Why you should care
Five bar buddies behaving badly makes for consistently good watching.
The vast majority of the 111 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that have aired as of this writing adhere to a dialogue-heavy TV sitcom template reminiscent of Seinfeld. The show focuses exclusively on “the gang,” a motley crew of five who run a dive bar in South Philly — a responsibility they routinely ignore, instead whiling away the days by making mountains out of molehills and escalating inane situations to their breaking point. Often this ends up ruining someone else’s life; the gang tends to escape unscathed.
Sound like a fun premise? The show is more palatable in practice than it is on paper: The amoral antics are part of the fun, as is the fact that not a one of the gang has undergone any significant growth throughout the show’s 10 seasons. You often feel guilty about laughing at their cruelty, but it’s so over the top as to ultimately be benign. These are static individuals more entrenched in their selfishness and bad habits than they were when we first met them, and we love them for it — they’re endearingly incorrigible.
“… we kind of live vicariously through their brutal, honest stupidity.”
Brian Tallerico, TV and film critic
From the outset, Charlie Day has stood out as the breakaway star in his role as Charlie Kelly. TV and film critic Brian Tallerico notes, “We like watching people behaving badly in ways that we know we would enjoy, but society or home life dictates we should not … we kind of live vicariously through their brutal, honest stupidity.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the naïve Charlie, whose low intelligence (he’s actually illiterate) is paired with a latent sweetness. He’s the gang’s de facto moral compass, though you may not know it from the fact that “Charlie Work” at the bar mostly involves killing rats. (Keywords when researching his character: nightcrawlers, milk steak, Dayman.)
The show was created by Rob McElhenney, who also stars as Mac; he developed it with co-star Glenn Howerton. Day has taken an increasingly behind-the-scenes role in the impressively DIY endeavor in the decade since Sunny first came on the air, with the trio co-writing six of the current season’s 10 episodes. The onscreen talent is rounded out by Kaitlin Olson (who plays Howerton’s twin sister) and Danny DeVito (the twins’ father).
The average episode ends with the gang having learned nothing from their experiences, confirming their already dim worldview and rendering most encounters hilariously inconsequential. Their utter lack of redemptive qualities is one of the show’s main selling points. Lest you fear that it’s simply nihilistic, however, it’s worth pointing out that the gang’s bad behavior isn’t exactly rewarded — though it’s rarely punished, either. Paddy’s Pub remains a veritable ghost town that hardly anyone patronizes, the quintet invariably alienates what few outsiders they manage to form temporary relationships with, and, at the end of the day, they don’t even like one another very much. It sounds grim, but it’s carried out with a corrosive wit that manages to be lighthearted. With its most reprehensible qualities proudly out in the open, It’s Always Sunny invites audiences with more hardened sensibilities to look past the bizarre and appreciate the brilliant.
The first nine seasons of It’s Always Sunny are available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Here’s an introduction to Season 10: