It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is on a bit of an extended hiatus at the moment, thanks to Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson’s new sitcoms, but it will be back. In fact, the executives at FX have renewed their cult hit dark comedy series through its fourteenth season, which will make it officially the longest running live action American sitcom of all time. The gang has taken us on quite a few wacky adventures over the years, whether it be out in the middle of the ocean or deep in the woods or 30,000 feet in the air or simply down at the Jersey Shore, all across twelve great seasons of television. Here are all of those seasons, ranked from worst to best.
12. Season 1
A show’s first season is never really its best, but this is particularly true of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because it doesn’t even feel like a fully formed show in the first handful of episodes. The show didn’t really know what it was yet and the writers didn’t really even know how to string together a story. It’s pretty simple. You have a beginning, middle, and end. But season 1 couldn’t even really figure that out. It would set things up like the guys buy a gun, but then it wouldn’t take that anywhere that makes any kind of statement. And the actors didn’t really know who their characters were yet. Charlie wasn’t weird and gross and killing rats. Dennis wasn’t a sociopathic sexual predator. Mac wasn’t a devout Catholic and closet homosexual. Dee wasn’t a talentless racist who thinks she’s destined to become a super star. Oh, and Frank wasn’t even there! There are some nuggets of comedy gold to be mined from the performances and a lot of racy topics are covered here (cancer, underage drinking, death etc.), but ultimately, the show doesn’t feel complete yet. And without Frank, it’s moot whether this season is the worst or not.
11. Season 3
With their biggest episode order even to this day of 15 episodes, the writers clearly struggled to come up with ideas for episodes during the making of the third season of It’s Always Sunny and ran out of steam. There are some doozies like “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off,” in which Charlie’s illiteracy leads to the bar getting offered up as a prize in a dance contest that they now must all compete in, or “The Gang Gets Invincible,” where they try out for the Philadelphia Eagles. There are definitely some gems in there. But sadly, since there were 15 episodes to fill, there ended up being some episodes that are just something like Dennis happens to look like a registered sex offender who’s been let out on parole and that’s the whole idea. The Dennis we know today probably is a registered sex offender! Some supporting characters let the show down, too. We love the gang, of course, but the mobsters in “The Gang Gets Whacked” come off as really annoying and unfunny. And “The Gang Gets Held Hostage,” the one where the McPoyles hold the gang hostage in the bar, is just plain weird. It’s a weak season overall.
10. Season 11
“Mac and Dennis Move to the Suburbs” is a strong candidate for being the greatest episode of the whole of It’s Always Sunny’s history. It has endless laughs and a terrific plot with some serious conflict and tension and the show’s signature dark moments (“You’re eating the dog!!”) as Mac and Dennis try to cut it outside the city in a house in the suburbs and end up going insane. And that’s why it’s such a shame that so much of the rest of the season falls flat. “Frank Falls Out the Window” doesn’t make enough of its promising premise of a Frank with amnesia, instead just choosing to rehash old episodes that he doesn’t know have happened yet. And “McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century” just feels like a way of shoehorning in some supporting characters like Bill Ponderosa to fill his quota for the season. The season finale “The Gang Goes to Hell” didn’t need to be a two parter. There are too many detours like the tribute to Stomp and the debate about celebrity impressions that drag out and aren’t funny and don’t even feel like Always Sunny things. It could’ve been a very fine episode if they had tightened the script to be just the one part.
9. Season 8
The eighth season of It’s Always Sunny has a small handful of gems to enjoy. “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” is a great meta episode about what usually happens to a TV show when it reaches its eighth season and how they’re going to avoid those pitfalls by keeping ahead of it. “Charlie and Dee Find Love” has some interesting plot twists and shows just how demented and obsessed with the Waitress Charlie really is. But episodes like “Charlie Rules the World” and “Pop Pop: The Final Solution” take subject matter that could be interesting – MMORPGs and euthanasia, respectively – but don’t really do anything with them. This is a problem with a lot of Always Sunny episodes. They’re not satirical, because they take subjects that are ripe for satire and then don’t make any kind of statement about them. And while “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” pokes fun at TV shows that rip themselves off, “Charlie’s Mom Has Cancer” is just a rehash of the season 1 episode “Charlie Has Cancer,” so they’re hypocrites in that sense. “Reynolds vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defense” doesn’t dig deep enough or leave enough of an impact to be a strong season finale episode.
8. Season 12
The twelfth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a sad sign of a show that has gone on for too long and is running out of steam. It’s still going strong and there are some great episodes in it – “The Gang Goes to a Water Park” is easily the greatest installment of the season, and maybe one of the best of the entire show – but the show is starting to show its cracks. It’s not that the writers are losing their talent or anything like that – it just seems like a combination of getting lazy and running out of ideas. For example, “Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy” barely has any substance to it at all. It’s based on the idea that things seem funnier with a laughter track, which isn’t even necessarily true. “A Cricket’s Tale” faces the same problem as season 7’s “Frank’s Brother.” We watch this show for the gang. We don’t want to see episodes that aren’t about the gang. Screw that! And the season finale episode “Dennis’ Double Life” screws up the whole premise irreparably. We might have lost Glenn Howerton for good and the show may never be the same again, which isn’t a great way to end the last season of a show before a really long hiatus.
7. Season 2
It’s Always Sunny’s second season was the first time we got to meet Frank Reynolds. The show needed a ratings boost after the freshman season hadn’t done so well, and Rob McElhenney (aka Mac) found out that Danny DeVito was a fan of the show and also a friend of the head of the FX network, so it seemed like a no brainer to get him involved. Sadly, they hadn’t really decided what kind of character Frank was going to be. Of course, now, we know him as the most vile and disgusting and terrible human being imaginable. But back then, he was more or less just a soft father figure to the gang. He didn’t really make enough of an impact, because he wasn’t being written right. Still, there are some episodes in this season that are still considered to be classics of the show to this day, which is quite impressive, considering it was just the second season of a show that would go on to be the longest running American TV sitcom of all time. “Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare” and “Hundred Dollar Baby” are terrific episodes. But there are also a lot of weak links, too, like “Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass.” But it’s not bad for a second season.
6. Season 10
The tenth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a mixed bag. There are some good ones and some mediocre ones. The mediocre ones are episodes like “The Gang Spies Like U.S.,” which suffers from lazy writing and an overreliance on slapstick humor and “cream pie” double entendres – those are easy laughs. And the season finale episode “Ass Kickers United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult” is pretty weak. It doesn’t say anything about cults. It’s not even really that funny. Considering some of the season finales that It’s Always Sunny has had over the years – “The Nightman Cometh,” “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry,” “The High School Reunion” etc. – this is really shoddy. But the good ones are stone cold classics. The season premiere episode “The Gang Beats Boggs” is a brilliant episode that makes great use of its premise. “The Gang Group Dates,” “The Gang Goes on Family Fight,” and the very meta and funny “The Gang Misses the Boat” are all instant classics. And “Charlie Work” is definitely the standout episode of the season. So, on the whole, the show’s tenth season, like a lot of its seasons, is a mixed bag. There’s a lot to love, but also a lot that’s not so great.
5. Season 9
Season 9 has that beautifully meta and hilarious episode “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” which takes on the entire television landscape and how the critics and audiences perceive certain types of shows and which ones tend to win awards and how TV awards are really political – but it doesn’t mention television once! They do it all through the lens of different bars getting awards. The “location” of the bar is used to represent the FX network. “Black bars don’t win awards,” a line that Dennis speaks, is a reference to how TV shows with a predominantly black cast tend to get overlooked by awards voters. “Mac Day” is a very funny and very inspired episode. “Flowers for Charlie” is a weak and generally unfunny episode that was guest written by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who are clearly talented writers, but not in the genre of comedy. The guys can tell a sprawling epic story in a magical medieval world, but they can’t write a joke or witty dialogue to save their lives. And “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” is a pretty weak season finale. But other than that, this is a fine season.
4. Season 6
The sixth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a great run of episodes in its first half. The two part season premiere, “Mac Fights Gay Marriage” followed by “Dennis Gets Divorced,” are endlessly hysterical and touch on everything from relationships to shotgun weddings to gay rights to the Bible to infidelity, all in the same couple of episodes. And those episodes are followed by “The Gang Buys a Boat,” which is the kind of episode with a ‘nothing’ premise that does wonders with it, purely based on character. We’re introduced to Dennis’ sinister “implication” seduction technique and we see Charlie building up a whole story around the things he finds on the seabed, like an underwater horse massacre. “Mac and Charlie: White Trash” and “The Gang Gets a New Member,” which has Jason Sudeikis as a guest star, are other standout episodes in a season that runs out of steam a little bit in the middle. However, some episodes like “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats” and “Mac’s Mom Burns Her House Down” are sadly a little weak. Luckily, the overall great season ends on a high note with the brilliant Christmas special episode “A Very Sunny Christmas.”
3. Season 7
Making Mac suddenly gain a ton of weight for season 7 was an inspired story idea, since he’s the character who is obsessed with men’s bodies and physical fitness and seems to have body dysmorphia about what he looks like. Frankly, the weak “Frank’s Brother” is the only episode that lets this season down. There are a ton of brilliant installments here. “Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties” is a hilarious send-up of child beauty pageants with the constant lurking presence of “diddlers.” This season introduced us to the gang’s board game Chardee MacDennis and we got their backstory in the two part season finale episode “The High School Reunion.” Plus, “Thunder Gun Express” was a great ‘race against time’ type episode. “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” is a classic example of a show where all of the plot elements work – you’ve got Dennis and Dee’s vacation going about as horribly as it could with lots of murder and hobo sex, Mac and Frank stranded in the middle of the ocean with a rum ham, and Charlie spending the night with an ecstasy-addled Waitress. This was the show finally hitting its stride and figuring out exactly what it wanted to be.
2. Season 4
The fourth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is very close to being its very best season. There are so many great episodes. “Mac’s Banging the Waitress” is one of the finest and most masterful examples of storytelling in the Always Sunny universe, with a plot that keeps on moving and has a strong focus on character. “Paddy’s Pub: The Worst Bar in Philadelphia” is a dark, twisted, Tarantino-esque story in which Charlie kidnaps a critic who gave Paddy’s a bad review. “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis” laid out the Always Sunny formula for the first time and gave us an idea of how meta and self-aware the show could be. “The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition,” as Charlie and Dennis try to renovate a house with none of the necessary skills and Mac and Dee keep the terrified owners of the house hostage while struggling with the language barrier, is a hilarious episode. And the season finale episode, “The Nightman Cometh,” makes a strong case for being the best episode of the entire series! The only episodes that let it down are the overly juvenile “Who Pooped the Bed?” and the weird, historically set, mediocre episode “The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell.” But other than that, the gang knocked this season out of the park.
1. Season 5
There is not a single weak link in the fifth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Every single episode in this season is a knockout. “The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis” introduced us to Mac and Dennis’ real estate agent alter egos Hugh Honey and Vic Vinegar. “The Gang Hits the Road” is one of the funniest episodes of the whole show as we see the gang fail at something as simple as a road trip to the Grand Canyon. “The Great Recession” has Frank and Dee starting a door-to-door knife selling business, Charlie moving into a cardboard box by the docks, and Dennis and Mac trying to create their own self sustaining economy, all of them failing miserably. “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” and “The Waitress is Getting Married” are great character pieces with some really savage humor. “The World Series Defense” is a great baseball episode. “The Gang Wrestles for the Troops” introduced us to the Maniac and the Trashman and has some terrific moments of cringe comedy in it. “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens” sees the gang trying to hock Paddy’s Pub merchandise with poorly edited commercials and stupid ideas. “Mac and Dennis Break Up” is a hilarious study of Mac and Dennis’ co-dependent relationship. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” was the first true exploration into just how much of a sociopath Dennis is. “Mac and Charlie Write a Movie” is a hysterical send-up of the film industry. And “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry” has some inspired moments.