On Wednesday night It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia kicks off it’s 12th season. 12 seasons. If you’re keeping score, that’s a lot, especially for a live-action show. The show is currently set to run for at least two more seasons, a run that would tie it with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest running live-action comedy in the history of television. Back when the show premiered in 2005, it would have been hard to imagine such a run was possible. But in all fairness, it would have been just as hard to imagine a priest becoming a homeless drug addict or the American mystery of who exactly cracked the Liberty Bell being solved.
It’s Always Sunny has become one of those rare television shows that bring with it a complete sense of mystery. You never know what it is going to happen when an episode starts. Sure as the years have gone on, patterns and tendencies are there. But ultimately, the lack of any kind of season-long narrative as well as a willingness by the show’s creators, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, to take as many risks as possible, has created a culture where anything is possible, the zigs often zag, the zags often zig and that definitely wasn’t a laxative you just drank. That coupled with the routine of producing ten episode seasons have helped the show keep on trucking as it enters it’s back nine and definitely kicks the door open on the possibility of the show running even longer than 14 seasons.
With over one hundred episodes out there, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But I did. And on top of that, I put together a list of, what are in my humble opinion, the 15 best episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
15. ‘Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense’ (season 8, episode 10)
As a fan of eating cereal, I can respect Dennis’ desire to bring his breakfast with him as he drives to work. But at the same time, it is a little reckless and unsafe. It’s just not as reckless and unsafe as driving a car without functioning eye sight and being guided by Charlie’s instructions delivered via tape. And thus, the episode’s premise is laid out, leading to a courtroom battle of sorts, pitting Dennis against Frank as Dennis is demanding Frank cover the costs of cleaning Dennis’ car. Charlie gets to play lawyer, which is always a bonus, but the true high point of the episode is Mac’s evisceration of science and evolution in an attempt to make himself seem like a credible witness.
Episode MVP: Mac
14. ‘The Gang Gets Analyzed’ (season 8, episode 5)
Who is going to do the dishes results in impromptu therapy sessions for each member of the gang with Dee’s therapist. This leads to revelations such as Mac’s infatuation with putting things in his mouth and what that might mean, Charlie is actually fairly normal, provided he’s comfortable in his own skin which of course leads to Charlie assuming the key to normalcy is getting more skin and Frank’s donkey brain past. The therapist, played by Kerri Kinney-Silver, an alum of The State and Reno: 911, is particularly concerned about Dennis and his role over the group, especially Mac. You know, because Dennis is a psychopath.
Episode MVP: The therapist
13. ‘The Gang Runs for Office’ (season 2, episode 8)
Dennis runs for comptroller, despite not knowing what a comptroller does (join the club,) Charlie briefly serves as his campaign manager and Frank uses Dee to try to solicit a bribe from the current comptroller. Oh and Mac tries to solicit bribes from a local union without much luck. Garbage Pail Kids cards are also involved, as are secret parking lot meetings a la All the President’s Men.
Episode MVP: Charlie
12. ‘Mac Day’ (season 9, episode 5)
For some reason that I can’t totally remember, the gang has decided that each member gets a day where the rest of the gang has to act and live like them. This is what gives us Mac day, a day in celebration of Mac that includes “bad ass” stunts, warped Catholicism, beef cakes and karate. And because it’s Mac Day, that means no sleeves. But it also means we get to meet Country Mac, Mac’s cousin, played by Seann William Scott, who is a natural incarnation of all of Mac’s desires. For example, whereas Mac makes it look like he jumped off a bridge for a Project: Bad Ass video, Country Mac just goes and does it, all with a beer in hand.
Episode MVP: Country Mac
11. ‘Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire’ (season 3, episode 8)
Pissed that his self-described epic rant to a local TV news reporter was largely left out, Mac and Charlie decide to make their own news show which leads them to finding out what really goes on in a nursing home (spoiler: racism and food stealing) before they end up in Chinatown, where they don’t find flying ninjas, but a Wii tennis tournament. Dennis and Dee become club kids and the age old question of what time it is finally has a suitable answer.
Episode MVP: Charlie’s video camera
10. ‘The Gang Buys a Boat’ (season 6, episode 3)
Thanks to the money that dicktowel.com brought in, the gang elects to buy a boat. Instead of a “P-Diddy style shrimping vessel” they end up with a junker in need of some repair because it turns out $2500 ain’t much in the boat game. This episode is memorable for two main reasons. The first is Dennis’ explanation for bringing women out on the boat and the “implication” that comes with it and the second is the everlasting visual of Dee dancing with the inflatable mounted on the top of the boat.
Episode MVP: The implication
Intermission Number 1: Season One Ranked
The show’s first season stands alone because it A) doesn’t include Danny DeVito and B) is largely the show finding itself. It’s kind of like the first season of The Office. It’s also short; only seven episodes, and seeing as how I felt bad not including any episodes from it in the top 15, I thought I would rank them separately.
7. ‘Charlie Wants an Abortion’
6. ‘Charlie Got Molested’
5. ‘Charlie Has Cancer’
4. ‘The Gang Finds a Dead Guy’
3. ‘Gun Fever’
2. ‘The Gang Gets Racist’
1. ‘Underage Drinking: A National Concern’
Back to the top 15…
9. ‘The Gang Gets Whacked’ (season 3, episodes 12/13)
This two parter features the following: a speaker full of coke, mafia dudes in track suits, male escorts, negotiable boundaries on ass play, a shady dude named Bingo, horny horse jockeys and a horse named Peter Nincompoop. I think that about covers it.
Episode MVP: Charlie & Dee
8. ‘The D.E.N.N.I.S. System’ (season 5, episode 10)
Dennis isn’t just a ladies man, he’s a good friend. And because he’s such a good friend, he volunteers to teach his method of seduction to the gang. His method is as sick and sadistic as expected: Demonstrate value>Engage physically>Nurture dependence>Neglect emotionally>Inspire hope>Separate entirely. We also learn that Mac’s strategy is to swoop in once Dennis is done with them and then Frank comes in with some Magnum condoms and a wad of hundreds. Charlie naturally butchers the process and Dee becomes paranoid that her boyfriend, Ben the Soldier, is currently Dennis-ing her. In the end Dee gets stabbed by a carney, Dennis is trotting out a fake grandmother and a diagnosis from Dr. Mantis Toboggan reveals that Dennis has AIDS.
Episode MVP: Dennis
7. ‘The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award’ (season 9, episode 3)
The show goes meta with this episode as the bar (the show) wonders why they’ve never won an award, despite being around for so long. The episode than becomes a commentary on sitcom tropes and stereotypes as Dennis tries to gussy up Paddy’s to look less like Paddy’s and more like the kind of bars that do win awards (i.e. less fringe, some will they or won’t they tension and a token black friend.) Charlie even shoots for the Best Song award (that doesn’t exist, but of course it exists because “there’s always a best song”) with a Randy Newman-style song that by the end of the episode, feels and sounds more appropriate.
Episode MVP: Charlie
6. ‘Mac & Charlie Die’ (season 4, episodes 5/6)
Another two-part episode and another time when the looming threat of death dictates the gang’s action. This time it’s the belief that Mac’s imprisoned dad is going to murder them that forces Mac and Charlie to fake their own death and live as hobos…on the roof of Paddy’s. Dennis takes the opportunity to find a new roommate and explore the anonymous sex adventures that the glory hole they found in the bar’s bathroom has inspired him to pursue. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in the episode, but it’s ultimately a tie between Mac & Charlie’s “death” and their attempt to shock everyone with the revelation that they’re alive, something that doesn’t surprise Dennis at all.
“I could hear you guys rustling around in the vents. You were speaking at full volume. Okay? Did you think you were being like crafty? And I could see you staring at me through the window. You know I can see through my windows, right? I wanted to piss you off.”
Episode MVP: Poppers
5. ‘The World Series Defense’ (season 5, episode 6)
Charlie is a man of many versions of himself and in ‘The World Series Defense’ we get two of them – green man and Charlie the lawyer. We learn that Mac (like most us who are Phillies’ fans) is a pretty serious fan of Chase Utley, but that he lacks the upper body strength to scale the facade of Citizens Bank Park. There’s riot punch, there’s the Phillie
Fanatic Phrentic and in the end, a room full of dead bodies underneath the Holiday Inn next to the ball park.
Episode MVP: Mac’s letter to Chase Utley
4. ‘The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention’ (season 5, episode 4)
Since he joined the gang at the start of season two, Frank has gone at it pretty hard and this comes to a head in this episode, in which he gets the gang to attend a picnic in the park. The picnic ends up being the funeral of his brother-in-law and his endgame is to bang his dead ex-wife’s sister, all while “roasting this bone.” The gang decides they’ve had enough and look to stage an intervention, although Charlie’s issue isn’t Frank’s debauchery, but that he doesn’t do it with Charlie anymore. Frank’s ideas do get some love though, mainly his move of drinking wine out of a soda can, a move Mac enjoys because of his strong gestures while making a point.
Episode MVP: Wine in a can
3. ‘The Nightman Cometh’ (season 4, episode 13)
In ‘Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person’ from season three, we got the debut of two Charlie Kelly originals, “The Nightman” and “The Dayman.” Naturally the show expanded the songs into a musical in which a young boy is basically molested by mythical creatures, although the exact interpretation of the musical is a source of constant debate. What’s not up for debate is Charlie’s motivation – to impress the Waitress, something he again fails at doing.
Episode MVP: Charlie
2. ‘The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis’ (season 4, episode 2)
The calling card for this episode is Charlie yelling “wildcard bitches” and while that’s enough to get it this high, the entire episode is a great example of story-telling and the ways in which the show could actually be viewed as Seinfeld on crack. A scheme is devised, a scheme is attempted to be carried out and a scheme blows up (literally) in everyone’s faces. On a side note, it’s important to make sure you can see out of your homemade surveillance van. I can’t stress that enough.
Episode MVP: Charlie
Intermission Number 2: Honorable Mention
Before we wrap up, here are three episodes that just missed the cut.
‘Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass’ (season 2, episode 9)
“The Gang Gets Invincible’ (season 3, episode 2)
‘Mac & Dennis Break Up’ (season 5, episode 9)
1. ‘Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens’ (season 5, episode 8)
As hard as it was to pick a number 1, I give it to this classic and do so with little to no reservations. The episode is somewhat of an anomaly as it features everyone essentially rowing in the same direction – trying to cash in on the marketing of Paddy’s, whether it’s with dick towels, shotguns full of booze, an egg or most notably, mittens for noisy cats to wear. I don’t know if this is the best episode, but it’s my favorite, if only for the sound of Charlie asking if your cat makes too much noise makes me smile every goddamn time.