A while ago, I wrote about some of the key differences between American and British comedies. The former was always gentler, nice people doing good things but plans going awry. Britain, meanwhile, relied on comedy monsters and anti-heroes, selfish people performing cruel actions. A British version of The Big Bang Theory would make Sheldon a lot crueler, his quirks becoming massive defects.

There are, of course, situation where this is reversed. Gavin & Stacey was either very heart-warming or quite twee, depending on how you view that kind of humour. Likewise, Americans can do dark and selfish as well if they want to, it’s just rarely seen on the big networks. Louis and Maron are good examples of this.

One that I am watching now that falls into this category is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For the uninitiated, it focuses on three male friend who own an Irish bar and one of the guy’s sister working for them. Danny DeVito later appears as the brother and sister’s dad in a piece of casting that is both odd and excellent at the same time. The humour is certainly dark – the first season alone has plotlines on abortion, racism and child molesting, while the second opens with most of the cast pretending to be crippled. Family fare this is not.

It has to be said that all of the characters are hard to like. Dennis is cold and unemotional to the extreme, Charlie incompetent and temperamental and Mac is just an all-round asshole. Even Sweet Dee isn’t above being selfish and cruel, although she is more of a moral compass than the men. Between the subject matter and the characters, it has the potential of being an uncomfortable watch.

What saves it is how sharply funny it is. The molesting episode had a beautifully awkward scene where Charlie was surrounded by his family asking him where his apparent abuser had touched him, with a very creepy uncle getting a little too into it. I laughed hard and immediately felt bad about it, before laughing again.

As I’m only just starting the second season on Netflix, I can’t speak for the consistency of the show. I get the feeling that the plots are going have to get bigger in order to keep the level of crazy pitched right, although I’m not sure how many taboos it has left. Who knows? I may work through another couple of seasons and find a different tone to the whole thing. I hope it doesn’t go too safe though. A bit of darkness is a lot of fun when handled right.

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