I love It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Even with a multitude of seriously amazing dramas like Breaking Bad available and a general decline in quality that has been fluctuating for the past three years, It's Always Sunny might still be my favorite series of all time, save maybe for Mr. Show. I've certainly seen it more than any other, save maybe for Mr. Show.
With the arrival of each new season, I try to rewatch as many It's Always Sunny episodes as I can. Not all of them, mind you, but quite a few. Talking about the show online, I've come to realize that almost no opinions regarding it enjoy much consensus. Almost every season has a die hard defender, and stuff I absolutely adore might irritate other fans, who come to the show for elements I might not even notice.
I'm honestly not sure why I even like this series so much while a gazillion similar shows tend to just bug me. Normally entertainment focused primarily on hatred and discomfort rub me the wrong way. That's all we get here, too, but somehow it's different. It could be because of the way the show acts as a kind of hilarious flip side to misery porn. It's Always Sunny treats all the blatant insecurities and childhood trauma on display like comedy when it could just as easily be a hyper-dramatic examination of seriously fucked up people. And there is a weird sweetness to it, sometimes. The Charlie/Frank relationship in particular comes close to crossing the sincerity line without ever feeling like a play at becoming something more serious.
Anyway, for no reason at all, I thought I'd talk about some of my favorite episodes.
It's Always Sunny's first season is a little rough. The characters just aren't there yet. Danny DeVito's not involved. And Sweet Dee's a bit too much of a Lisa Simpson. But this early episode is one of the show's first keepers.
For whatever reason, Paddy's Bar finds itself lousy with underage drinkers. The gang selfishly decides to let the kids hang out at their bar under the rationalization that they're actually doing a civil service by providing a safe place for children to drink heavily watered down booze.
Of course, everyone gets partnered up with a kid. Except Mac. Because Mac is a dick. Charlie's ability to blend well with teenagers first shows up here, as does Dennis' sordid history with underage ladies. The "Forever Young" epilogue is about as close to touching as this show gets.
The Gang Gets Invincible
I don't know if this really is a classic episode or just the first episode I truly fell in love with. Mac, Dennis, and a mustached Dee try out for the Philadelphia Eagles. Meanwhile, Frank and Charlie drop acid while in close proximity to the McPoyle family, a group of inbred urban hillbillies. I'm not that enamored with Green Man, but this marks his first appearance. Dee breaks her foot, and Frank shoots a McPoyle in the leg, so it's definitely not without incident. More proof: Artemis shows up as a fairy who tries to talk Frank into flushing himself down a toilet. Also, Geoffrey Owens from The Cosby Show appears as himself, trying to pass for Donovan McNabb. He will later show up in Frank's Pretty Woman trying to pass for Tiger Woods.
The Gang Gets Held Hostage
A sort of sequel to The Gang Gets Invincible, this tightly-structured episode finds the gang held hostage by the McPoyles, who immediately turn Paddy's heat up and drink milk while sweating in bathrobes. There's a lot of fun Die Hard homages, and a fair amount of jabs at Charlie's inability to read or write, but the episode is really a showcase for the massively strange and incredible McPoyle family. This is why I can't take Jimmi Simpson seriously in legitimate films. Even Zodiac.
Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire
A bored Mac, Charlie, and Frank try to make their own news program by causing incidents themselves. Basically they put kittens in danger, and when Dee comes to save them, they blow her up. There's some Dennis stuff about achieving fame through clubbing and doing ecstasy, but it's small potatoes compared to the sight of Dee tossing away boxes of cats while covered in flames.
Dee Is Dating a Retarded Person
While Dennis and Dee's arguments over whether or not her new boyfriend is mentally retarded easily provide enough comedy for a normal episode, it's the musical side story that elevates this one into rarefied territory. You can't beat Dayman. The funniest part is actually Charlie's less catchy first go at the song, which sheds glorious detail on the childhood molestation that shaped his adult life. On top of that, I believe this marks the first appearance of Frank's wig.
The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis
Mac, Charlie, and Dennis start filling trash barrels full of gasoline and selling it door to door. That's about all you need to know, except that the gang discusses their group dynamic and labels Charlie the Wildcard, an acknowledgment which kind of gives him carte blanche to be as mavericky as possible, leading to one of the show's all time best moments.
Honestly, any time Charlie gets to do his Foghorn Leghorn accent, I sort of can't resist myself. Frank and Dee's B-story isn't great, but it does contain waterboarding and intersects with the gas plot extremely well.
Who Pooped the Bed?
Artemis is without a doubt my favorite It's Always Sunny character, and this episode finally supplies a showcase for her caustic dramatic flair and blunt lack of wit.
Mystery poops have been appearing in Charlie and Frank's bed, and no one wants to fess-up to laying them down. While the gang investigates, Dee, the Waitress, and Artemis try to live like the Sex in the City girls. This leads to Artemis telling a guy she has a bleached asshole and probably the greatest pratfall in Kaitlin Olson's impressive history of great pratfalls.
But it's all about the poop. As the gang gets deeper into their investigation, poop appearances grow in frequency until Artemis breaks the whole thing down in one incredible Agatha Christie monologue that ends up not mattering at all. Poop is funny.
Dennis Reynolds an Erotic Life
Dennis has a book filled with all his romantic conquests, which Mac and Frank want to publish. But most of the stuff is fake. So they need to "recreate" its contents order to avoid one of those A Million Little Pieces situations. Somehow, this leads to Dennis stuck in an insane asylum where he is bullied by an actually funny Sinbad and Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20.
So this is already a pretty memorable episode. But the best parts all belong to the B-story which exploits the classic sitcom trope where two characters switch lives to see how hard they each have it. Not only does this include the first (I think) bit of Sweet Dee's nervous gagging reflex, but a real showstopper moment where Charlie explains to Dee the complicated routine he must go through before sleeping each night (it involves a mixture of beer, glue-sniffing, and cat food which puts you to sleep hard enough that you're not bothered by the multitude of screaming cats outside his building or the Shining twins in the hallway).
The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover
Inspired by the idea that helping others will bring their wildest dreams to fruition, the gang abducts a Mexican family and tries to remodel their house, only to burn it down. Frank gets stabbed in the leg.
This is probably the closest the gang's criminal endeavors have come to spilling into the real world, thought there are plenty of opportunities for argument there. The gang's efforts toward altruism involve waking a family up with screams and heavy metal music while putting plastic bags over their heads. To pay for remodeling supplies, they even make the family's patriarch sign up for a credit card. That's a uniquely American form of diabolical. Nearly every beat in this episode wins. They even make the family's daughter a taco bed.
The Gang Hits the Road
The gang plans to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon but of course never get out of Philadelphia. The brilliance of this episode lay in its ability to actually feel like a road trip even though they never get anywhere. Aside from their brief stop-off at the Italian Market (whose inhabitants the gang frequently refers to as Gypsies), the whole episode takes place in a car and follows a series of linear events so dense it feels like an hour's worth of material shoved into a mere 22 minute time span.
The comedy is so rich, too. From Charlie not knowing what a pear taste like, a detail that means little on paper but in the context of Charlie's character is perfect, to the bit where Dee pees in a jar and throws it out a window, spraying urine all over a sleeping Mac while drunkenly serenading a runaway teen with Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train," this one fires on all cylinders. While later seasons would rely too heavily on high concept, one-location episode setups, The Gang Hits the Road offers a great example of how these episodes work at their best.
The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention
Normally, Kaitlin Olsen is It's Always Sunny's best player when it comes to acting drunk, but Danny DeVito is unbelievable in this episode, which sees Frank finally jumping into a realm of bad taste even his peers cannot abide. I've seen this episode countless times, and I'm still in awe of DeVito. Even if I found out he really was wasted for the whole thing, I'd still be impressed. There's a thing he does where he swallows a bunch of beer then gargles foam up from his esophagus that still confuses me to this day.
It's enough just to watch Frank, but this episode also announces the arrival of Mary Lynn Rajskub's Gail the Snail, Dee and Dennis' monumentally annoying and gross relative who latches onto the gang and must be driven away with salt. On top of that, there's the hilarious running gag of characters drinking wine out of Diet Coke cans, which stains their mouths and gives them all hideous Joker faces by the end of the episode.
The Waitress is Getting Married
In all honesty, this is not that strong an episode. Dee learns that the love of Charlie's life, the Waitress, is about to get married to one of her old boyfriends. While she tried to sabotage the engagement, Mac and Dennis attempt to get Charlie in the dating game because they fear that he will commit suicide upon hearing the news, thus leaving them with his janitorial duties.
When it comes to Charlie being a genuine but kind of sweet weirdo, however, this is one of the best and one of the last episodes we have. His answers to Match.com profile questions are just incredible (Favorite food? Milk Steak). His actual date is even better (he orders Milk Steak boiled over hard and a side of raw jelly beans). Meanwhile, Frank and Artemis have started a sexual relationship that involves tons and tons of gross food play.
The Gang Reignites the Rivalry
It sort of makes sense that Season Five ends with an episode completely stolen by Glenn Howerton's Dennis. While most of the show, and Season Five in particular, got its best laughs from focusing on Frank and Charlie, Season's Six, Seven, and Eight would all rely on Howerton's increasingly manic and sociopathic character for buoyancy (with a slight dash of Fat Mac in Season Seven). He's absolutely incredible.
This is a great episode for everyone, though. The gang is finally able to participate in Philadelphia flip cup competitions after being banned for poisoning their opponents many years ago. They try to take on a fraternity whose young members challenge Dennis' superiority, which is always a big mistake. This must be one of the only episodes where the gang actually wins at the end. We get to know how they feel because it also features Danny DeVito wearing skinny jeans. This is another one of those episodes so full with events that it feels like a whole movie.
Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth
Dee is a drama teacher. Charlie takes a Juggalo under his wing. Dave Foley provides an amazing guest appearance. It's pretty great, but none of that matters. This is the episode with Lethal Weapon 5. (I can't embed it, but trust me, you want to click on that link.)
Frank's Pretty Woman
Season Five was the last super great collection of It's Always Sunny episodes, but they still occasionally knock it out of the park. Season Seven's opening episode offers a perfect example. Most of it's honestly pretty standard, but then this happens:
I feel like anyone on the fence about this show should probably have their minds made up right there. Furthermore, Frank's Pretty Woman also offers the only really funny capitalization on Rob McElhenney's huge weight gain for Mac. While most of the season just used him as a food gobbling sight gag, Frank's Pretty Woman is full of great Fat Mac bits, such as Mac carrying around a trash bag full of chimichangas, Mac casually shooting himself with insulin while eating said chimichangas, and Mac going with the incorrect redneck pronunciation of the word "Diabetes."
One more thing. While these later seasons have an annoying tendency to rely on callbacks from earlier in the series, Dennis' yearning for crack, the first mention of it since he and Dee briefly got addicted in Season Two's Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare, is seriously one of the best and certainly most surprising callback jokes I have ever seen.
Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games
Another great late season entry, Chardee MacDennis focuses 100% on a weird board game the gang invented long ago. Because Frank's never played it, we are privy to explanations of the game's overly complicated rules and degrading punishments, one of which forces Danny DeVito to eat the raw components of a cake while sitting in a dog kennel. The escalation and inventiveness on display make this episode an engaging return to form rather than just another collection of reaching weirdness.
And there are so many more! I didn't even get to The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation or The Nightman Cometh. Plus, none of the above episodes feature Rickety Cricket, which is weird and not like me at all.
(This meme thing is kind of dumb, but it illustrates how much bad shit goes down for this poor character.)
I'd like to hear your opinions on this incredible show. Am I way off base calling Season Four or maybe even Five the best season? I bet I am! Sound off below.