When “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” debuted in 2005, it was the plucky underdog of the FX comedy lineup. Devout fans will remember the first season, sans Danny DeVito. It was gritty, rough around the edges, and decidedly hilarious, but still budgeted at less than a third of the network standard per episode. Show creators (and stars) Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney filmed the original pilot on a digital camcorder in their own apartments.
Calling a show like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” a labor of love is an unexpected understatement: It has launched the careers of its four once-unknown stars (DeVito excluded), and has become the longest-running live-action American sitcom. With so many episodes to pore over before diving into Season 16, let’s take a walk down memory lane to look at some of the episodes that make you laugh — but also make you question your humanity.
‘Charlie Gets Crippled’ (S2, E1)
“It’s Always Sunny” will make you laugh at all kinds of things you shouldn’t. The protagonists (or, rather, antagonists) frequently find themselves in the thick of all manner of questionable-at-best schemes, such as pretending to have a disability to get free lap dances at a strip club.
This episode is DeVito’s first as a member of the Gang, and what an introduction we get — one full of faked disabilities, drunk driving, and unwitting victims dealing with the consequences. We also get the genesis of the friendship between Frank (DeVito) and Charlie (Charlie Day) that gives us so many laugh-till-you-cry moments.
The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis’ (S4, E2)
The Gang has plenty of ideas, most of which are of dubious quality. Filling a bunch of trash cans with gasoline, loading them into Frank’s van, and driving around as door-to-door gasoline salesmen is among the most dubious.
This episode gives us some classic misplaced feelings of seductive prowess from Mac (McElhenney), Dennis (Howerton), and Charlie as they try to finance their business endeavor. They eventually gut Dee’s (Kaitlin Olson) life savings after a bank teller refuses their advances. The rest of the plan goes up in smoke, literally, as the van wrecks because Charlie cut the brake lines.
‘The Nightman Cometh’ (S4, E13)
In a lot of ways, Charlie is the unwitting victim of the rest of the Gang — he can’t read, he’s easily manipulated, and, like the rest of them, he isn’t the sharpest crayon in the chandelier. “The Nightman Cometh,” however, gives the audience insight into just how long Charlie has been a victim and what, exactly, he’s been a victim of.
Naturally, the best way to explore these themes is via Charlie writing and producing a musical, with help from resident theater-weirdo Artemis (Artemis Pebdani). Casting the Gang proves to be the downfall of Charlie’s production, but at least it left us all laughing — even if his musical, “The Nightman Cometh,” flopped.
‘The D.E.N.N.I.S. System’ (S5, E10)
If “The Nightman Cometh” gave us a glimpse into Charlie’s mind, “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” gave us a glimpse into Dennis’s. But where opening the door to Charlie’s mind portrays him as a victim of heavy abuse, our look into Dennis’s mind shows us that he likely has many victims.
This episode makes you wonder about all the times Dennis said something a little off, but you still laughed anyway. What are the darker implications — wait, no, that’s a different episode — of his comments and the actions they refer to?
‘How Mac Got Fat’ (S7, E10)
“Fat Mac” was a hallmark of Season 7 and the butt of tons of jokes, and the character internalized it all to the point of feeling the need to confess to a priest that he’s fat. In the next breath, he demands that God smite his friends since they’re to blame for his weight gain.
We see what happens to each of the characters as they devolve into their own delusions about their roles in Paddy’s Pub’s recent bout of success. The real victim is the priest to whom Mac confesses.
‘The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award’ (S9, E3)
“It’s Always Sunny” wasn’t an overnight success, despite developing a cult following and garnering critical acclaim. The show has been regularly snubbed by the Primetime Emmy Awards, and, like Frank asks in this episode, “You know what’s lame? Being around this long and never getting an award. It makes you look like a bunch of assholes!”
True to form, the Gang attempts to play the game and win the Restaurant and Bar Association’s Best Bar Award. Like audiences have come to expect, it all goes awry, and the Gang fails to win the award. It’s Charlie’s impromptu Paddy’s Pub jingle that steals the show at the end, and it makes you wonder: What good are awards anyway? When in doubt, spit on your critics.