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#9: “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” [TV Aughtrospective]

Here’s a show that features zero character development, the attention span of an eight-year-old and no moral compass whatsoever. Who cares?

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is consistently, hilariously funny, and we deem it the 9th best television show of the aughts.

Tune into any episode across five seasons of “Always Sunny” goodness and here’s what you’ll find: the completely unredeemable posse of losers (known as The Gang) is up to some crazy, immoral plan that will blow up in their faces and humiliate one or more of them. It’s consistently shocking and just plain wrong, but somehow, as The Gang cooks up its latest idiotic plan, you find yourself rooting for these assholes every time.

The Gang’s exploits will make you burst out laughing when you think about them, even years after the fact. The mystery of “Who Pooped the Bed?” featured both a pooped bed and a pooped purse, and multiple theories were dramatically propounded. To avoid getting killed by mobsters in another episode, the Gang resorts to subservience, manwhoring and stable work. One personal favorite is the episode where they decide to let high school kids drink at the bar they own, which quickly degenerates into a competition to gain status in the high school social ecosystem, buying kegs and scoring dates to the prom.

The show started out as a home movie. Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton were a bunch of struggling actors whose hard work in the entertainment industry had thus far landed them the plum roles of “Student” in “Wonder Boys,” “Inbred Twin” on “Reno 911!” and “that guy” from “That 80s Show,” respectively. But did they cry? No. They scraped up $85 and made a brilliant pilot episode themselves. It was so genius that it later scored them a series with FX.

The characters they developed for this show are so over-the-top odious that they lend the series a sense of anarchic fun too often absent from slickly produced television “events”…

McElhenny plays Mac, a obnoxious douche from a broken home with a scary inmate dad and an even scarier, constantly-smoking mom. He’s a hypocrite and a cowardly little bitch who nonetheless goes around acting tough, flexing and making bravado-filled threats. He’s in love with a transsexual but keeps it a secret out of shame.

Howerton plays Dennis Reynolds, Mac’s high school friend; they own a Philly dive bar together called Paddy’s Pub. Dennis is a narcissistic asshole who constantly manipulates those around him. He fancies himself quite a cocksman and loves going topless, but his life is pretty pathetic to anyone who actually gets to know him.  His love of glam rock is simply shameful, but he does have a degree from U. Penn.

Day plays Charlie Kelly, the illiterate trainwreck friend of Dennis and Mac who slaves for them at Paddy’s pub, doing a variety of horrific tasks that are collectively known as “Charlie work.” He’s fond of huffing paint and glue and lives in a filthy shit-hole of a one-room apartment. He stalks an unfortunate coffee shop waitress who is, in turn, obsessed with Dennis. Charlie is clearly the star of the series — his manic lunacy is paired with an innocent sweetness that can’t help but endear him to the viewer. Some of his great moments include any scene where he dons the Green Man outfit to hide his insecurity and act with confidence, his musical compositions, and his experimentation with the kind of drugs you buy at the hardware store.

Kaitlin Olson was cast as Sweet Dee Reynolds, Dennis’ self-obsessed sister who works at the bar; she keeps trying to insinuate part-ownership, but the boys are quick to remind her of her low place on the totem pole. Her dating disasters are the stuff of legend: she got dumped by a high school kid, became convinced another boyfriend was a retarded person, and corresponded with a soldier under the nom de plume “Desert Rose,”only to stand him up when she thought he was disabled. She’s truly the secret weapon of “Always Sunny.”

After a hilarious first season, the show’s fate was up in the air. Then Danny DeVito signed on to play Dennis and Dee’s father, Frank Reynolds, solidifying a future for the show. Frank is rich enough to bankroll the bar’s operations and some of The Gang’s more expensive schemes, but he also prefers to share Charlie’s disgusting apartment, butts proximate as they share a filthy pullout couch. After a while, it comes out that he really isn’t Dennis and Dee’s father after all (it’s the dad from 7th Heaven) and in fact, he might be Charlie’s father. One of Frank’s notable traits is his willingness to go to any end to satisfy his weird sexual urges, including bedding the creepy Gail the Snail and seeking the services of a “bang maid”:

This five-character team is pretty much unstoppable. In episode after episode, “Always Sunny” serves up very, very funny plots and moments. There’s virtually no through-plot to follow, you can pretty much jump in at any time and enjoy the goodness.

Situation: Dennis and Mac’s scheme to make Paddy’s an “anything goes” bar has gone horribly awry, and a bunch of Vietnamese Russian Roulette gamblers are occupying the basement in collusion with Frank. Charlie is fixing to get them to leave…

Another one: Sweet Dee is trying to make a “Sex and the City” style posse, so she recruits the Waitress and her friend from acting class, Artemis. The invariably terrific Artemis Pebdani sums up her aggressive mating technique in one great line:

This one is a classic. Charlie, Mac and Frank form a band, but immediately start fighting because each has a different idea of what kind of music is cool. When Charlie plays them his Bob Dylan-esque composition, “Nightman,” a song with rather shocking lyrics, he’s kicked out of the band. Meanwhile, Dennis tries to take Charlie’s place, but he’s also thrown out for being too glam rock. Charlie and Dennis join forces to write the song, “Day Man.”

One more clip for good measure, from the recent episode “The Waitress Is Getting Married.”

If anything, this show was peaking as the decade concluded, while many other great comedy shows never came close to five seasons. The actors came up with a musical called “The Nightman Cometh” and then took it on tour across the country. The recently-concluded fifth season was totally brilliant — Mac’s love letter to Chase Utley was a particular highlight — and the show’s take on the economic apocalypse was witty and cynical. And of course…there’s not much funnier on TV right now than the Green Man.

This description from the blog Tangled Up In Wires sums up the show’s charms aptly:

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s genius lies in how harmless it can seem at first. “A group of friends who hang out in a bar and get into schenanigans? I’ve seen this show before.” But Sunny takes its schlocky tropes in such wrong directions, and with such deranged glee, that it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t like other sitcoms. Like a 2000s Seinfeld, Sunny stretches the limit of what is acceptable behavior within a sitcom until there are no limits left.

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is “I Love Lucy” level comedy goodness. Rarely has a comedy series delivered so much while asking no more from the viewers than a willingness to suspend their standards of offensive speech. The fact that three struggling actors took their careers into their own hands, and that a network gave them the chance to make a great show, is just the icing on the cake.

TV Aughtrospective:
Introduction and Runners-Up
#10: “Six Feet Under.”
#9: “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.”
#8: “The Daily Show.”
#7: “South Park.”
#6: “Mad Men.”
#5: “Arrested Development.”
#4: “American Idol.”
#3: “Lost.”
#2: “The Sopranos.”
#1: “The Wire.”

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

2 Responses to #9: “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” [TV Aughtrospective]

  1. 0whole1 says:

    No limits left is right — you know where you stand with a show when its main characters *actually* get hooked on crack as part of a welfare scam.

    One item of iterest — Morena Bacarin (I think I’m spelling that right) of “V” and “Firefly/Serenity” played the transsexual in Always Sunny’s pilot. It’s included on the Season 1&2 DVD.

  2. ulyssesworkman says:

    Nice write-up of one of my favorite shows. Thanks for the quote too!

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