I generally feel that, for whatever reason, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia peaked with season five. It hasn’t been going downhill since then, necessarily, but the bar for what I would call regular has been lowered somewhat. Even at the show’s best, it wasn’t exactly perfect episode after perfect episode anyway, so that’s not really a big deal.
Some seasons have been better than others though, and it’s always exciting to see what a new season has to offer, especially now that the show’s ten years old. What new crazy stuff will happen? What will Rickety Cricket look like? How mad will Dennis get? Which episodes will meet the bar, and which episodes will go on to be classics?
Even the worst seasons have some classics. Season seven has “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games,” for instance. Season nine has “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense.” These aren’t great seasons, but I think those are two of the best episodes the show has ever done.
Season ten never reached those highs but came close on a couple of occasions. Overall, it adhered to the standard quality level we’ve come to expect from the show’s later half. If nothing else, it’s way better than season six.
So here we go. I’m going to take a brief look at each episode to decide whether it reaches “classic” status or just manages to be “regular,” which is still way better than most shows. I won’t be utilizing a “bad” status because, except for “Frank’s Brother,” this show has never been less than awesome.
Episode One: “The Gang Beats Boggs”
Apparently baseball player Wade Boggs once drank an extraordinary number of beers on a flight across the country while still winning the game he played in upon landing. The gang thinks they can do better.
This is a pretty much perfect It’s Always Sunny episode. It puts the gang in tight, unfamiliar quarters, adds alcohol into the mix (lots of it), and lets everyone have great moments. Usually episodes focus on one part of the gang over another, but this one has good stuff for everybody.
Favorite bit: Frank’s last beer.
Second favorite bit: Much to Mac’s dismay, Charlie cannot get it through his head that Wade Boggs is actually still alive. After drinking too much, he even has a conversation with Wade Boggs’ ghost.
Episode Two: “The Gang Group Dates”
This episode is really special. Everyone’s into a Tinder-esque group date thing called “Bunchers,” so the gang give it a try. This breaks into three different stories, two of which are hilarious, while the other is just really sad.
Let’s start with Dee (the really sad one). Having had some successful dates with a guy, Dee thinks she has a solid relationship going. She even spent a bunch of money on a promise ring for him and deleted her dating app. Sadly he is not into her at all. She takes revenge by sleeping with men just so she can give them one-star ratings on a different dating site. It turns out dudes don’t really care about getting one star, so long as it means they get to bang skanky bird ladies.
Well, most men don’t care. This whole rating thing forces Dennis to confront his creepiness and therefore gets under his skin in a way that manifests in Dennis losing his cool over and over again. This is basically what we want most from Dennis and it’s great.
Meanwhile, Frank tries to coach Mac and Charlie into becoming good dates by blowing a whistle every time they say something awful in front of women. All three stories are pretty good, but this is the one that puts it over.
Favorite bit: The Frank-Charlie-Mac dating montage is perfect.
Second favorite bit:
Dee: We’re going steady. He’s my main squeeze.
Frank: You sound like a twelve year old. It’s a total turn off. My cock ring is sliding off.
Episode Three: “Psycho Pete Returns”
We first learned of Psycho Pete in season seven’s “The High School Reunion,” but we didn’t get to meet him. Now we do. It turns out he’s a very sad guy with a lot of psychiatry and meds keeping him from killing himself. Charlie and Mac try to fix that but fail.
Meanwhile, Frank visits his old loony bin and finds out he may have had donkey brains all along. We also get to see the new and improved Rickety Cricket.
Dennis to Dee: Wait, so you painted your butt blue and nobody noticed the hole in your pants?
Second favorite bit: Watching Danny DeVito try to sing and dance to “Psycho Killer.”
Third favorite bit: Rickety Cricket’s burned face.
Episode Four: “Charlie Work”
A total gimmick episode, but with this show that’s usually a good thing. Essentially, this is all about how amazing and amazingly unappreciated Charlie is at keeping the bar going. A surprise inspection is about to hit Paddy’s Pub, and it’s up to Charlie to make sure it goes well. This manifests in a Birdman-esque single shot of high tension hilarity.
The surprise here is not the gimmicky Charlie stuff but the side scheme the gang throws into Charlie’s lap on top of all that. Not only does it make Charlie look even more brilliant, but it provides a nice commentary to the kind of dumb bullshit the gang gets into on a weekly basis. Self-commentary like that isn’t new for the show, but this is one of the best versions.
Favorite bit: Anything involving Frank’s shoes. I can’t even explain it. Just know it eventually involves Frank painting his torso black instead of wearing a shirt.
Second favorite bit: Dennis’ disdain over Mac’s passive nature. “LOOK AT ME WHEN YOU’RE TALKING TO ME!”
Third favorite bit: I mean, that thing with the stool. Incredible.
Episode Five: “The Gang Spies Like U.S.”
This one’s hard to explain because it’s three different stories. The fish factory across from the bar is stinking the place up and installing security cameras, inviting the gang’s paranoia and wrath. So Mac and Dennis get Dee to get a job at the place and check it out. Or so it seems. In reality, they want to get Dee out of their apartment so they can masturbate to Asian Cream Pie porn. Meanwhile, Frank and Charlie decide to spy on Mac and Dennis because all their secrecy seems suspicious. It’s one of those.
The more I watch this episode, the more impressed I get with the little things. The gang’s newfound love of fish, for instance, has a lot going for it, as does the repeated use of Guigino’s and the waiter the gang repeatedly terrorizes and forgets.
But none of that stuff adds up to anything truly exciting. The centerpiece is just one of those things where two people have a conversation about dramatically different things without knowing it. In this case, Charlie finds out Dennis and Mac are into cream pies and wants to go into business selling them to children because he just thinks it's a dessert. Gross as Sunny’s iteration of that is, it’s still a tired sitcom mainstay.
Dee’s story, however, has a lot going for it if only for the two really amazing bits of physical violence inflicted upon her. One is beyond gross, the other is one of the most painful looking pratfalls I’ve ever seen. Both are hilarious.
Favorite bit: Poor Dee
Second favorite bit: Dennis and Mac admitting that they’ve tasted their own semen.
Episode Six: “The Gang Misses the Boat”
It doesn’t seem to matter how often we see Dennis, the Golden God, freak out while confronting the failures of his life. It’s always amazing. This is one of those episodes.
And yet, the main thing fans will remember from this episode is the sex that occurs between Charlie and Dee. After all these years, that was a shocker. I don’t know about you, but I found the pairing kind of hot.
This is an episode where pretty much everyone goes their separate ways. While Dennis has to deal with a world that doesn’t love him as much as he loves himself, Frank goes off to find a new gang. Meanwhile, Mac tries to get everyone to think he’s having sex with a really hot lady. None of it really adds up to much. On top of that, this idea that the gang is going to do whatever they want doesn’t actually originate from any event or have a central point. It’s like a blank episode. Nevertheless, that sex is some bombshell shit. I hope it happens again.
Favorite bit: Charlie finding inner strength enough to order his chicken sandwich with the beak on the side.
Second favorite bit: The running gag about Frank’s “Man-Cheetah” costume.
Episode Seven: “Mac Kills his Dad”
I’ve never been the biggest fan of episodes involving Mac’s parents. It’s Always Sunny is kind of a comedy version of Magnolia, where instead of being sad about how awful parents ruined their children, we get to laugh our asses off. But with Mac’s parents, their extreme lack of the love and affection Mac so desperately needs often bums me out too much. Also his dad is legitimately terrifying.
On top of that, I’m not overly fond of the Ponderosa’s. So I have to admit that this episode, which features healthy doses of my least favorite Sunny ingredients, rates pretty low for me. It’s like the ultimate anti-Evan episode.
Mac’s dad, who we haven’t seen in ages, is in jail for decapitating a guy with a stop sign. Mac and Charlie vow to get him out using tactics Charlie knows from Law & Order. They end up discovering his innocence but out the real killer in the process, leaving Mac’s dad to get murdered in jail for being a rat.
The B-story is much more interesting. Frank decides to start living a happier life. Right on time, Bill Ponderosa enters the bar on a mission to drink himself to death. At first Dee, Dennis, and Frank try to talk him out of it by focusing on the good things in life, which is a strange thing to see them do. When that fails, they decide to get a life insurance policy on him to at least cash in on his suicide. This is way more their speed, though it is dark enough for everyone to comment on what even they perceive as a new low.
Favorite bit: Bill Pondera’s son is a delight. “I don’t call him dad. I call him Mr. Cocksucker because he sucks so many cocks.”
Second favorite bit: Charlie’s mom describing the sex she had with Mac’s dad and his pal (before they kicked her our for their big finale together).
Episode Eight: “The Gang Goes on Family Fight”
This gimmick episode should be so much better than it is. Not only does it offer the gang a perfect opportunity to go nuts in one location, but it has Keegan-Michael Key all over the place (as well as A Madea Christmas’ Anna Maria Horsford). Sadly, it’s just okay.
There’s not a lot to explain. The gang (somehow) gets to go on a Family Feud-type game show called Family Fight. They fuck up in a variety of character-specific ways, none of which are as crazy or funny as you’d like. It’s not that the episode is bad, but it’s not the slam dunk you might expect. Actually, I’m being a brat. Moment to moment, it’s pretty funny.
Favorite bit: Frank is pretty good at the game and cannot stop dancing. Frank more or less owns the whole episode.
Second favorite bit: Dee breaks the buzzer with her gigantic buffalo hands.
Episode Nine: “Frank Retires”
While the gang enthusiastically explores the entertainment potential of a huge hole they find in the bar’s bathroom floor, Frank has a moment of clarity and decides he’s all done with this bullshit.
This leads everyone else to fight over Frank’s shares of Paddy’s Pub. Since Frank’s heir has the most right to the shares, and since everyone but Mac might be Frank’s kid (though Frank did adopt Mac), this leads Charlie and Mac to bring a literal bucket of Frank's blood to a doctor’s office for testing. Then Charlie and Dee try to do the same but with a shopping bag full of his blood. Then Mac gets a mouthwash bottle full of his blood just in case he needs it in the future. In short, Frank loses a shitload of blood in this episode.
This is basically all about the gang plotting against each other in what could be seen as a slight Game of Thrones parody. It hits some nice notes, but doesn’t rise to any great heights as an episode overall.
Favorite bit: I mean, all that blood.
Second favorite bit: Mac can’t keep from excitedly telling everyone that he’s playing both sides. This is about as dumb as I’ve ever seen the character.
Third favorite bit: Frank sleeps with his eyes open.
Episode Ten: “Ass Kickers United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult”
Mac and Charlie join a scientology type club called Ass Kickers United. One of their main rules (dictated via newsletter by “The Master”) is to not eat Thin Mints. It turns out the whole thing was something Dennis wrote up to keep Mac from eating all his cookies.
Dee wants Dennis to write a newsletter that will influence the cult to fix up Dennis and Mac’s apartment (burnt to a crisp last season). Frank wants him to get the members to eat a shit sandwich. Guess whose wish comes true. Also for some reason Dax Shepard is in the episode.
Whether by design or coincidence, It’s Always Sunny usually ends their seasons on a super high note. This episode is not that high note. It’s good, but nowhere near the high water mark offered by “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense” or “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry.” Someone does burn to death at the end, though.
Favorite bit: Frank’s obsession with getting someone to eat a shit sandwich.
Second favorite bit: Frank yelling from a different room to tell Dennis what’s going on: “Mac, Charlie, and a bunch of goons started a queer club!”
So that’s it. Out of ten episodes, we have three classics. That’s not a bad ratio for a later season. And there was growth! This year we found out that Frank adopted Mac, Rickety Cricket now has a burn scar for a face, Charlie and Dee had sex, and Frank dyes his hair. Also, Mac’s dad really might be dead now. Not too shabby for a show that’s been on ten years. No McPoyles, though.