With Age Comes Wisdom, Joy and Broads

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The cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; clockwise from center: Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day

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Few things in recent memory have given me as much pleasure as Danny DeVito’s turn as “Frank Reynolds” on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I’m late in coming to the show. Now in its sixth season, the FX Network program was recommended by my son; I’ve since been catching up with it on DVD. Described by its makers as “Seinfeld on crack”, It’s Always Sunny revolves around “The Gang”–four men, one woman, miscreants all–and their various and sordid adventures. Their escapades center around Paddy’s Pub, a down-in-the-mouth watering hole stranded in a seedy Philadelphia neighborhood.

It’s Always Sunny tramples over the boundaries of good taste. What popular entertainment doesn’t, right? But just when the humor threatens to buckle under adolescent self-consciousness, it takes flight into realms of exasperated absurdity that bring to mind Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?”–albeit in a decidedly post-modern, casually scatological way.

In a typical predicament, a pair of characters find themselves pondering whether it’s more reprehensible to be a racist cannibal than merely a cannibal. How they get to the point where such a discussion can occur is too complicated to recount here. Suffice it to say, the conversation takes place in the city morgue, where we find our heroes brandishing a six-pack of beer, marinade and a hot plate.

DeVito joined the cast during the show’s second season. A notable screen presence since One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 and, especially, his role as the irascible Louis DePalma in the NBC sitcom Taxi, DeVito subsequently became an unlikely movie star, a capable director and a not insignificant producer–Erin Brokovich and Pulp Fiction were two of his projects.

But as Frank Reynolds, the owner of Paddy’s Pub, DeVito has achieved something for the ages. Has an actor ever inhabited a role with as much abandon? The relish DeVito takes in bringing to life the foul-mouthed, mean-spirited and irredeemably piggish Frank is palpable. I’m convinced DeVito is doing It’s Always Sunny free-of-charge. The man is having that much fun. His gusto is infectious.

In a recent episode, Frank stuffs his shirt pocket full of sausages so that (a) he has easy access to food and (b) doesn’t need to use his hands to eat. In the crass and cloistered world that is It’s Always Sunny, this makes for a perfect kind of logic. Credit DeVito: Any actor who can make having a great time something from which the rest of us can gain joy deserves a lifetime’s supply of grease-stained shirts.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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