Did you feel it last night? At around 10 pm ET on Wednesday night on FXX? That was what it felt like to know that television history was being made. Because when Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson & Danny DeVito threw open the doors to Paddy's for the 15th season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it officially became the longest-running live-action comedy show in TV history, a record previously held by The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet since that show wrapped its run in 1966. But after 14 seasons and a very weird between-seasons time that found the world battling (and still battling) a pandemic, could The Gang still answer the bell? Could they still matter in an ever-changing world nothing like it was when the long-running series first kicked off in 2005?
Oh yeah. With an Always Sunny writing team that included Day, Howerton, McElhenney, Keyonna Taylor & Katie McElhenney, and with Todd Biermann & Pete Chatmon at the helm, The Gang proved that they're not the kind of show that's going to coast with fan-servicing stunt casting, storyline retreads, and exaggerated takes on characters we know & love (we're looking at you, the last several seasons of Modern Family…). Between "2020: A Year In Review" & "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7," the show tackled the 2020 election and directly confronted & addressed what some would consider the show's past questionable comedy decisions. As two-episode premieres go, that's not exactly what we would consider "going soft."
But what was really important to me was that the moment the first words from them were uttered, I knew that Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Sweet Dee & Frank were back. I'm not talking about Day, Howerton, McElhenney, Olson, and DeVito playing The Gang like they were costumes, but that they can still embrace these characters in a way that still feels real while adding the necessary layers to give the characters some growth (but lord knows not too much). And any chance we get to reconnect with Always Sunny family members Artemis Pebdani's Artemis (with a nice reminder to the viewers about her ethnicity), watch Geoffrey Owens play anyone the show throws at him with comedic ease, and welcome back Marcuis Harris's pimp thespian Pepper Jack is always a good thing. So what were our big takeaways from the two-episode start? Glad you asked…
Season 15 Episode 1: "2020: A Year In Review": Called out by the government to answer for what they spent their PPE loans on during the pandemic, The Gang explains their various business ventures (Punch, Inc., Frank's Imports & Exports, and Garments & Varmints) as we learn (just like with "Liberty Bell") how The Gang stumbled their way into having major impacts on the 2020 election (Rudy Giuliani's hair dye, confusing "Rocky vs. McNabb" voting that screwed up the election count in Philly, and Charlie & Dee being "pelt tailors" for the January 6th traitors who stormed Washington D.C.). Of course, they had no clue that they were doing any of that, but they're okay with it since their guy wasn't being given a fair chance and that's why he lost the election. "Their guy"? Yup. Kanye West.
And that's when it all came together for me and why it worked so well. Because what I thought was going to be a Forrest Gump/Zelig-like "welcome back" by The Gang as they took some fun shots at the past year became a lot more than that. This was about addressing that group out there that tends to get lost in the back forth between Trump and Biden folks. It's the Kanye West-voting folks who choose to check out from the process of giving a shit about what's going on around them and wanting to do something about it. They're all surface and personal interests, believing whoever speaks the loudest and for the longest. And oblivious to the damage (both all-too-real and societal) they leave in their carefree wake. Also, bonus points for how The Gang was integrated into old new footage because I'm not sure if it was meant this way but it came across as a bit disturbing but in the right way because it drove their point home.
Season 15 Episode 2: "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7": When The Gang learns from Frank that the local library has pulled its copies of "Lethal Weapon 5 & 6," they reflect back on the problematic decisions they made during production on the first two classics. Their conclusion? Time to make "Lethal Weapon 7"- except it needs to be one that reflects the evolving sensitivities of 2021. What better set-up could you need than that? While the season premiere was a slow build to a strong payoff, "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7" was hungry to approach the topic of the show's "past societal sins" in a way that allowed them to have their say. And what they had to say, both through their characters and how the episode played out, was important for the show to move forward. The real-life gang was owning some of the question marks from their show's past, acknowledging that there are some things they might reconsider, and dedicating themselves to doing things differently as they move forward. But it stopped short of being a half-hour of self-flagellation, with this episode also launching an arched brow at the double standards and the turning of a blind eye to what still goes on. How long did Roman Polanski and Woody Allen go on making films even after they were supposed to be persona non grata, for example? I appreciate the willingness Always Sunny has to ask uncomfortable questions while leaving it to the viewers to consider the answers.
But this was still about The Gang and how even as they learn, they still somehow come out of situations like these knowing less than they did going in. Of course, Mac wants credit for the "sacrifice" of stepping down from playing a Black character. Just like it seemed only right that The Gang's response to being shown the error of their ways with "White Saviors" was to… you guessed it. Make "Lethal Weapon 8." Because The Gang is never more at its best than when it gives the audience a chance to learn while they stay obliviously trapped in their Paddy's bubble- and we wouldn't have it any other way. Congrats on making history, Day, Howerton, McElhenney, Olson, and DeVito- and doing it while staying true to the show and its fans. Never playing it safe. And always Always Sunny.