Reflections on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia season 13


It could have been a huge flounder, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s 13th season brought it’s A game. What made it work?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is on its way to becoming the longest-running live-action sitcom in American TV history. That’s impressive enough on its own, but more impressive is that, overall, the show has retained much of its freshness. In fact, season 13 is in some ways superior to some other seasons of It’s Always Sunny. How did they manage that?

Not everyone will agree with me, but hear me out. First, you pretty much have to give such a long-running show the benefit of the doubt. Not every joke will likely land right, and some episodes are likely to be better than others. In some ways, this season took that very premise and paired it together with current events. It arguably preempted critiques that it couldn’t be what it once was.

Consider the first episode, “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again.” Though Dennis (Glenn Howerton) is initially gone, it becomes apparent that he couldn’t adequately be replaced by a woman named Cindy (Mindy Kaling). It’s nothing against her, either. It’s an acknowledgment that It’s Always Sunny just wouldn’t be the same without Dennis, regardless of who stepped in. Some character-based formulas are necessary building blocks for any story’s success.

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Indeed, the characters may be reprehensible most of the time, but every main or recurring character has evolved (and degenerated) over the show’s run. Frank (Danny DeVito) and Charlie (Charlie Day) have alternately become both more feral and more humanized, with Frank being revealed as having traumatic experiences. Mac came out of the closet in season 12, though his sexuality is complicated by his beliefs.

Dennis was grappling with whether to raise an unplanned child and has huge issues with insecurity and rejection. Similarly, Dee (Kaitlin Olson) has been impressive in her degeneration, often rivaling the guys in terms of bad behavior. The gang has had bad experiences in life, including bad family backgrounds, and this has made it the most watchable train wreck on television.

The issues in season 13

Okay, so what specifically is great about season 13? In the first episode, Cindy attempts to exploit political division for monetary gain — a critique of modern, cult-like hypersensitivity surrounding polarizing issues.  If you really, honestly look at scandalous headlines, it becomes clear that they garner attention, which gets clicks, which equals ad revenue.  While some issues deserve attention, it should always be remembered that attention-grabbing headlines are also revenue-grabbing headlines.

Remember that old saying, “If it bleeds it leads?”  Nowadays, Twitter activists seem to think they’ll eradicate misbehavior with 280 character jabs at celebrities (often while misbehaving themselves).  Does anyone really think the media’s not exploiting this?   Think about it this way:  Humans (both men and women) have occasionally behaved badly since they’ve existed, and that’s unlikely to completely change.  It’s Always Sunny reminds us that, if anything can liberate us from our own folly, it’s humor and understanding  — not sectarian division.

In “The Gang Escapes,” we learn more about Dennis’s creepy sexuality and get a sense of how nonsensical sectarian division can be in addressing issues. “The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot” hints at critiquing female-centered reboots of male film/TV franchises, hinting that Hollywood should create original female characters instead.  It does a huge service to people tired of gender politics, or this media image that men and women seldom get along.  In reality, we generally do, except sometimes people cross the line.  “Time’s Up for the Gang” looks at issues surrounding sexual harassment, misconduct, and intimidation, delicately balancing the issues with much-needed humor.

Bathroom politics are addressed in “The Gang Solves the Bathroom Problem”, with the key point being no one’s comfortable in a public restroom anyway, so why clog it up with politics? If you cannot tolerate the concept of a gender-neutral bathroom, then don’t use one. As an aside, plenty of public places have had gender-neutral restrooms for years, and it apparently hasn’t led to the apocalypse. In fact, sometimes parents have to accompany their children to the public restroom of the opposite gender, and even that seems to generally work out.  In other words, this episode’s on to something.  The great conclusion is, going to the bathroom is a great equalizer, much like death itself. People don’t want to face either fact of life, but they have to. Why make it worse than it is?  It’s not Republicans or Democrats, it’s #1 or #2.

Did the gang become too PC?

That’s the big elephant in the room, isn’t it? I’ve seen the critique around, and one can understand where it comes from. In a heightened political atmosphere, any changes in the characters will be seen as exaggeratedly symbolic. For example, some people think Mac being outed is just a “liberal” thing, while others see it as a natural development. However, closeted gay people do exist, and the idea that this was done merely to reflect the times is certainly nonsense. Mac’s conflicting sexuality had been a running gag for over a decade. It simply made sense to finally have the truth come out in a big way!  Mac has a huge, genuinely emotion-stirring dance number, which really creates excitement for the next season.

More broadly, the characters have not totally changed, and they wouldn’t need to. We’ve known since the beginning that the group isn’t really full of good people. However, we’ve also known that, at least sometimes, they’re not total villains. At the very least, they sometimes correct each other for being horrible, wrong, or horribly wrong. What’s striking is that, overall, the show has avoided controversy by consistently making fun of it.

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That’s because It’s Always Sunny was scandalous from the get-go, and it’s only let up during odd moments. It just so happens that season 13 had a few such moments, like any other season. Its characters are also quirky, original and memorable enough to make these elements humorous. When it comes down to it, the more the gang changes, the more they’ll stay the same.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to locate my toe knife.

What are your thoughts on It’s Always Sunny season 13? Let us know in the comments!