“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is one of the most successful comedies in TV history, but it isn’t for everyone.
The show has obviously done something right — its upcoming 15th season, debuting Wednesday on FXX, will make it the longest-running live-action sitcom in U.S. television history. But fans of today’s gentler comedies, like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Ted Lasso,” will find little optimism or redemption in “Sunny.” They won’t even find much character growth.
What they will find is a brilliant ensemble of self-centered neurotics who somehow manage to be likable, despite their best efforts. (Think “Seinfeld,” if everyone were stupider and worked in a South Philly Irish pub.) The show, which is available to stream on Hulu, has at times been called offensive. Its creator, Rob McElhenney, calls it “satirizing ignorance.” If you aren’t yet familiar, here are five great episodes (technically six) that should give you the overall flavor — somewhere between a delicious Jim’s cheesesteak and a beer with a cigarette butt in it.
‘Mac and Charlie Die’
Season 4, Episodes 5-6
Spoiler alert: Mac and Charlie, two of the show’s main characters (played by McElhenney and Charlie Day, an executive producer), do not die in this two-parter. They do, however, fake their deaths in order to avoid being murdered by Mac’s jailbird father (Gregory Scott Cummins). It’s a long story. “First step,” Mac warns Charlie, “do not douse yourself with lighter fluid.” Step 2 involves removing a lot of Charlie’s teeth.
‘The Nightman Cometh’
Season 4, Episode 13
A longtime fan favorite, this episode follows the rehearsal and performance of a stage musical written by Charlie, who is generally relegated to doing “Charlie Work.” (“Basement stuff,” as he once described it. “Cleaning urinals, blood stuff, your basic slimes, your sludges — anything dead or decaying, I’m on it.”) That’s probably with good reason; his musical’s many terrible double entendres suggest a flair for the kind of unintentional offensiveness that would get him fired from most other jobs.
‘The D.E.N.N.I.S. System’
Season 5, Episode 10
Dennis (Glenn Howerton) is the gang’s Lothario, whose depravity is matched only by his arrogance. But just in case, he has designed a program, “a careful, systemic approach that has allowed me to become the playboy that I am today.” “You’re a complete sociopath!” his sister, Dee (Kaitlin Olson), exclaims in horror. As is often the case, she speaks for the audience as the show knowingly eviscerates its male characters’ macho toxicity.
‘A Very Sunny Christmas’
Season 6, Episode 13
This hourlong special finds the gang determined to live in the holiday spirit but thwarted by ghosts of Christmas past. The episode includes several of the most memorable moments in Sunnydom, including a scene in which Frank (Danny DeVito) sews himself into a leather couch. There’s also a bloody animated spoof of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, involving chain-saw dismemberment, a meat grinder and a singing group of racist California Raisins.
‘Chardee MacDennis: Game of Games’
Season 7, Episode 7
In what is probably a meta moment reflecting the frustrations of brainstorming another new plot, the gang undertakes a game of its own making that includes stoppage time for injuries, a level devoted to “emotional battery and public humiliation” and a lot of drinking. “It’s about to get real dark, real quick,” Dee says, before the game devolves into a frenzy of absurdity and nihilism. Just another day at Paddy’s Pub.