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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia @15: Best, Worst & Our Holiday Song
For FXX/FX on Hulu's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the number "15" means a lot. The obvious meaning is the one that as a fan you've known for quite some time: it's the season number that earns Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito) the title of longest-running live-action comedy series, breaking the record previously held by ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. But August 4, 2020, also gives the number "15" some important meaning, marking the 15th anniversary of the series premiere ("The Gang Gets Racist").
To honor the occasion (and with the hope of many more), we're updating a little something we put together two years ago to celebrate the holiday season Paddy's style. Since that time, we've had two more seasons so we've updated it a bit. With four months to memorize it before the holiday season creeps in, we proudly present "The 14 Days of 'Always Sunny'"- but there's a catch. Each line represents a reference to an episode from that season, so see how many you can name.
On The Fourteenth Day of 'Sunny,' The Gang from Paddy's gave to me… fourteen meerkats texting… thirteen Macs expressing… twelve widowed Dennis-es… eleven sleepless suburban nights… ten crates of live chickens… nine ninjas fighting… eight hits of bath salts… seven Thunder Gun Express sequels… six stolen Omnibots… FIIIIIIIIIVE INCH WOUND ON CRICKET'S NECK! Four times Charlie lost it… three huffs of spray paint… two months community service… and Dee Reynolds in a pear tree!
"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": Our Best/Worst Choices
Even with an update to our list, our favorite episode of the series' run so far hasn't changed. Do I really need to explain why this episode would rise above so many other worthy contenders? The episode is achieving Rocky Horror Picture Show status – in fact, you probably either hummed or sang the song to yourself at least once by the time you got to this point in the article. Here's a look back to when Day, Howerton, McElhenney, Olson, DeVito, episode director Matt Shakman, and others sat down to discuss how the episode came to be, what it was like performing live, and their thoughts on the episode's endurance even after over a decade:
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia s04e13 'The Nightman Cometh': With the gang's help, Charlie stages a rock opera based on his song "Nightman." Writer: Charlie Day & Glenn Howerton & Rob McElhenney / Director: Matt Shakman
On the risk of doing a musical episode that comedically blurs the line between "a boy's coming of age story" and story about pedophilia and rape and how the show handled it seriously, Day explained, "Any time we deal with that kind of subject matter, I like to think it's coming from a more intelligent place. A rape joke is not remotely a funny thing; a man writing a musical that he thinks is about self-empowerment, and not realizing that all his lyrics sound like they're about a child being molested, is a funny thing. The joke is coming from confusion and misunderstanding, which are classic tropes of all comedy." Olson followed up, "We look back at some of our past shows and wonder if we'd still be able to do that. I hope the answer is yes because if you're paying attention, we're pretty good people with fairly liberal views on things. We're making a social commentary."
Thankfully, the cast had enough collective musical experience to make the episode's creative process a little easier. Well, almost everyone had musical experience. "I'm not musically inclined in any way, shape, or form. But Charlie is an incredible musician, so he and [composer] Cormac Bluestone wrote the majority of the music. In terms of lyrics, we all had a hand in them. But Charlie definitely took the lead," explained McElhenney.
Working with piano player Gladys (Mae LaBorde), who was constantly confused over what exactly she was playing piano for – represented a "first" for Shakman. Day explains, "They would say "action" and she was just, like, talking. She would tell us that we're all wonderful, beautiful people and she was happy to be there. Which was really charming but also very funny, because she had lines and she wasn't saying them." For Shakman, LaBorde represented one of his longer filming experiences: "When you get to be as old as she was, you can do whatever you want… Just getting the lines out was very difficult. I remember being backstage with her, talking about Calvin Coolidge, she just went on for so long. It might've been the longest scene I've ever shot for Sunny."
Performing 'The Nightman Cometh' on the road for a mini-tour of six cities (New York, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia) gave DeVito an opportunity to perform where his career first started: "We played the Beacon Theatre in New York, where I once saw Bob Marley play in the early '70s. I lived on 89th Street when I was starting out, so this was my home turf. I invited everybody I could think of to come. Some of my friends came backstage; they were like deer in headlights. They had no idea what was going on." For Olson, the live shows gave the cast a better understanding of how strong and loyal their fanbase was: "It really gave us our first insight into just how many fans we had. Because we were basically being told: Nobody's watching the show but FX likes it, so that's why you're still on the air. We weren't having huge ratings, but we had a big fan base. And those people traveled and packed those theaters."
So why has 'The Nightman Cometh' not only endured but grown in popularity over the years? For McElhenney, it was something different that kept to the heart and spirit of the series while also showing a little heart: "Ultimately, in a show that is so inherently profane—and the characters are so difficult and hard to watch at times—the ending of that particular episode was very sweet. You find out that Charlie's doing the whole thing because he's in love with somebody and he's asking her to marry him. Of course, the Sunny version of that is that the relationship is exceptionally unhealthy and that she says no, but I think his motivation comes from a really sweet place. So that buys us a lot in the episode. Also, like it or hate it, we've always strived to do something that nobody else is doing, and I think some people respond to that. It just feels very specific to us and to the show."
As for our "big lump of coal" – the worst It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode of all time?
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia s07e05 'Frank's Brother': The Gang is shocked to meet Frank's long-lost brother Gino: he unexpectedly arrives at Paddy's Pub, and exposes a wealth of family secrets. Writer: David Hornsby / Director: Matt Shakman
Yes, the same person who directed our best episode also directed our worst. Hey, it happens. But to be clear? This isn't one of those "gets better with age" examples or "so bad it's good" kind – it just stinks on oh so many levels. The late Jon Polito pulled together an impressive body of film and television work during his career – but as Frank's brother Gino? Not so good – same thing with how Frank is represented in the episode. From a backstory that doesn't gel with what we know from previous episodes to the jokes to the overall pacing, everything seems off – like an episode put together by fans who think they can do a better It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode.
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