Ellen Gray: Rob McElhenney put on 50 pounds for the 'Always Sunny' team

Phoebe Tonkin (left) and Jessica Parker Kennedy in "The Secret Circle," which has a witchy twist.
Phoebe Tonkin (left) and Jessica Parker Kennedy in "The Secret Circle," which has a witchy twist.
Posted: September 15, 2011

* IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY

IN PHILADELPHIA

10 tonight on FX

* THE SECRET CIRCLE.

9 tonight on PHL17

IF THERE'S ONE thing I've long admired about FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," a show I'll admit made me wince long before it made me laugh, it's that these guys are all in.

Totally committed to whatever insanity they've decided to pursue, they'll pretty much go anywhere, do anything, to make a point.

As the show enters its seventh season tonight, you might expect Rob McElhenney, the St. Joe's Prep grad who created the show and is one of its stars, to have gone a little Hollywood, what with syndication money, marriage (to co-star Kaitlin "Sweet Dee" Olson) and the couple's year-old collaboration, son Axel.

But McElhenney, who's a student of the sitcom - you can't take something apart until you understand how it's put together - decided to keep his edge by losing his edges, gaining 50 pounds for the coming season (most or all of which is gone by now).

"For me, it wasn't about being fat was funny," McElhenney told me last month. "The intention literally stemmed from watching a few sitcoms, and I noticed that the actors were getting better looking as the seasons were going by, and . . . our show has always been about the opposite, about taking the glamour out of it and about deconstructing the sitcom, trying to make the characters as unlikable as possible, and to me, also as unattractive as possible."

Tonight's episode, "Frank's Pretty Woman," in which Frank (Danny DeVito) announces his intention to marry a hooker and the gang decides she needs a makeover a la Julia Roberts - without the Rodeo Drive shopping spree - doesn't actually require the supersizing of one of its stars to make that point.

But it does say the guy's committed. And in a town that worships bone and sinew, he might even need to be.

For more on McElhenney's diet and how Chase Utley helped him:

www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/Utley-tip-helped-Sunny-star-pack-on-pounds.html .

A not-so-'Secret' recipe

If something works for a network, you can be pretty sure it'll be repeated, whether it's spinning off a "CSI" or franchising "Real Housewives" across America like so many Subway shops.

On the CW, this process is so fine-tuned that in seeking a companion for "Vampire Diaries," the network chose another book series by L.J. Smith, the writer behind "Vampire Diaries," added executive producer Kevin Williamson ("Vampire Diaries," "Dawson's Creek") and cast "Life Unexpected" star Britt Robertson as Cassie, an orphaned girl who discovers she's descended from witches.

And stirred.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble ensues, but the real secret to the CW's sauce isn't witchcraft. It's all those absent parents - turns out half the kids in Cassie's new school are missing at least one - who aren't around to warn their kids not to play with matches.

If this season's "True Blood" hasn't exhausted your patience with TV witches - as it has mine - Robertson's as appealing here as she was on "Life Unexpected." Maybe magic powers will help her keep this one on the air.


Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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