Over the course of the [EDITORIAL REDACTION] years that I’ve been alive on this planet to enjoy all of the things that television has had to offer, I’m starting to realize that I’m pretty picky when it comes to sitcoms. Sure, I can enjoy a mindless half-hour of mental fluff & “A Very Special Episode” madness like the next person, but there are very few sitcoms that have the honor of being carved into the walls of my brain’s pop culture pantheon. Off the top of my head… Bosom Buddies, M*A*S*H, Night Court, A Different World, and Rick and Morty come to mind. But sitting on the thrones above them all? Well, that would be Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson & Danny DeVito, the real-life alter-egos of The Gang from Paddy’s Pub. Because after 15 seasons, FXX‘s record-setting It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reigns supreme… and their reign doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. But heading into the holiday weekend, I realized that the show’s chaotic excellence may have ruined other sitcoms for me… but not in the way you might think.
While we could spend all day breaking down all of the ways that “Always Sunny” works and elevates situational comedy as an art form, I’m laser-focusing on one of the show’s traits that helps me make our case. It’s that as much as we love seeing what Mac (McElhenney), Charlie (Day), Dennis (Howerton), Dee (Olson) & Frank (DeVito) are going to get themselves into next and how much we root for The Gang? Well, they’re pretty terrible people who can be pretty terrible to one another… and even worse to those on the outside looking to underestimate The Gang to their own regret. But we know they’re terrible people right from the very beginning… McElhenney, Day & Howerton pretty much established that over the course of the first few seasons. It’s not a mystery. So we go into every season knowing them for who they are… huge warts and all… and that makes it easier to be on “Team Paddy’s” (even during those moments when we should be feeling a wee bit of shame). They’re a dysfunctionally toxic family unit that somehow works, even in the unhealthiest of ways. For McElhenney, Day, Howerton, Olson & DeVito to be able to pull off that kind of connection with their viewers is impressive. To do it over the course of 15 seasons? Mind-blowing.
Unfortunately, that’s also resulted in me looking at too many shows and too many characters through “Always Sunny” rose-colored glasses. Instead of being able to see a character or a group of characters in a show as being poorly written, poorly portrayed, or sending a really screwed-up message to the audience, my brain’s giving them the “Always Sunny” pass when they don’t deserve it. While I wasn’t looking to single out a show as an example, The Big Bang Theory comes to mind as an example of a show & characters doing bad things with no sense of irony as opposed to “Always Sunny,” where we know The Gang’s modus operandi all along. They’re bad, bad people.
And yet, I’m okay with “Big Bang” because my brain tells me that all of the painfully cringey stuff is dark humor that the writers intended from the very start (despite the other part of my brain waving red flags telling the other part of my brain that it couldn’t be more wrong it if tried). So instead of watching sexist views on dating and men’s & women’s roles play out before my eyes (for example) and thinking, “Holy crap. This is bad. What the f**k are they doing?” I find myself thinking,” Ooooh, that was painfully bad! But the writers’ are doing this to demonstrate that it’s not right… right?” Unfortunately, the reality is usually former and not the latter. So to all of the sitcoms out there carving out their successes riding the benefit of the doubt that “Always Sunny” creates, make sure to take a moment during the new year to offer them some thanks.