Top 10 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
|LISTS - TV LISTS|
Love means never giving a friend an even break...
In 2004, three struggling actors, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day were not finding success by conventional means, and so decided to take matters into their own hands. The result was a short film based around a man trying to tell his friend he has cancer. After shopping the film to any studio that would see them, they received a commission, shot for less than $200, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was born.
Not since Seinfeld has a sitcom rewritten the rules so successfully and It’s Always Sunny is the first since to raise the bar that Seinfeld had set 7 years previously. Originally using the same format of three guys and a girl (Danny De Vito joins the cast in season two) living their day-to-day lives with no obvious season arc, It’s Always Sunny follows the trials and tribulations as the main characters do everything they can to screw each other over for their own gains. Each episode weaves its magic with no stone left unturned, focusing on a variety of subject matter: drugs, sexuality, child abuse or race...
10: ‘Mac and Dennis Break Up’ (Season 5 – Episode 9)
As a retort to being mocked about getting a cat, Sweet Dee proposes that the reliance Mac and Dennis have on each other is a little less than healthy. Dennis takes this to heart and attempts to act on this, forcing Mac to move out. This disrupts the delicate balance of Charlie and Frank’s relationship as Mac muscles in on them and begins reordering their apartment and lives. Dee is forced to intervene when the rearranged partnerships ruin her apartment trying to retrieve her lost cat.
It is testament to the creativity of the writing staff of It’s Always Sunny that they can go five seasons and still produce hilarious episodes based purely on the relationships and interactions of the main characters. The parallels between Mac and Dennis’ dependencies and those of an elderly married couple are none too subtle and all too fragile.
9: ‘Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare’ (Season 2 – Episode 3)
Dennis and Dee’s refusal to work for Frank as he tries to instigate a new regime at the bar sees them quit in an attempt to chase their dreams of veterinary sciences and acting, respectively. When they discover they qualify for Unemployment Benefit however, they begin to indulge in the life of the unemployed and resort to drug use to try and abuse the welfare system. Meanwhile Mac and Charlie try to manipulate the welfare system to meet their own ends. They try to recruit 'slaves' to do the dirty work in the bar before resorting to robbing Frank’s money in order to get away from his insistence that they need a father figure.
As Frank Reynolds begins to find his patriarchal role in the show, It’s Always Sunny takes its own unique angle on unemployment, slavery and drug abuse. The public debate between Mac and Charlie over the racial connotations of the word 'slave' before openly debating the practicality of candidates like shop merchandise is a particular highlight.
8: ‘The Gang Reignites the Rivalry’ (Season 5 – Episode 12)
While Frank tries to stay youthful by strutting around in his skinny jeans, Dee reveals the bar have been permitted to re-enter a flip-cup competition, Flipadelphia, a competition they were barred from 10 years previously for poisoning their rivals. The gang try to stir up the competition by paying their old rivals a visit and causing a commotion. When the gang inform Dee she will not be part of the team, Dennis returns to his old college stomping ground to recruit a new member. When he and Frank are both punked by the younger members of the frat, Mac and Charlie assume control of the recruitment process, only to be punked themselves. After vandalising their original rival’s home the gang realise that their rivals are actually the younger hooligans from the frat and challenge them to a round of flip-cup.
Throughout the episode Dennis tries to cling to his allusion of legendary status over at the frat, while Frank also tries to connect with the youth by donning his skinny jeans and Mac and Charlie regret not having attended college in the first place. The episode shows the gang’s determination to remain the biggest badasses on the block, resorting to any means necessary to get one over on the competition.
7: ‘Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life’ (Season 4 – Episode 9)
When Charlie finds Dennis’ memoirs of his fabricated love life, Dee abuses Charlie about his poor life choices. They argue about who has the harder life by walking a mile in each others’ lives, attempting stand-up in Dee’s quest to become an actress and spending a night in Charlie’s rat-infested apartment building. Meanwhile Mac and Frank try to recreate the stories in Dennis’ book so that they can sell the book, forcing him into rehab and trying to contact Jon Bon Jovi.
This episode attempts to shed a little more light on the day to day trials and tribulations of Charlie and Dee, whilst also providing another classic example of the distances the gang (in this case Frank and Mac) are willing to go with exploiting their friends in order to make a quick buck. A quality cameo of a sociopathic Sinbad and sidekick Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 make this episode stand out.
6: ‘The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby’ (Season 3 – Episode 1)
While Dennis is extolling the virtues of a green lifestyle after watching An Inconvenient Truth (2006), he discovers an abandoned baby in a dumpster. Despite the rest of the gang’s indifference to this discovery, Mac tries to take the high ground by informing the others he will raise the baby. He forces Dee to help him and eventually do all the work. When someone compliments them on the marketability, they go to extreme ends to make Dumpster Baby, or DB for short, a star. Meanwhile Charlie and Mac accompany Dennis to the local dump as he is intent on doing some good in the world. He attempts to participate in a recycling drive at the local dump; however, when he is insulted by one of the hippies already there, he begins an elaborate plot to gain revenge. Charlie and Frank become obsessed with the rubbish at the dump and begin collecting it from any source, leading to a complicated revelation about Charlie’s parents.
This episode is a classic example of a common jumping-off point leading to several independent plots that It’s Always Sunny does so well. All the characters’ experiences relate to a single variable, but vary considerably without ever losing the humour in any one strand.
5: ‘Who Pooped the Bed’ (Season 4 – Episode 7)
As Dee tries to emulate the lavish lifestyles of the Sex and the City stars, Charlie and Frank enter arguing about who has defecated in the bed. When the guys try to discover who has been responsible by intricate and analytic methods, Dee begins frequenting cocktail bars and posh fashion stores, but cannot escape the mysterious poop method. When she returns to the bar, a murder-mystery, parlour-style flashback sequence begins, as Artemis unravels the mystery.
Artemis Pebdani steals the show in this episode with her enthusiastic and complicated revelation detailing the characters’ motivations to frame each other for pooping the bed. The style and theme of the episode differs from any other, as they parody the classic murder-mystery genre in typical Sunny fashion.
4: ‘The Gang Dances Their Asses Off’ (Season 3 – Episode 15)
When Frank tries to apply some business-sense to the bar by having the gang fill out employee evaluations and establishing a ranking system, Charlie announces he has signed the bar up to a Dance Marathon hosted by a local radio station. The only catch is, he has signed the bar up as a prize to the winner. When the gang’s old enemies the Waitress and Rickety Cricket show up to try and win the bar back for themselves, the gang teams up to ensure they keep the bar, but eventually descends into a scheming cauldron of backstabbing and plotting.
This episode might be the quintessential It’s Always Sunny episode, set exclusively in the bar, and the way each character tries to screw over every other sums up why It’s Always Sunny is the funniest show on TV. Classic episode.
3: ‘Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth’ (Season 6 – Episode 9)
When Charlie and Dee find new jobs as a janitor and substitute drama teacher at the local high school, the rest of the gang struggle to find something to do and end up discussing the racial implications of blackface. Dee lets down her drama class after promising to take them to New York to see a Broadway show and resorts to taking the kids to Paddy’s to watch Lawrence Oliver’s Othello. Instead Mac, Dennis and Frank decide to screen their own version of Lethal Weapon 5 as a modern example of blackface, when Mac switches to playing Murtaugh in full blackface. The success of the move inspires Charlie’s Juggalo protégé Ritchie to swap his clown makeup for blackface, which ends both Charlie and Dee’s educational careers.
This episode deserves its place on the list purely for the movie within an episode. Lethal Weapon 5 is both side-splittingly funny and strangely faithful to the Lethal Weapon series. The license with which the concept of blackface is discussed never truly borders on racism, but is subtly daring in the way it addresses the issue of blackface in cinema.
2: ‘The Nightman Cometh’ (Season 4 – Episode 13)
Charlie announces that he has written a musical developed from a previous episode’s ('Sweet Dee is Dating a Retarded Person') musical. As rehearsals begin, the gang immediately begin putting their own twists on Artemis’ literate version of Charlie’s script. Charlie promises the Waitress that he will leave her alone if she will attend the play at a local theatre. When the performance starts, Charlie springs a last-minute surprise on the cast: he will not be playing the piano, which worries the gang. Dee slots in her own song at the first opportunity to try and entice any interested men, and Mac informs Dennis that he is not going for laughs but scares. After the final scene, Charlie descends onto the stage to propose to the Waitress in a musical fashion, which she flatly declines.
When most TV shows resort to a musical episode, it is usually a sign that the writing is beginning to become a little tedious, relying on song and dance aspects to fill a hole recently vacated by humour or story detail. It’s Always Sunny, though, in typical fashion, shuns this convention and instead slots the musical aspect into the story and produces a genius performance of bad acting and the perpetual need for each character to chase their own ends. The show was so successful that the cast of Sunny embarked on a tour with an expanded live show based on 'The Nightman Cometh'.
1: ‘Who Got Dee Pregnant?’ (Season 6 – Episode 7)
When planning their night in the museum, Dee informs the gang that she is pregnant and one of the gang is the father. She leaves them in shock to try and put together their collective fragmented memories of the Halloween fancy dress party and figure out who impregnated Dee. Each character tells their own version of events in varying degrees of accuracy and exaggerated self-image. When none are conclusive, Artemis is invited to tell her story before finally resorting to visit the infamous McPoyle brothers for a sober account of the night. The shock of their revelation causes the gang to rush to Dee’s apartment for desperate measures.
Before starting filming for the sixth season, Kaitlin Olson became pregnant with husband Rob McElhenney’s child, and caused confusion as to whether or not she could commit to a new series. Instead the gang decided to fold the pregnancy into the series and utilize it in a way only It’s Always Sunny can. This episode explains more about how the characters view themselves and their experiences thanks to the introduction of the “brown out” term. The subtle development of a few running jokes throughout the episode adds layers to the story-line that put this episode in at number one. It's testament to the brilliance of the show that their greatest episode is also one of their most recent. Here’s hoping to a revised list after next season.
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