especially chopped by compression. White’s bloom, colours bleed and are poorly defined, and the purest and brightest hues are rife with digital noise. The transfer is technically progressive scan, but there are plenty of combing effects throughout the episode, especially during the slow-motion snow climax.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

Audio


The Blu-ray’s DTS-HD 5.1 audio track doesn’t really fair that much better than the unneeded video upgraded. The show’s guerilla style filming captures most of the audio on sight, including ambient noise and dialogue, so pretty much everything is simply centered. The cast yells a lot, so there’s a bit of distortion throughout the entirety of the track, but this is, again, really in-keeping with what fans should expect from the series. The surround channels are practically silent, and the stereo channels don’t do much better. Basically this is a central affair, and no one is particularly interested in mixing in any additional audio elements. We’re talking old-school, on-set audio only. There isn’t even very much music, though the traditional holiday items we get do echo a bit in the largely silent rear channels. The animated sequence is the most outstanding element in the mix, but for obvious reasons – the sound has been created in a lab, and it’s a musical moment, requiring multiple tracks.

Extras


The rather terse extras begin with three deleted scenes staring the young versions of Charlie and Mac (2:50, SD). I’m not sure where these were supposed to fit in the context of the episode, but they’re reasonably amusing. These are followed by a making-of featurette (7:30, SD), and a ‘Sunny Sing-A-Long’ (3:10, SD). The making-of featurette is mostly concerned with the episode’s more technically challenging aspects, the stop motion sequence and the snow machine bit. The sing-a-long is a bit like something that would play between commercials on Adult Swim.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

Overall


I’d love to tell It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans that this Blu-ray release is worth their money, but they’d do better to stick with the DVD release, assuming the episode isn’t a part of the next seasonal collection. The content is recorded for SD, so the 1080p up-conversion is a waste of money. The fact that Fox warns us of the lesser video quality on a video introduction is nice enough, but a warning on the box art would’ve been better. The whole release is pretty shifty. As a total newcomer, armed with only the knowledge that the show was bawdy as hell, I definitely enjoyed this single, elongated episode, enough to further pursue the series, but I’m not quite up to fanatic levels just yet.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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