It happens to the best of us. One day you’ll be watching a few episodes of a series and then next thing you know, you’re hooked. What started off as a passing interest quickly developed into watching episodes back to back to see what happens next and the hours have flown by. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the last series I’d expect to be ongoing for so long and to have 154 episodes under its belt. The main characters are unlikeable and largely irredeemable, there’s rarely an episode with a story that isn’t resolved by the end and it’s the sort of crass humour that any stand up would struggle to say without wondering where their life went wrong. Yet I’ve still ended up watching every episode, laughed a ridiculous amount and been emotionally blown away when the series takes a sudden sharp and powerful twist into drama. Would I recommend it though? Not without a huge amount of warnings and caveats.
For a little context, I’ve a very British sense of humour and I’m very grateful a new age of comedians are pulling it through into modern times without being racist, transphobic, misogynistic or just general assholes (there’s still plenty of assholes of course) I’ve re-watched Black Books and The Thick of It far too many times only to be made aware in later of years of those shows problems (It’s worth remembering there were 4 other writers for Black Books and there’s a reason for the drastic shift after Season 1 of The Thick of It) I was hooked on House from the get go and although that’s an American show Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of House’s nihilism brings a very British flavour to the series. The strange thing about It’s Always Sunny is that despite being as American as apple pie it has a feeling of a successful English sitcom.
The first series really sets the overall tone you can expect. The Netflix warnings are there for a reason as It’s Always Sunny makes its content very clear with such episode titles as, “The Gang Gets Racist”, “Gun Fever” and “Charlie Got Molested” You can expect a very formulaic setup for most episodes, a chat at the bar, someone off the cuff saying “nah never going to happen” or “we could do that”, the title saying it happens, hijinks, cringe, horror, a lot of drugs, sex, violence, a new flavour of offensive language and then either consequences for the gang or it simply ends. The strange thing about It’s Always Sunny is how it makes sure you’re not actually rooting for the main characters. It’s very clear from the go that Dennis is possibly on the path to being a serial killer throughout but there’s never a moment of “oh it’s because of these reasons and you should feel sorry for him” it’s just his character being exactly as he is and Glenn Howerton pulls of the incredible outbursts really well.
The acting throughout is the one surprise the series has in store though. All of the cast from Kaitin Olson, Rob McElhenney to Charlie Day portray every ridiculous situation with such determination and energy that gives It’s Always Sunny a feeling like it’s more of a documentary being told on the fly. When Frank is introduced (by the fantastic Danny DeVito) the episodes start to take on a more formulaic feel but it also paradoxically starts to become more experimental with how it tells each story. You can be watching the gang dealing with a store heist one moment and then the rest of the episode will be told in various types of animation. The episode “Mac Finds His Pride” has an incredible interpretive dance scene that it plays with conviction and seriousness that ends a season with powerful emotions. It’s Always Sunny does update as it progresses occasionally, from the dance episode onwards the long running ‘joke’ of Mac’s character coming out as gay only to go back to pretending to be straight is cast aside and it’s these series changes to the formula that hides how the edges are slowly softened as things progress.
Would I recommend you go watch it with gusto then? Probably not. It’s still incredibly sexist, dark and walking that fine line between outrageous and offensive. You should watch the first few episodes and if you don’t find yourself having a chuckle then it’s probably not for you. This isn’t a Miss Brown’s Boys level of humour though, the sort of show where you wonder how anyone could like any of these characters. In It’s Always Sunny you’re not supposed to like any of them. It’s not perfect but there’s this undeniable really dark spark of fantastic comedy from time to time that makes it incredibly enjoyable. There are some shockingly great stand out episodes such as the previously mentioned “Mac Finds His Pride”, “Charlie Work” and “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” There’s also a sense that It’s Always Sunny is clearly self aware of its flaws and even has a musical episode dedicated to Racism (which bizarrely guest stars Scott Bakula!) There’s an episode which features only the female cast and still manages to be brash and finish on a wickedly funny end. It’s odd, crass, awful at times and still worth a watch. Just have a quick look at those warnings at the top before going in.
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