It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia still finds fertile ground after Twelve Seasons.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY in Philadelphia finished its twelfth season last week and it has been one of memorable episodes, breakthrough character moments & a continuing dissent into chaos by Dee, Charlie, Dennis, Mac and Frank. It is also the season that marks the moment when I run out of ways to say ‘it’s amazing that the standard is still so high after twelve seasons’. Because it is. One of the reasons it is still great is that it continues to take risks. There are episodes like ‘The Gang Goes to a Water Park’, ‘Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare’, or ‘PTSDee’ are all fantastic classic farcical outings for the gang. There are also episodes like ‘Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer’, ‘Hero or Hate Crime’, or even ‘The Gang Tends Bar’ which takes the show out of its comfort zones.
Some of these risks are honourable failures: ‘The Gang Turns Black’, while an entertaining romp is locked into a foregone conclusion: It was all a dream. I’m sure I don’t need to say just how fucking irritating ‘it was all a dream’ is as a narrative. On one level, it’s dissatisfying as an ending to any narrative. On the other, it just gets dreams wrong, where are the giant dancing pandas with the face of your father. That’s what a dream looks like. Or at least what mine always do. (I liked it but then I’m a sucker for musical episodes – TV ed.) A Cricket’s Tale is also a bit of a missed opportunity, taking the character of a fallen priest who’s luck continues to degrade as he associates with the gang, and giving him a story all of his own could further show just how awful his life is and the consequences of the gang’s actions. Instead character motivations are missing and the heart-breaking nature of what Cricket’s life could be is never fully realised.
That being said, this season was hugely successful in its decisions regarding Mac. Mac has been defined for while by his traits of barely covered rage as well as repressed homosexuality. The episode ‘Hero or Hate’ crime addresses this head on. The final act of the episode sees Mac openly admit that he’s gay (admittedly, fuelled by greed), and in doing so that puts to bed part of his journey. However, after this episode Mac is much the same, essentially with the same traits, weaknesses, foibles and awful behaviour, but more honest about finding men attractive. The miracle of this writing is that he’s not absolved. You can continue to love the character for the same reason that you love any of the others: He’s a fucking car crash. He doesn’t become a representative for a community, but continues to be the obnoxious arsehole we’ve come to know.
It’s Always Sunny has reached a point that many long-running Sitcoms reach, where the characters become quite broad and cartoonish. They have become grotesque in their quirks, foibles and all round shittiness. This is a group of people stranded together, on a closed circuit, always on the verge of ripping each other’s eyes out, but never doing so. We join them after what logically would happen to this group: after they’ve alienated themselves from nearly everyone they know, because they’re awful. So wouldn’t it make sense that they become a bit more unhinged now that there’s less people to impress? Their world is mainly stagnant, but the rest of the world has moved beyond them.
To recycle part of an essay I got a first for, (marked by a genuine professor, so suck it Miss Burton of Year 2, Bush Hill Park Primary School. WHO NEEDS EXTRA TUITION NOW?): Aristotle writes in Poetics that comedy is an ‘imitation of persons who are inferior: not however going all the way into full villainy but imitating the ugliness of which the ludicrous is one part’. This is certainly true of ‘the gang’, all of whom are terrible narcissists and unpleasant people, but none are really evil. Frank is a disgusting business man, Charlie is a sexually obsessive oppressed simpleton, Mac is a sexually repressed aggressive Christian, Dee is a failed dreamer and Dennis is the insecure ‘golden God’. That said, much of the comedy does come from the strange and important ramifications of their actions, and how will never affect those five characters but those around them will suffer: A priest becomes homeless, humiliates himself for money and eventually gets half his face burned off because of the actions of ‘the gang’, while a stripper accidently gyrates his junk in front of his daughter’s face, causing old family wounds to open. ‘The gang’ live in an Aristotelian bubble, while the rest of the world goes on around them. According to Aristotle, tragedy did not have to be sad and comedy did not have to be funny. They are, in Aristotle’s mind, structures and plots, they are not Genre. To him ‘Tragedy is a process of imitating an action which has serious implications, is complete and possesses magnitude; by means of language which has mean made sensuously attractive’. The gang lives in a comedy, but they’ve turned the world around them into a tragedy. There can, surely, be no happy ending for them.
But what of an ending? Twelve seasons is quite a feat by any television series, particularly as the nature of television changes from episodic installments to long form on-demand acted out novels you can dip in and dip out of when you feel. The same trials and tribulations occur to any series with this much clout as it goes on, like Sherlock, the stars move on to bigger and (possibly) better things. Charlie Day is in plenty of movies (some of which are, admittedly, terrible), and Rob McElhenney is about to direct the Minecraft movie, Kaitlin Olson has The Mick on Fox. Can they commit to the series and their other projects? Where else can the series go without jumping the shark or revealing the Principal to be an imposter? Perhaps it should have one more amazing season and then go? All that being said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And It’s Always Sunny definitely isn’t broke. Some of this season has been lacking the sharpness of earlier ones, there are some missed opportunities it could have exploited more, but it’s still a good series. While it’s still one of America’s comedy exports, why stop? Even if it does deteriorate with time, it will always have had twelve great series behind it, and I hope for many more. It is as it always has been: filth, quick, and pure schadenfreude-packed fun.