No sitcom has persisted in quality like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Premiering in 2005, FXX’s (originally FX’s) de facto flagship show has bulldozed its way into the cultural consciousness via a combination of irreverent humor, loveable/hateable main characters (each with their own rogue’s gallery), and public domain music. The show has, more or less, always been immensely popular and a critical darling, though most recently, it’s achieved an even higher level of genre crossover appeal with Mac coming to terms with his own queerness via an interpretive dance that’s played completely straight.
In the midst of a personal re-watch of the series, I happened upon the episode “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs,” in which the five main characters do their best to make amends with various people they’ve wronged over Thanksgiving Dinner. Sunny does conflict like no other show; recurring characters dip in and out of the protagonist’s lives, almost always facing some horrible consequence due to their proximity to the gang. Or we see our heroes outright attacking entire species, factions, or races because of typically imagined slights or childhood memories. Here are just a few of my personal favorites with a couple examples each to boot:
Since Charlie is the bar’s janitor, he’s been tasked with its rodent removal, a job he’s taken an undue amount of pride in as the show has evolved. One of his happiest moments on the show is toward the end of the season 10 episode “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats.” After trying to decipher his desires based on a dream book of his they found, the Gang eventually settles on an odd assortment of homemade gifts, culminating in a brand new, more humane “rat stick” for Charlie to bash rats.
There’s an entire other article to be written on Frank Reynolds and his complicated relationship with race. Whether it’s a one-off comment or the plot to an entire episode, Frank’s hatred or ridicule of other races is easily one of the best parts of the show, and pretty much always makes an appearance.
Throughout my rewatch though, I noticed something new: Frank’s obsession with East Asians. Perhaps stemming from his time in Vietnam (not the war, the sweatshop he owned in ‘93), Frank’s seemingly been at odds with East and Southeast Asians for decades. Occasionally it’s a begrudging respect for the way they do business, or the odd gun and gambling party, but it’s always peppered with an unhealthy, race-based suspicion.
Though not one of the main five, Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara’s fate is so intertwined with the group’s, he’s kind of like their Sixth Man. While they’ve effectively ruined his life—taking him from promising man of the cloth to degenerate, PCP-addicted street rat sex slave—it’s his offhand dispatches from a life under the bridge that prove to be the most tragic, particularly when they involve dogs.
Save for the aforementioned Cricket, no one on the show has had a harder go of it than Dee. Despite being the only one in the group with an actual successful plan under her belt (her surrogacy), she’s always the butt of the joke, and everyone she’s close to actively works against her. But what’s saddest about Sweet Dee is her delusion. No one gets more ahead of herself than Dee Reynolds, and the gap between expectation and actuality tends to hit her hardest, often causing her to spiral in the most hilarious ways.
Yusef Roach is Paste’s Assistant Comedy Editor and the cohost of the podcast Death is Imminent. He’s on Twitter @yusefroach.