It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show that, thankfully, just won’t die. The show has been renewed for both a season 13 and a season 14, which will make it the longest running live action sitcom in the history of American television. That is quite some achievement, right? And they probably won’t stop there, because the show just keeps going from strength to strength. Most shows have tanked by about season 6 or season 7, but that’s when Sunny was just hitting its stride. It took three seasons to even find its voice, and now, the show has twelve seasons under its belt, all with some great episodes and some not so great episodes. Here are the very best episodes from each of those twelve seasons.
12. Season 12: The Gang Goes to a Water Park
In the twelfth season of It’s Always Sunny, unfortunately, the cracks are starting to show and it seems as though the quality is going to decline over the next few years, as it does with every show at a certain point. Always Sunny’s season 12 is sadly a weak season of television overall, but “The Gang Goes to a Water Park” shows us they can still knock it out of the park. This is all we need – the gang let loose in an environment like a water park – because then we just see where they go. The show has been relying on too many gimmicks recently, like the musical episode where they all turned black, but the show succeeds better with simpler episodes that rely on character, because the show has such strong characters. In “The Gang Goes to a Water Park,” everyone has something hilarious to do. Mac and Dee are stuck in a kids’ slide and spend the whole day in there with kids getting backed up behind them as they try to come up with a backup plan, Charlie gives Frank hickeys so that they can pretend he has AIDS and get to the front of all the lines, and Dennis takes on a protégé in his deceits who ends up using his teachings to dupe him. All in all, this is a classic episode that could’ve have been made much better. The ending, with Frank sliding down an unfinished slide on nothing but a water bottle’s worth of water, will leave you laughing long after the credits have rolled.
11. Season 11: Mac and Dennis Move to the Suburbs
There are very few actual psychological thriller movies that handle the human mind’s descent into madness better than the Always Sunny episode “Mac and Dennis Move to the Suburbs,” in which Frank tells Mac and Dennis that if they can last a month in a house in the suburbs, he’ll pay their rent for the rest of the pay. At first, they think it’ll be a piece of cake, but the air filter sounds at night keep them up and their neighbor Wally who always says it’s “a hot one” start to drive them crazy. Dennis gets road rage every day during the commute to and from work and begins to loathe the sight of Mac. Mac, meanwhile, takes on the role of a housewife, who eventually becomes so annoyed at Dennis for being too stressed by the daily commute to take his feelings into consideration that he cooks their pet dog into the dinner just to get some attention. The whole thing reaches its peak during Dennis’ naked “Have you ever been in a storm, Wally?” tirade against the next door neighbor. This is one of the funniest episodes of It’s Always Sunny ever. It’s certainly the most cinematic one.
10. Season 10: Charlie Work
Apparently, the idea behind “Charlie Work,” an episode that is shot entirely in one take (or at least edited to look that way) and set to the sounds of jazz drums the whole time to set the rhythm and pace, was not taken from Birdman, which was shot and edited and scored the exact same way, but rather from the long take in True Detective paired with the fact that they knew a good jazz drummer. Either way, this shooting technique paired perfectly with the premise of Charlie trying to get Paddy’s through another health inspection on the day of one of the gang’s reckless money-making schemes to give us maybe the greatest episode of the entire series, let alone the tenth season. We see a side of Charlie’s genius that usually goes unseen as he desperately tries to think on his feet throughout the hectic mess of his day. Every time he comes up with a plan to cover something up, something else comes along to spoil it, and so he has to keep thinking of more solutions, and to his credit, he just about pulls it off! While he huffs glue and can’t read and we all think he’s the dumbest character on the show, he’s probably the only one with the brains to trick everyone who comes down to check out the bar in order to keep it afloat. Without Charlie, the gang would be nothing. Who knew?! Anyway, “Charlie Work” is a great episode, and if any episode of the show was deserving of an Emmy, it would definitely be this one – for any aspect of the production, since it was all pulled off spectacularly. And speaking of It’s Always Sunny and the Emmys…
9. Season 9: The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award
Have you ever wondered why It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has never won or ever been nominated for an Emmy Award? Hell, even Entourage won some. Have you ever thought that It’s Always Sunny deserved at least one nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, or a couple of acting awards for that stellar cast? Well, the makers of the show themselves have thought that and that’s why they made a whole episode about it. Unlike Family Guy’s Emmy-baiting episode, It’s Always Sunny wasn’t so on the nose about it being about the show not winning an Emmy – instead, it was about Paddy’s not winning the Best Bar Award. The gang ponders if it’s because they skewer a younger demographic or because they yell so much or they have a dark sense of humor (these could all apply to each a show or a bar, which is the genius of it). To get to the bottom of it, the gang visits some bars that are winning awards. Mac, Dennis, and Dee go to a brightly lit bar with friendly staff, a token black guy, a ‘will they or won’t they?’ romance, and a bell that tells you when to drink (i.e. a laughter track), while Frank goes to classy burlesque bar that’s won a ton of awards (representing dark, sexy HBO dramas like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire). The guys consider that maybe it’s their location (FX shows don’t generally win Emmys), but then Dennis says that a bar down the street has already won a bunch of awards (Louie aired on FX and was showered with awards). Dennis mentions that “black bars don’t win awards,” a reference to how fantastic shows like The Wire with mostly black casts never seem to get awards recognition. It’s just such an endlessly clever episode.
8. Season 8: The Gang Recycles Their Trash
If there’s one thing that the writers of It’s Always Sunny know how to do, it’s a meta episode. They’re great at being self-aware and pointing out the shortcomings of the show without actually breaking the fourth wall and outright saying that they’re talking about a TV show. Rather than saying that their TV show has gone on for eight seasons and therefore so long that they’ve run out of ideas for episodes and are now repeating themselves, they say that their bar has been opened for eight years and therefore so long that they’ve run out of ideas for plans and schemes and are now repeating themselves. The episode follows the basic plot of “The Gang Solves the Crisis,” but with the garbage men’s strike being used in place of the inflating costs of gasoline. So, the guys head out to collect trash in tuxedos and they come to the same conclusion as before – until Charlie steps up with a monologue about why the gang always fails and the episode gets more meta than ever. The ending where Charlie has cut the brakes again and Mac had figured as much and replaced them is beautifully symbolic of how other shows in their eighth season start to become predictable, and how their show was going to stay ahead of that. That scene midway through the episode of Mac trying to kiss Dennis and then walking off awkwardly is just a cherry on top of the meta ice cream sundae. Rob McElhenney sells Mac’s emotions during that moment so perfectly.
7. Season 7: The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore
Sitcom episodes all follow multiple storylines. Each of the characters are up to something, and it’s often easy to spot who got the strongest storyline of the week. This is also true of It’s Always Sunny. For example, in “Mac and Dennis Buy a Time Share,” Mac and Dennis clearly got a better storyline than Frank, who spent the whole episode stuck in a coil in a kids’ playground. But in “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore,” season 7’s greatest episode, everyone got a hilarious storyline! In fact, it’s impossible to even pick a favorite. Dennis and Dee have their favorite childhood vacation destination ruined by witnessing hobos having sex under the pier and Dee having her hair ripped out by a ride and then both of them becoming accessories to armed robbery and murder. Charlie spends all night on the beach with the Waitress, having the best time ever, only to discover that she was on ecstasy the whole time and has no memory of it. And Frank and Mac take their rum ham out to the high seas to escape the stray dogs on the beach, only to be swept away into the middle of the ocean and stranded there. Actually, maybe that’s the best storyline. Turns out you can pick a favorite! But still, that doesn’t detract from this being a resoundingly successful episode of the show, and definitely one of its best.
6. Season 6: Mac and Charlie: White Trash
It’s Always Sunny set itself up perfectly with its cast of characters for a satirical jab at the class system. They all work at a dive bar for next to no pay, and yet they all see themselves as a different class from one another, which is already a study in how class works – is it who you are now or is it in your upbringing, or can you change class? Mac and Charlie grew up working class in broken homes, while Dee and Dennis grew up in a mansion in the upper class, yet all of them ended up in the same place. Mac and Charlie like to think of themselves as streetwise, being marginalized by the upper classes, while Dee and Dennis are pompous and entitled and like to live a certain lifestyle that they can’t afford, and yet they all have the same job with the same pay. Frank is the only member of the gang who actually has money, and the way he lives is one step away from homelessness. This is all framed with the storylines of who is allowed to swim in what pool. This is actually one of the strongest satires that It’s Always Sunny has ever done. Sometimes they just gloss over a topic, but this one goes deep – and it’s hilarious, too!
5. Season 5: The Gang Hits the Road
By the time season 5 rolled around, the writers of It’s Always Sunny had realized that they could put these characters in pretty much any situation and make it funny. So, when the gang decides to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, you knew it could only end in disaster and hilarity. There was no way they were making it to the Grand Canyon. The first thing Mac does is throw a beer bottle at a cyclist’s head and then Dennis runs over the bike and breaks the car. So, they’re back at Paddy’s and stealing Dee’s car with still no progress on the journey. Every successive thing that happens in this episode is a new classic Sunny moment: they stop off at the market to buy some hot dogs, a French press, and two wicker chairs; Dee picks up a hitchhiker and lets him take the wheel while she gets drunk and throws pee at Mac’s sleeping face; Dennis and Charlie nearly kill themselves by burning the wicker chairs in a confined space in a misguided attempt to warm up; and eventually, the hitchhiker ditches the gang at Paddy’s and takes off with Dee’s car. Classic Sunny ending. The ending is symbolic of the show: they end up back at Paddy’s right where they started. It shows us that these characters will never change. They’ll always be the same, and we like that.
4. Season 4: The Nightman Cometh
The home makeover episode from season 4 is great, but this episode, in which Charlie attempts to put on a musical starring his friends, could compete for the title of best episode of the entire series, not just the best episode of its fourth season. Charlie writes a musical based on his and Dennis’ earlier song about the Nightman (which Artemis then has to translate into actual legible words) and casts the gang in all the lead roles. They ruin it, of course, but you see that they are trying their hardest, which is sweet. Frank keeps saying “boy’s hole” instead of “boy’s soul,” which is hilarious, and Mac is annoyed when the audience laughs at his cat eyes and karate moves, which he thought were awesome and jaw-dropping. When Charlie invites the Waitress and tells her that if she comes to the musical, he’ll never bother her again, it seems like the stakes are high and Charlie might be maturing and we might get to see some character development – but that’s not the show’s style, so there’s a twist coming. The ending is beautiful as it turns out that Charlie only put on the musical as an elaborately staged proposal for the Waitress, who of course refuses the proposal instantly and rejoices that she never has to see him again. And Charlie just says, “Well, I didn’t actually sign anything, so I’ll see you on Monday,” and everyone’s back to square one.
3. Season 3: The Gang Dances Their Asses Off
Considering that most Always Sunny episodes lampoon a current topic (gun laws, homelessness, social media etc.), it was a strange idea for the third season finale to be one long dance contest – but it worked! Somehow Charlie ends up getting the gang some free publicity in a dance contest broadcasted on a radio station from the bar, but his illiteracy means that the bar is the prize and the gang will have to dance their asses off to make sure they get to keep Paddy’s. Despite an unusual setup, this led to a deviously funny episode in which everyone in the gang, true to their characters, had their own motivations to gain ownership of the bar, and so instead of working together, they all broke off into their own separate allegiances and tried to sabotage one another. Plus, having a dance contest where the winner gets to screw over the gang was a great opportunity to bring back all the supporting characters that the gang had screwed over themselves over the years. Old enemies like the Waitress and Cricket showed up to exact their revenge. Mac and Dennis’ dance-off is a beautifully hilarious moment, with an early sign that Mac is gay (paired with his brilliantly written diatribe about his “cream”) and some of the most painfully terrible dance moves ever committed to film. In a season that lagged a bit as the writers struggled to come up with 15 ideas for their biggest episode count yet, the finale really saved everything and geared us up for what would be the best season of the show ever, season 4.
2. Season 2: Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare
The best Always Sunny episodes take a poignant social issue – like the welfare system – and throw their totally insensitive characters into that environment and build a story around it in the most offensive and outrageous ways possible. This one is a prime example of that as Dennis and Dee quit their jobs at Paddy’s to pursue their dreams and end up at the welfare office within days. Dennis claims to be a crackhead and Dee claims to be mentally challenged in order to wrongfully claim welfare, but without sufficient evidence, they get sent packing. So, they decide to try a bit of crack, just enough to get a doctor’s note, and end up completely ruining their lives. Meanwhile, Charlie and Mac head down to the welfare office themselves to pick up a couple of ‘slaves’ (disadvantaged people who are paid by the government to do work for local businesses) in order to get them to do all the menial jobs around the bar that they don’t want to do. In both stories, the characters are trying to scam the welfare system, but each in different ways. That’s what makes It’s Always Sunny so great. They pick a topic and attack it from every angle to show all the horrible things that people like the gang could do with it and use it for their own personal gain. It’s twisted, but so hilarious. This may be a weak episode for Frank, but Danny DeVito had just joined the show and they still weren’t sure what to do with him.
1. Season 1: Underage Drinking: A National Concern
There aren’t really any particularly great or standout episodes in the first season of It’s Always Sunny. For starters, the first season of any show is never its best, because the writers are still figuring out the tone and direction or the show and the actors are still getting to grips with who their characters are. Plus, the episode count for season 1 is the lowest in the show’s history (naturally, since the point of the first season is to see how well the show works and what kind of an audience it will reach), so the team had less chances to knock it out of the park with a classic. But still, the episode with all the underage customers is pretty great. At first, the gang’s plan is to sell alcohol to teenagers in order to boost their income, but as the story goes on, they all get sucked into the kids’ high school drama. Dennis, Dee, and Charlie are all invited to prom by the teen drinkers, much to Mac’s dismay. And when Dennis and Dee’s dates turn out to be exes who are using them to get back at each other, Charlie is the only one left with a date. And then we’re treated to that hilariously awkward closing shot at the prom set to “Forever Young,” when Charlie’s date leaves him for another guy and he’s left to dance on his own. It’s not the most structurally perfect episode and it certainly has some weak spots, but this is one funny episode.