As season 11 of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia hits the airwaves on FXX in America (and us Brits sit patiently waiting for the latest mis-adventures of the guys from Paddy’s Pub to arrive on Netflix), here’s my Top 10 episodes of one of the darkest, bleakest, consistently funny sitcoms of the last decade.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a show that was recommended to me by a few different people, but until Netflix came into my life, I didn’t have the access to it. A year ago I got Netflix, and I’ve binge watched the show 3 times since. I’ve never seen a show like it – not since The League Of Gentlemen have I wanted to spend time with such horrible people! Moreover, the fact that it can be so fresh and funny after 8, 9, and 10 years is a testament to the writers. Check out the recent disappointment of The League’s seventh season, or the flatness of The Office’s later seasons, to see shows that have long overstayed their welcome.
You will see from this list that my Top 10 contains five episodes from season 4, which I guess makes it my favourite season. But, not since I made my Treehouse of Horrors Top 10 have I had so much difficultly selecting a list. Honestly, this was nearly a top 40 list, and I reckon if I did this list again in 6 months it could have at least 5 different episodes in there.
So, and I know it’s a cheat to include them anyway, just missing out on the Top 10:
“Charlie Wants An Abortion” (Season 1, Episode 2) – Mac and Dennis jumping either side of the abortion debate simply to get laid is typical, but the characters are still very raw.
“The Gang Dances Their Asses Off” (Season 3, Episode 15) – Charlie puts the ownership of pub on the line in a dance marathon. The small touches (like the way the gang dance with smaller and smaller motions) make this great. Only missing out on the top 10 because the story peaks quite early and doesn’t build to an ending.
“The Gang Wrestles For The Troops” (Season 5, Episode 7) – Sweet Dee starts an online romance with an American soldier, which inspire the gang to put on a patriotic show for the troops – and what’s more patriotic than wrestling? Roddy Piper as “The Maniac” is great, but having attended plenty of local wrestling events, I can assure you the Birds of War would be over like gangbusters.
“The Gang Get Analyzed” (Season 8, Episode 5) – A simple question (who should do the dishes?) results in the entire gang visiting Dee’s therapist, and we get to see an insight into their individual minds. Apart from Mac however, the sessions are a bit of a shortcut to tell some jokes about the characters. Still, very funny!
“The Gang Make Lethal Weapon 6” (Season 9, Episode 9) – The gag is stretched slightly too far to a full episode, but it’s packed full of jokes (like Mac’s constant explaining of the plot) and one of my favourites.
“Charlie Goes America All Over Everyone’s Asses” (Season 2, Episode 9) – Dennis’ creepy way of explaining the difference between “crazy girls” and “girls going crazy”, the McPoyle brothers…and McPoyle sister, ROCK FLAG AND EAGLE! Also, the first episode with Frank living on the edge, which became the template for his later character.
“Mac And Dennis Break Up” (Season 5, Episode 9) – Dee points out the co-dependence of Mac and Dennis, which causes both of them to go their separate ways and ruin the lives of the rest of the gang. A brilliant little look at the only relationship that could actually be called “friendship” in the group.
“The Gang Beat Boggs” (Season 10, Episode 1) – A brilliant episode, their version of a bottle episode as the gang try to drink 70 beers on a flight from Philadelphia to California. Loads of little character beats from each actor make this special.
“Sweet Dee Is Dating A Retarded Person” (Season 3, Episode 9) – Sweet Dee’s attempts to be more than just a barmaid makes for some great stories, and her dating a local rapper is derailed by the rumours that the gang spread (and of course, her own self-sabotaging). Mac, Charlie, and Frank attempting to start a band is hilarious… and all too familiar! Charlie’s first draft of Nightman is hilariously rape-y.
“Hundred Dollar Baby” (Season 2, Episode 5) – Sweet Dee trains in self defense when the gang runs off when they are mugged, which results in her and Frank heading to his old boxing gym. Charlie becomes an underground fighter. Charlie and Dee end up taking… some short cuts. Really funny training montage!
And before we get to the Top 10, a little music:
10 – “Mac And Charlie Die” (Season 4, Episode 5/6)
Any suggestions that I ranked this at number 10 just so that I could extend my list to a top 11 are totally untrue! Mac’s dad is released from prison, and Mac and Charlie assume that he is going to kill them, especially when they speak against him at his parole hearing. They only have two options – suicide or faking their own death. Charlie doesn’t mind which one they choose, but Mac decides that the only death awesome enough for them is an explosive car crash. Of course, they botch it terribly, and end up hiding out on the roof of the pub.
Both of these episodes are packed with hilarious moments: trying to remove Charlie’s teeth and Dee subtle “see you at the next one” during the funeral service for Mac and Charlie. There’s also a brilliant line from Dennis after the gang are informed of their death:
Frank: “I can’t believe they’re dead”
Dennis: “I can’t believe they didn’t include me in their suicide pact”
A great episode, the fact it is only number 10 on the list shows just how good this show is!
9 – “Dennis And Dee Go On Welfare” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Dee and Dennis are sick of being bossed around by Frank, so they leave the pub to “live the dream” and end up drawing unemployment and then going on welfare. A truly brilliant episode, but for me, the characters hadn’t settled down properly into the ones we grew to love. Frank was still a successful businessman trying to turn the pub around, Dee is still the voice of reason and trying to be an actress, Charlie has not become…well Charlie, and the action doesn’t evolve as naturally as it does in other episodes (Charlie and Mac rolling around in a limo and Dee and Dennis crack addicts within 15 minutes). Despite the imperfections, it’s just such a funny, funny episode it makes it into the top 10.
8 – “The Gang Recycle Their Trash” (Season 8, Episode 2)
I love this episode more that most. The trash collectors are on strike causing a pile up of rubbish at Paddy’s Pub, and the gang decide that they can make money by collecting rubbish and disposing of it. This would make a very funny episode in itself, but the main concept behind the episode is that the plan (and the script) is pieced together from previous plans and episodes. A very funny episode raised to an even higher level by the references to other episodes.
Also if you don’t laugh at Danny DeVito’s “I still got the moves” dance while trying to seduce a politician, you might be dead inside.
7 – “Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life” (Season 4, Episode 9)
Even by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia standards, this episode goes to a really strange place. When Dennis decides to publish his memoirs, the gang decides he needs some help to make some of his more outlandish stories true. This leads to Dennis in rehab with stigmata, where he meets Sinbad and Rob Thomas (yep, the Matchbox 20 singer who sang on Santana’s Smooth). At the same time, Dee and Charlie do a bit of role reversal, which leads to 2 of my favourite scenes in all of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: Charlie sharing his bedtime ritual of glue, catfood, and beer with Dee, and Dee taking Charlie to the comedy club that she goes to every night. Bleak, bleak stuff!
6 – “The Gang Desperately Tries To Win An Award” (Season 9, Episode 3)
When the gang are overlooked again for the Restaurant Bar Association’s Best Bar Award, they decide to find out why they are never nominated. I love a bit of meta humour, and this is packed with references and lines about awards and other shows. The fact that they have never been nominated because they never send back the application form (it was sent back covered in faeces, urine, and racial slurs) is quickly brushed aside as the gang go to see what the most successful bar in town looks like: a diverse mix of witty characters serving up smart banter in a well-lit, pop music sound-tracked environment. This causes the gang to host an industry evening in the bar where they essentially sell out all their principles.
I really love this episode, as it has some barely veiled references to the structure of the show and what makes it so appealing to it’s audience but such a turn-off to those people who don’t get the show. Also there’s this treat:
In the parallel universe where It’s Sunny In Philadelphia is an NBC sitcom pulling in 15 million viewers every week, that is the perfect theme song. Dee says “I can’t imagine that people are doing what we’re doing better” – no one is guys, no one is.
5 – “The Gang Solve The Gas Crisis” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Mac, Dennis, and Charlie come together to make some money when they realise how much the gas prices have gone up. After their attempt at getting money from the bank is unsuccessful, they adapt the plan to selling gasoline door to door. A fantastic scam that allows plenty of Mac, Charlie and Dennis interaction, that escalates fantastically.
The b-plot featuring Dee trying to stop Bruce giving away all of her mother’s money is brilliant as well, with Frank’s van with tinted windows on the inside causing them to follow, bug, and destroy the car of totally the wrong guy. And it all comes together in a huge explosive ending. A classic episode that brings the gang together in a zany scheme.
4 – “Sweet Dee Has A Heart Attack” (Season 4, Episode 10)
When Dee has a heart attack, the gang realise they need to do something to prevent it happening to them. For Mac and Charlie, this means getting a proper job, which results in a hilarious joint resume and them successfully negotiating their wages down to the minimum wage! Frank ends up in a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest situation – a nice call back to Danny DeVito’s first film role. And Dennis and Dee decide that they need to get themselves in better shape which results in a very funny trip to a spin class. In typical style they end up taking fat burner pills as a shortcut, and in quintessentially narcissistic Reynold’s style, they end up buying some Mexican botox.
The stars of this episode are undoubtedly Mac and Charlie. Taking these characters out of Paddy’s Pub and putting them in another environment is a masterstroke. From Mac’s attempted networking and “Secret Of My Success” plan to Charlie’s little rhymes for remembering the staff’s names, this section is packed with jokes. But Charlie steals the episode with his attempts to sort the mail – he either posts it back out to buy himself a few more days, or burns it. He burns most of it. This leads to a fantastic Charlie meltdown, as he uncovers a major conspiracy – with the help of Barney – that encompasses most of the company.
A brilliant moment that caps a fantastic episode – with a lovely end tag that sees Charlie still sorting the mail in hospital, long after he’s been fired.
3 – “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” (Season 5, Episode 10)
Charlie’s mania. Frank living without rules. Dee’s hopeless self-sabotaging. Mac’s constant need for approval. Dennis sociopathy. There are some of the traits that go into the melting pot that make It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia the show that it is. Here, we are introduced to The D.E.N.N.I.S. System, which is Dennis’s system for making any woman fall madly in love with him. Dennis explains it to the gang, although only Dee (in her voice of reason mode) realises how much of a sociopath he really is. We see Dennis enact his system on Caylee (played by Glen Howerton’s real life wife) before it is revealed that Mac and Frank both have systems for picking up the women after Dennis has finished with them.
Dennis is desperate to prove his system works – we all know his self-worth comes from his ability to get women – which causes him to gather the gang at the fair (after putting the plan together to the strains of Bizet’s Carmen) for the cracking denouement of the story. A fantastic episode that shows the worse part of all of the characters – and isn’t that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia at it’s best!
2 – “Charlie Work” (Season 10, Episode 4)
A fantastic episode from start to finish, only kept off the top spot by a classic. If you’ve seen the episode you know that most of the praise goes to it’s third act, but what makes this a great one is the build up in the first half is just so funny. The preposterous way that various parts of the puzzle are put in place for later are just sooo funny!
And then there is that one long shot, brilliantly pulled off. Inspired by the tracking shot in episode 4 of True Detective, we see Charlie attempt to pull off the air miles/chicken/steaks scam AND negotiate the health inspection. And then to cut it all away at the end – typically It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
1 – “The Nightman Cometh” (Season 4, Episode 13)
I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I love the depressing settings of Paddy’s Pub and the various apartments. I love the meaningless, insignificant schemes and obsessions of the characters that are consistently and easily ruined by their own stupidity and unstoppable ability to self-sabotage. I love the essentially banal nature of what happens, like we are seeing a meaningless slice of life of these inconsequential, unlikable people.
Having said all that, my favourite episode is the biggest, most ambitious episode of the lot, as Charlie writes a musical based on his “Dayman” song from “Sweet Dee is Dating a Retarded Person”. In typical style, the gang argue and bicker their way through rehearsals, before amazingly they actually make it to curtain up. And what follows is brilliant.
Firstly we have Dee seductively serenading a “tiny boy” version of Dennis (her brother, in case you need reminding) that she loves and “wants”, before adding her own impromptu song spelling out that she is not a peadophile. Then, Dennis lying in bed while the Nightman (Mac) and the Troll (Frank) argue over the “troll toll” to get into “the boy’s
hole soul”, before the Nightman rapes the young boy (and Mac gets aroused…). We then have an epic fight between the Dayman and the Nightman, before Charlie’s last minute intervention reveals his true intentions for writing the show.
This episode is packed full of jokes from the get-go, with the gang immediately asking “who’s the mark?” as soon as Charlie has written the musical. An all round excellent episode.
And that’s it! I know I’ve still missed out a lot (Dennis’ obsession in The Gang Group Dates or his sexual predator doppelganger, the trip to Jersey Shore, kitten mittens, the bed pooping, Serpico… the list almost goes on for ever), but that’s my Top 10. Let me know what you what you think!
See you next time.
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s my favourite moment in the whole show: when the post room get’s to be just too much for Charlie.
All images are owned by RCG Productions and FX Networks.
Like this? Have a look at my Top 5: Episodes of The League.