Warning: Contains minor spoilers for Season 12 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, fresh off the back of being renewed for 3 further seasons making it the joint longest running live action sitcom of all time, returns for its 12th season. The show remains co-written by actors Rob McElhenney (Mac), Glenn Howerton (Dennis) and Charlie Day (Charlie), among others, and also stars Kaitlin Olson (Dee) and Danny DeVito (Frank). But have the years finally started to catch up with this beloved comedy, or is it still hitting the heights of previous seasons? Here, we break down each episode to find the answer to that question.
12×1: The Gang Turns Black
Over 8 years on from the show’s previous attempt at a musical episode, season 4’s The Nightman Cometh, It’s Always Sunny once again takes on musicals in the season premiere. After an incident involving a VCR copy of classic musical The Wiz, the gang are transformed into African-Americans. Indeed, here is where It’s Always Sunny’s prowess as a comedy really shines. In lesser hands, such a move could have come off at best ill-advised, at worst potentially racist, but the show manages to handle the issues with care while also maintaining a large degree of humour. It takes a stunningly well written script to simulataneously mock the conventions of musicals while also examining societal conditions for African-Americans, but that is what we’ve got here. The songs are catchy, the themes are thought-provoking, the jokes are hilarious – The Gang Turns Black is an instant classic and one of the best It’s Always Sunny episodes so far.
12×2: The Gang Goes to a Water Park
Here is an episode where Dennis, everybody’s favourite narcissistic sociopath, truly, truly shines. Upon spotting a 12 year old girl who reminds him of his former self, he takes her under his wing and trains her in his craft – manipulation. Elsewhere, a storyline involving Mac and Dee getting stuck in a water slide begins humourous but begins to feel a bit flat towards the end, while Charlie and Frank’s storyline, whereby they skip the long lines by pretending Frank has AIDs, is similarly hit and miss. However, there is one absolutely stunning scene involving Frank and Charlie running into Dennis, with both sides nonchalantly acknowledging the other being involved in a whacky scheme, which truly sums up the spirit of It’s Always Sunny.
12×3: Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy
What starts as Charlie being worried about his mother being abused by her roommate, Mac’s mum, descends into the gang creating their own sitcom after the spy cameras that the gang installed in the mums’ house end up finding some comedic footage. With the addition of quick cuts and a laugh track, the result is the gang ended up obsessing over their creation, with Dee and Frank determined to get in on the sitcom action. It’s a refreshingly unique idea and one that is testament to It’s Always Sunny’s longevity, in that the show can keep innovating and having new ideas, and keep them to an incredibly high standard.
12×4: Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare
Ah, Wolf Cola. A background feature in some previous It’s Always Sunny episodes, Wolf Cola finally comes to the foreground. Previously, only a front for Frank’s money laundering operations, it has since became a real drink – and inadvertently become the official soft drink for terrorist group Boko Haram. What follows is Frank, Dennis and Dee attempting to play damage control for Wolf Cola, while continuously accidentally sabotaging themselves with comical outcomes. The side story, where Charlie and Mac attempt to market their own drink, Fight Milk, as the official drink of UFC doesn’t hit quite the same heights, but still contains some moments worth watching, including the duo attempting to make a new advert for their drink.
12×5: Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer
Here, It’s Always Sunny finally takes on the age old art of parody, taking on the deluge of true crime documentaries that have appeared in the past few years, specifically Netflix hit show Making a Murderer. In this episode, Dennis’ ex-wife, Maureen Ponderosa, has continued her transformation into a cat, continuing on her storyline from the previous couple of seasons, before dying in mysterious circumstances, leading to an investigation into Dennis and whether he is the man responsible for Maureen’s death. The result is an almost spot on parody of true crime documentaries, complete with police interview footage, wild plot twists and the accusation of leaving out key evidence to make a more compelling story. It’s Always Sunny’s take on the parody is fresh and never feels worn out or overdone.
12×6: Hero or Hate Crime?
The gang here goes for professional arbitration after a convoluted state of affairs leaves everyone with a claim to a scratchcard – even though the scratchcard hasn’t yet been used and there’s no evidence that it’s even a winning ticket. In amongst this, the gang also try to settle whether Frank using a homophobic slur against Mac to get his attention in order to save him from being crushed by a falling piano was a hate crime or not, continuing the series-long storyline on whether Mac is gay or not. Though there are clear parallel’s here to episodes such as The Gang Gets Analyzed and many of the early episodes involving The Lawyer, the episode manages to feel fresh despite using a tried and tested formula. The final reveal of Mac’s sexuality as well as the double twist at the end also ensure this episode is not only memorable, but pretty damn hilarious.
After Dee sleeps with a stripper and finds out he thinks of her as her ‘rock bottom’, Dee sets out to prove that she is a rock, rather than a rock bottom. Meanwhile, Dennis finally embraces being a male stripper, with the help of Charlie. The two storylines converge later on to bring the episode to a suitably ridiculous conclusion, something that continues through the rest of the season. However, the two storylines converging seems a bit too convoluted and although the conclusion is fantastic, the build-up is fairly average, leading to PTSDee being probably the worst episode of the season. Despite this, the other storyline happening throughout the episode, where Frank and Mac believe they’re developing PTSD as a result of playing a virtual reality first person shooter game, is exciting and hilarious, and presents a great commentary on moral panics about video games in the modern era.
12×8: The Gang Tends Bar
It’s absurd that the show, which revolves around people in charge of a bar, can go so long into its existence without ever really showing the gang properly doing work at the bar – with the possible exception of Underage Drinking: A National Concern from season 1, and to a lesser extent season 11’s Charlie Catches A Leprechaun. In this episode, Dennis attempts to get the gang to do actual work, but everyone is preoccupied with discovering what is in the mysterious box they’ve discovered behind the bar. The meta jokes about how the gang never actually do any work really hit, and the ending has one of the most bizarre, surreal and amusing twists the series has ever seen – well, so far.
12×9: A Cricket’s Tale
After the success of last season’s Being Frank and season 10’s Charlie Work, A Cricket’s Tale once again brings back an episode solely focused on one character, this time looking into the life of everyone’s favourite priest turned drug addicted homeless man, Cricket. The episode mainly revolves around Cricket having a chance to turn his life around and get away from drugs and homelessness by being offered a job at his father’s company – and becomes the first time in many many years where Cricket begins to use his real name again, Matthew Mara. Just when it seems things are finally working out for Cricket, in true It’s Always Sunny style, and in what is a theme of the series, the episode gets flipped on its head at the last minute. A Cricket’s Tale carries on the show’s new tradition of episodes focussed on one character being wonderfully crafted episodes.
12×10: Dennis’ Double Life
And so, we reach the season finale. And what a season finale it is. Dennis reveals that during the events of the season 10 premiere, The Gang Beats Boggs, he got a woman pregnant and he is now a father, an events which fundamentally changes the dynamic of the entire group. Will Mac and Dennis’ friendship survive? Will Dennis look after the child? Elsewhere, the event finally leads Charlie and the Waitress together, leading to so many questions over that and the way the dynamic between the two will change after so many seasons. So many cliffhangers surround the end of this season, which is going to make the wait for season 13 even more unbearable – especially as the show is supposedly taking a short hiatus. And when I said the ending to episode 8 was the most bizarre and surreal the series had so far – well, it’s already been surpassed. Dennis’ Double Life is a masterpiece in blending serious narrative consequences with stunningly funny humour – and proves that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the smartest and best shows on TV at the moment.
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