How does a show like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” exist in our current era? Our world of identity politics and buttoned up language has led to increased scrutiny of what we say with art. The long-running FX show doesn’t run from this minefield. Instead, it barrels through every hot-button issue, attacking it with hilariously blunt wit. In just the first four episodes alone, the show frames the gang around the Times Up movement, diversity in the workplace and female movie reboots. Based on the quality of these, it will be interesting and exciting to see where the show heads from here.
Setting one’s show around a gang of uncouth, horrible people gives writers the freedom to express their inner id. The show revolves around the owners of Paddy’s Pub, a local dive bar that seems to stray further from success. Through cheap, exploitative schemes, the owners of the bar strive to get rich quick and end up far from it. The show revels in the hilarious awfulness of their protagonists. Still, it underlines their behavior as the reason they fail to meet their goals. In fact, one episode addresses this through the escape room craze. Instead of working together, the gang turns the game into a competition to reinforce traditional gender roles.
Right off the bat, the season dives into boiling hot water with “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again” premiere. A surprise guest star fills the shoes of Dennis (Glenn Howerton), whose character walks out of the final episode of the previous season. The gang’s scheme plots the outrage of both political parties against each other. It’s critique of outrage culture toes a tricky line of respecting people’s passion while mocking bandwagon progressivism.
As with past highlight episodes, the best is the most contained. As foul-mouthed bartender Dee, Kaitlin Olsen truly shines, particularly in the third episode. This features Dee orchestrating a “female reboot” of the Wade Boggs challenge. The challenge involves five women drinking an inordinate amount of rose on a cross-country flight. The writer’s keep things moving while directly commenting on the nature of female franchise reboots. It’s biting, funny and keeps the proceedings focused squarely on some of the best-supporting characters – such as Charlie’s Mom (Lynne Marie Stewart), Mac’s Mom (Sandy Martin), Artemis (Artemis Pebdani) and The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis).
Similarly, the fourth episode, “Time’s Up for the Gang,” puts the characters on trial for their actions as they attend a sexual harassment seminar. Even as we are asked to have fun with these characters’ behavior, it helps to frame it against our current culture. A relic of the 80s shark business era turned bar financier, Danny DeVito excels at further playing into smarmy nature as Frank. Even newly out and proud Mac (Rob McElhenney) and aggressively hopeless romantic Charlie (Charlie Day) aren’t safe from the sexual harassment reckoning the gang faces. The episode directs its mockery at everyone in the room, including us.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” excels because it comments on the world around us. Since season 12 aired, our world has undergone a real paradigm shift that (rightfully so) has changed the ways we consume and think about movies and TV. That the show remains filthy and non-PC, while still witty, can also be attributed to the makeup of the talent behind the camera. Of the four episodes provided to the press, three of the four were written by women. Additionally, three of the four episodes were also directed by women. After thirteen years on the air, the show continues to push buttons and boundaries. It should continue to offend and delight FX audiences.