September 18, 2008

Offbeat Combos Find Their Place in ‘Sunny’

By Whitney Matheson

It's not easy to find cannibalism, time travel, torture and singing on the same network, let alone on one series.

But fans of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia have always appreciated the comedy's strange flavor combinations. The FX show launches Season 4 tonight (10 ET/PT).

"I think in order for something to be genuinely funny, it needs to be surprising on some level," says star and executive producer Glenn Howerton, who plays Dennis Reynolds, one of a group of friends who run a South Philly bar. "We're constantly trying to surprise each other and go to those strange, dark, weird places."

This season, some of those places include 1776 for a Colonial-themed episode, and a gas station where the gang attempts to solve the oil crisis. Waterboarding and flesh-eaters pop up in stories. The cast will perform an original musical, and Howerton promises "a personal-memoir episode very much in the vein of a James Frey situation where Dennis writes his erotic life."

Returning to the mix are Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds and Wonder Years' Fred Savage, who directs several episodes. Savage "brings great energy and enthusiasm," says co-star Charlie Day. "The crew really likes him, and the guest stars are excited to be directed by him."

This year, FX ordered 39 additional episodes of Sunny, which last season drew about 1.3 million viewers per episode. The order guarantees the series will remain on the air for several seasons.

"It's a nice affirmation, you know?" Howerton says. "Certainly in terms of a cable show, we're not that underground cult show anymore."

Sunny's success has led the creative team of Howerton, Day and Rob McElhenney to develop another series. Sci-fi comedy Boldly Going Nowhere, produced by 20th Century Fox for the Fox network, shoots in the fall. "It's very much the sense of humor and style of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in a very original setting," Day says.

Not only are the actors friends in real life, but Sunny's cast includes two couples: Co-stars Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis are married, and McElhenney is engaged to Kaitlin Olson, who plays Dee. "What's great about working with someone that you're dating is that you get to see them a lot more often than not," McElhenney says.

Romance won't seep into Sunny anytime soon, though. "Don't expect us to do an entire season about Charlie and Dee getting married or something," Day says. "Our show's not that, and I don't really see us changing what the show is. What we're doing now seems to be working, and it seems to make us laugh." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>