My favorite show is now one of the longest running sitcoms in television history.
It was around 2 in the morning. I was a 14 year old insomniac in the midst of a freak out about having to get up at 6 the next morning for school. Flipping through the channels, I landed on FX. Now one of my favorite stations, at the time I had associated it with reruns of “The Shield” and “Sons of Anarchy”. In that simpler age of 2011, the channel had a weed themed late night schedule peppered with episodes of “Archer”, “Two and a Half Men”, and other comedies. On that fateful night, I saw it for the first time. FX’s funniest show, its best show. A grungy little man with a voice like Piglet, having a crisis over the countless number of rodents he’s been forced to slaughter. Spaghetti in a sauna. A bird with teeth. Denim Chicken. LEVEL THREE, SON! A group of friends so narcissistic that they make those iconic assholes from “Seinfeld” look like Fred Rogers. And of course, Danny DeVito. The show I was watching, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. The episode, “Charlie Kelly: King of Rats”. I had never seen anything like it. It was vulgar, brash, and weird, with a sense of utter sincerity. I was up for the rest of the night, and I didn’t care. I was hooked. I DVR’d every episode that I could find. For Christmas that year I got a box set of the first three seasons. 8 years later, I’m a 22 year old who sleeps far too much. The show is on FXX now. I’ve seen every episode of Dennis, Dee, Charlie, Mac, and Frank’s adventures so many times I can rattle off every episode title in chronological order off the top of my head. And I would wager that at least 60% of the people who watch the show in my home town can link that back to me in some way. My love for Sunny is all consuming, going far beyond romantic, it’s unhealthy. Stalker-ish, to say the least. Last month, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” returned with its 14th season. Making this show about some of the worst people in America tied with “Ozzy and Harriet” as the longest running live action sitcom ever.
For you poor souls who’ve never watched an episode of Sunny, I’ll give a brief rundown on the premise of the series. The black comedy focuses on the various misdeeds and misadventures of The Gang; twins Dennis and Deandre “Sweet Dee” Reynolds, Mac (his full name is something of a running joke the first 7 seasons of the show), Charlie Kelly, and Frank Reynolds. All of them played to perfection by Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, series creator Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Danny Devito, respectively. The miscreants run Paddy’s Pub, the shittiest little bar in Philadelphia, they’ve all got their quirks.
Dennis, the self-described “Golden God”, is a walking sexual misconduct allegation and quite possibly the finest example of a malignant narcissist to ever grace television.
Dee is as self-aggrandizing as her brother. She’s perpetually enraged, and is a source for brutal, Buster Keatonesque physical comedy.
Mac, low-key the most complex character in the series for the entire 14 season run, is a hyper Catholic dude bro. A wannabe tough guy with Body Dysmorphic Disorder who’s perpetually trapped in the closet.
Charlie, arguably the least immoral member of the group (though that’s stretching things a bit), is an illiterate janitor with a penchant for huffing spray paint. He’s a manic and childlike little creature, desperately in love with a local coffee shop waitress (more on her later). It should also be noted that he’s a musical savant (and very likely Frank’s bastard son).
Last but not least, we have Frank. Dennis and Dee’s father (but not really), a multi-millionaire who comes crashing into the series after divorcing their mother in the opening episode of the second season. Far and away the most depraved member of the group, Frank chooses to live in utter squalor with Charlie; filling his days with filth, drugs, booze, and his beloved prostitutes (or “hoors” as he calls them).
The Gang spends most of their time screaming at each other about nothing at all in a blackout stupor or running outlandish get-rich schemes to varying degrees of failure. Past schemes have included letting under-aged kids drink in the bar, going door to door selling gasoline, pretending to have been molested by a gym teacher to get attention in the media, getting hooked on crack to in order to take advantage of welfare programs, attempting to make a homeless baby found in a dumpster a star in commercials, and putting shoe polish on said baby to attempt to pass it off as a person of color. It’s outrageous, obscene, and about as far from politically correct as it gets. Where Sunny does things differently is that no matter how crude or taboo-breaking it can be in its subject matter, it’s never mean spirited. It never punches down. I think that’s a large part of the reason the show has worked so well and for so long. McElhenney and Company may skirt the line, even cross it at times, but every laugh is at the expense of the Gang or any of the other deplorable supporting characters on the show. Speaking of supporting characters…
Sunny has, without question, the best set of recurring characters I’ve ever seen on a television show. They’re as hilarious as they are well developed, with each and every encounter with the Gang leaving them further victimized physically or mentally. There’s The Waitress, a nameless coffee shop server and the (unwanted) subject of Charlie’s deranged affections. Who could forget Liam and Ryan McPoyle? The filthy, perpetually bath robe-d and likely inbred brothers, quite possibly the most disgusting pair to have ever graced a TV screen. And of course, Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara. Cricket begins the show a virtuous priest, but due to the actions of the Gang, goes on a downward spiral that would put Walter White to shame.
Early on in season 10’s “The Gang Misses the Boat,” a bit of meta-commentary from the creators slipped into a bit of dialogue between Dennis and Frank.
“All of us have become so goddamn weird,” snarls the Golden God.
“We’re just hitting our stride,” retorts the pint sized senior citizen in pair of Crocs.
It goes on a little longer, with barbs about Frank’s endless supply of money funding the Gang’s bizarre antics clearly being a stand in for DeVito’s casting on the show and the bigger budget his presence brought to the series. The back and forth does a fine job detailing Dennis and Frank’s roles on the show; with Dennis, unhinged sociopath that he is, playing the straight man to Frank’s free spirited lunacy. But it also poignantly analyzes the trajectory of the series over later seasons. Sunny and it’s twisted protagonists have gotten weirder, and the show is all the better for it. There have been some truly wild and creative episodes to have come out in the past couple years. Installments like “Charlie Work”, a day in the life look at Charlie’s attempt to clean the bar up in time for the arrival of a health inspector, all done in a “Birdman” style tracking shot. Or “The Gang Saves the Day”, a series of 5 vignettes directed in vastly different styles, each a different fantasy from one of the members of the Gang about how they would stop a robbery.
Sunny is the same today as it was when it premiered back in 2005. It’s still about a group of irredeemably bad people doing bad things. But in the 14 years Sunny has been on the air, it has grown so much. Even in the 8 years I’ve been watching that sense of growth has been there. Not just in the weirder concepts they’ve courted the past couple of years, but the characterizations of the Gang themselves. For better or worse, these characters have grown. The past two or three seasons in particular have mined this. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the show. 14 seasons and they’re still making me laugh my ass off. 3 episodes in and season 14 has been just as good as everything that came before. And I’ll watch it for 14 more seasons with dopey grin on my face for every second. Because at this point, Dennis, Charlie, Mac, Dee, are part of my family.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FXX.