The new season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia kicked off this week. The premiere episode didn’t really fire on all cylinders, even if it did offer its share of laughs — but that shouldn’t take away from what the show has accomplished so far.
Keeping a sitcom running for 14 seasons is extremely uncommon. But not only has the series retained essentially the same cast and top creative team for its entire run, it never really declined. It’s remained highly-rated and critically praised, with next to zero whispers among its fans that the show has lost its fastball.
Sunny debuted in August of 2005. For reference, that was a couple of weeks before the landfall of Hurricane Katrina.
In the years since, it has straddled massive cultural changes in what’s considered offensive and beyond-the-pale. It’s also managed to appeal equally to those who live a lifestyle similar to “The Gang,” and those inclined to mock the sort of people who do, as it continues to toe the line between Philadelphia specificity and storytelling that plays beyond.
The show’s longstanding formula of rapidly escalating chaos that builds throughout the episode is uniquely robust (a fun trick is to turn on the episode five minutes from the end, and enjoy that madness completely devoid of context).
Sure, cast members are beginning to branch out. Charlie Day had a run as a movie star, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson have each starred in multi-season network sitcoms, and Day and creator Rob McElhenney have a new show coming to Apple’s TV service. But the team has remained committed to Sunny. Despite an 18-month break between the 12th and 13th seasons, Year 14 is launching just over 12 months after last season did.
‘Gruesome twosome seek exotic Europeans’
Wednesday night’s kickoff ep was titled “The Gang Gets Romantic.” (Warning: some spoilers ahead.)
We begin in Paddy’s Pub, where we learn Charlie and Frank are searching for a new AirBnB tenant, complete with a flier advertising “gruesome twosome seek exotic Europeans for week long rental in luxurious one room apartment,” listing the email address as “F.Reynolds@warthog-orgyfart.edu.”
It turns out Mac and Dennis have a similar plan, with Mac planning to set up a “meet cute,” in the tradition of romantic comedies.
However, neither scheme quite comes to fruition. The attractive woman who answers Dennis’ ad brings along a husband, as well as a very sad secret, as Mac continues his series-long penchant of mis-applying movie tropes to real-life situations.
The pair of what Frank and Charlie assume are attractive women (“Alexi and Nikki”) turn out to be Eastern European men. They’re soon replaced by a couple of actual ladies, who turn out to be drug addicts, leaving the guys missing their departed friends.
The Dennis/Mac/Dee plot is another classic Sunny standby, where the characters come up with an elaborate scheme that falls apart upon first contact with non-Gang regular people. Here, it should be clear to the audience relatively early on that the repeatedly mentioned “Teddy,” rather than a past lover, is the couple’s dead son, and that it’s not likely either half of the couple is going to have much interest in a sexual assignation with Dennis or Mac.
This plot doesn’t land so well. The dead kid angle is a little dark, even for Always Sunny — although setting Mac’s romantic speech to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” a la Say Anything, was an inspired choice.
The Frank/Charlie plot, meanwhile, is the latest riff on the series’ decade-old running joke about Charlie and Frank living together in abject filth, while similarly satirizing the sort of real estate listings that would describe such a domicile as “luxury.” The plot has a decent punchline, though, which includes a surprising homage to the Ethan Hawke movie Before Sunrise.
The best joke of the episode, though, is a meta one, as one scene cuts away from Dee while she’s in the middle of an impassioned speech about how “men are not in charge anymore.”
– “The Gang Gets Romantic” was directed by Howerton, and written by McElhenney and Day.
– Yes, that’s Timm Sharp, from Undeclared, as Greg, the male half of the couple who rents from Dennis and Mac.
– In terms of local color, the episode features an establishing shot of the fountain at the Art Museum, but then strangely cuts to a scene of Frank and Charlie running into the “City Bus Terminal.” It also scores the bus station scene with “Secret Garden,” which is the Bruce Springsteen song from Jerry Maguire, rather than “The Streets of Philadelphia,” which Bruce recorded for Philadelphia.
– The Sunny crew didn’t do a major, weeks-long location shoot in the area this year, as it has in past seasons, but of course we all saw McElhenney catch the first pitch, in character as Mac, when the Phillies honored Chase Utley back in June. You can expect that to come up at some point this season.
Next week: The Oct. 2 episode is called “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool” in which, per the episode description, “The gang is determined to restore glory and traditional American values back into a movie franchise.”