More than a decade ago, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia started out as a pilot shot on a camcorder by three friends. Today, it’s one of the seminal shows of the 2000s, a breakthrough sitcom that became the comedic face of what is now a prestige cable network.
How do you know you’ve made your mark on comedy? You hang around for long enough to find that you’ve influenced the shows around you. Stephen Falk, showrunner for FXX’s You’re the Worst, gushed over the influence Always Sunny had on bringing his comedy to FX.
“FX as a network was shown to be one that took risks and to try things,” Falk told Den of Geek. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia should not be left out of here. It was a landmark show. It was three knuckleheads that wanted to create work for themselves and came up with this very unsentimental sitcom that went way further than Seinfeld in terms of its characters being incredibly self-centered and misanthropic.”
Always Sunny ushered in an era of poor business decisions, musicals, and rum hams. After a heated debated, we settled on our picks for the 45 best episodes, listed in chronological order.
Let’s do this, bozos…
Charlie Has Cancer (Season 1, Episode 4)
Originally shot as the pilot, Always Sunny immediately tests the limits of friendship when Charlie discloses to Dennis, one of his closest friends, that he’s stricken with cancer. Only Dennis is more concerned about borrowing a basketball than consoling his friend. Eventually the Gang comes around to help Charlie by attempting to entice the waitress into sleeping with the lovesick bar-back. It’s an episode important to the recurring sexual themes that run through the series: Charlie’s ineptitude, Mac’s identity crisis, and the start of Dennis’ sociopathic tendencies.
Best Scene: In the first episode where Charlie shows a knack for coming up with an elaborate scheme, it’s also the first episode where we meet Artemis and Carmen, both classic recurring characters. Artemis going coyote ugly and Mac committing a hate crime by punching Carmen repeatedly in the face keep the laughter from going in remission.
Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare (Season 2, Episode 3)
In Always Sunny’s early days, when it held strongly onto the comparison that it was “Seinfeld on crack,” this episode literally went to that place. Dennis and Dee go on a wonderfully dark journey that sees them not only abuse the welfare system, but also crack cocaine. With some dynamite performances from the cast, the episode is a great example of how far the show was willing to push these characters this early on.
Best Scene: Dennis and Dee on crack withdrawal is a whole lot of fun, but the winner here has to go to their rendition of “Just A Friend” as they goad on Mac and Charlie.
Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom (Season 2, Episode 4)
This episode is a good example of how down right Machiavellian the Gang could get at times. This entry depicted them all at their most selfish and duplicitous. If there were ever any doubt that these people wouldn’t hesitate to stab each other in the back for some easy sliz, look no further than this one. A plan that Charlie concocts to bed the Waitress goes wrong in the worst possible way, and (un)sexy hilarity ensues.
Best Scene: I considered this to be my favorite episode of Always Sunny for the longest time due to the incredible ending. It’s this show at its most manic, and Charlie’s tear to mark the end of it all is a reminder that there are actually people in these malice machines.
Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass (Season 2, Episode 9)
Street theater is the only true form of artistic expression we have left. And Dee can’t act on the sidewalk for shit. In an episode all about freedom of expression, Frank, Dennis and Mac turn good girls wild and Asian gamblers loose while Dee and Charlie are inspired to perform in public. This episode highlights some classic Always Sunny failures. Dee and Artemis lack “the gift.” Frank brings some deranged shit in the bar. Dennis and Mac once again fail sustain promotion and Charlie suffers physically for it.
Best Scene: Charlie reaches peak anger, kicking some ass in the USA. Rock. Flag. And Eagle.
The Gang Gets Invincible (Season 3, Episode 2)
In a loose parody of the 2006 sports flick Invincible, Dennis, Mac, and Dee embarrass themselves as they try out for the Eagles. The un-inspirational sports montages are secondary to the real character building within the Always Sunny team. While Charlie and Frank are on the sidelines, we see the start of an intimate friendship. This episode is also marks the birth of Green Man, the mascot no one wanted.
Best Scene: Runner-up goes to the man (possible McDonald’s employee) impersonating former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. First place goes to Frank tripping on acid in a camper bathroom. Woodstock, baby!
Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person (Season 3, Episode 9)
Now 10 seasons in, every character has taken off their mask. The Gang was been reduced to their truest form. Dennis is a psycho. Frank is a disgusting troll person. We’ve spent days in the miserable life of Charlie and Mac Day told us everything we needed to know. Dee for the longest time tried to fight off inevitable fact that she’ll end up alone. Back when Dee thought she had a shot at a respectable dating life, she was going steady with Lil’ Kev, Philly’s douchebag rapper who may have had some type of disability.
Best Scene: Have your pick of scenes where Dennis is wearing a silver one-piece costume, but we suggest the one where Charlie is huffing spray paint. It’s at this brainstorm session when their band, Electric Dream Machine, christens “Dayman.”
Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City (Season 3, Episode 14)
Criminals and masturbating homeless people are running rampant in Philadelphia. What’s the gang to do? Buy a cop car and police uniforms. Along with Agent Jack Bauer, the junkyard cat that smells like a bucket of piss, Dennis and Frank keep Philly safe, one free hot dog at a time. Throw in Dee and Mac playing the vigilantes and Charlie channeling his inner Serpico, the streets of Philly have never been safer.
Best Scene: Agent Jack Bauer nearly tops Charlie’s screaming, crooked cop speech. The feline comes out bigger man, just like the real Jack Bauer, but Charlie is the real hero here.
Mac and Dennis: Manhunters (Season 4, Episode 1)
Man is a fickle beast. Man need not be hunted, eaten or teabagged by another human. Whether it’s out of boredom or an insatiable hunger, if it’s man you seek, be prepared for a fight. Dennis and Mac learn about the human condition as they descend on a twisted manhunt for Rickety Cricket. Meanwhile Dee and Charlie do some of their best physical acting work when they think they’ve become cannibals at the hands of Frank, who spends the episode accidentally quoting Rambo. Here, Always Sunny is at it’s most deprived and it’s one a hell of a hunting season.
Best Scene: Dee and Charlie talking their way into eating a corpse and arguing whether not eating a black corpse is racist. The guy at the morgue likes yogurt and Popsicle sticks up his ass, and they’re still the weirdoes!
The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis (Season 4, Episode 2)
The Gang has solved plenty of problems, none more important than bringing the cost of gasoline down and make a quick buck in the process. In a much-needed realigning of the Gang’s duties, Charlie takes center stage as the wild card, proving his worth one oil sale at a time.
Best Scene: We can use so much more of Charlie Day talking in a southern accent. It just fills us right up!
America’s Next Top Paddy’s Billboard Model Contest (Season 4, Episode 3)
There’s a lot working well in this episode. The search for Paddy’s billboard model turns Mac into “The Bachelor,” while Dee and Charlie go viral. We get some of the Dee and Charlie dynamic that consistently provided memorable episodes, but this is a Mac episode through and through. Unfortunately, Mac loses his command of the Gang as the series goes on and we have to return to episodes like these to see him in his prime.
Best Scene: I’ll continue to say that “Frank Reynolds Little Beauties” is the most underrated episode of the series. Frank does those beauties one better by parading hunks around the bar and shooting them as farm animals. “I’ve never been turned on by a jaguar before.”
Sweet Dee Has A Heart Attack (Season 4, Episode 10)
A (long overdue, and unsurprising) heart attack by Dee causes the Gang to examine their actions a little more closely with the grim specter of death now a real possibility. This sends Dennis and Dee seeking healthier lifestyles, with very satisfying results, whereas Charlie and Mac get an office job (together) to acquire health insurance as their safety net. As you might imagine, by the end of the episode, everyone is considerably less healthy.
Best Scene: Without a doubt Charlie’s colossal Pacino-esque rant about following the trail of a certain employee’s mail, and how it shows this huge conspiracy going on within the company. The rant itself is a perfect example of how wonderful Charlie is as a performer, but the fact that Mac tells Charlie that he’s just doing a bad job and there is no conspiracy just makes this all the better.
Boom boom. Chicka chicka.
Mac and Charlie Die (Season 4, Episodes 5 and 6)
A vengeful Mac’s father is on his way out of prison and has a score to settle with Mac and Charlie. Accordingly, they determine the best way out of this is to fake their own deaths. This game of cat-and-mouse is terrific in its own right as Mac strives to get acceptance from his dad. But the B-story sees Dennis and Frank discovering a glory hole and embracing the thing in the best way possible, and appropriately chilling results follow.
Best Scene: Here’s a great example of how strong Mac can be. After he fails to jump out of a car crash that’s intended to fake their deaths, he seems to have brain damage for the rest of the episode. It finds him continually bringing up a wedding dress, obsessing with the thing until he’s of course ultimately wearing it. Charlie’s with him through all of this and it’s so seldom that Charlie actually gets to be the straight man and the smarter of the two in a situation.
Paddy’s Pub: The Worst Bar in Philadelphia (Season 4, Episode 8)
This scathing review of Paddy’s Pub inspired us to write a response piece, reminding everyone why it’s not so bad to go to a bar where no one cares to know your name.
Best Scene: The episode is classic Always Sunny, dialing up the crazy to levels no one else on television would dare to go. The final scene, with Charlie grabbing the hammer, perfectly implies that these people will stop at nothing… until they’re on to the next thing.
Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life (Season 4, Episode 9)
Looking back now, an episode called “Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life” happens to look tame in comparison to the rapey vibes Dennis has consistently displayed in the six seasons after this episode debuted. Nonetheless, Sinbad and Matchbox Twenty lead singer Rob Thomas show up to make Dennis’ life hell while Frank and Mac stay committed to making his erotic tale a reality. In an episode devoted to living in another person’s shoes, Dee wolfing down cat food best shows us how the other half (of the Gang) lives.
Best Scene: Mac and Frank pretending to have cancer to set up a meeting with Bon Jovi is slightly less funny than Frank butchering the Jersey rocker’s name.
The Nightman Cometh (Season 4, Episode 13)
Not to discount three excellent seasons, but Always Sunny got on something for season four. Whether it was cat food, glue, or both, the Gang hit its stride and to top it all off, they came up with what to this day could be considered their crowning achievement. “The Nightman Cometh” is a rock opera and love story, and a seed of an idea from another classic episode. Who would have thought it would take Charlie Kelly scoring a musical to transcend Always Sunny from underground cult hit to mainstream success?
Best Scene: “You gotta pay the troll toll, get into this boy’s hole.” It’s clearly soul.
The Gang Hits the Road (Season 5, Episode 2)
When the Gang tried to hit the road towards the Grand Canyon, it was epic disaster. Filmed almost entirely in a car or the back of a U-Haul, this was one of Always Sunny’s more ambitious efforts and it paid off. Still, we’d like to see the Gang get far away from Philly someday.
Best Scene: When Charlie and Dennis are together, they provide some of the best comedy in the series. It’s especially evident here when they’re knocked unconscious by the chair they decide to burn in the back of a U-Haul.
The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention (Season 5, Episode 4)
The episode name pretty succinctly describes what goes on in “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” as It’s Always Sunny episode names are oft to do. But it can’t quite capture the horror of a shirtless Frank Reynolds walking away from a funeral literally gargling cheap beer. Also included are scenes of the Gang screaming “Intervention!” at one another indiscriminately and of course: wine in a can.
Best Scene: “Nobody likes salting the snail but she leaves you no choice!”
The Gang Wrestles For the Troops (Season 5, Episode 7)
Any time the gang is putting on some sort of show or spectacle, you know you’re in good hands. That idea can be doubled down when patriotism and America with a capital-A are also concerned. This episode is a sprawling synthesis of all of that, while also kicking off the beginning of Dee’s terribly cruel relationship with her crippled soldier boyfriend. It’s for the most part a whole lot of nonsense in the best possible way.
Best Scene: The wrestling match in general is a success, from the ridiculous Birds of War performance that starts it off that leaves everyone clueless, to the ultra serious conclusion of it all where it looks like Rickety Cricket is murdered when Frank (operating as TRASHMAN) nicks his neck open with a garbage can.
Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens (Season 5, Episode 2)
The merchandising convention is in town and Charlie decides he’s going to cash in with Kitten Mittens. As usual, the gang jumps on board and everyone wants to make the best products for Paddy’s Pub (which ends up making the guys enough cash to buy a boat in season 6 with their DickTowel.com money). Charlie and Dee enlist the help of the gang’s favorite lawyer to patent Kitten Mittens while Mac, Dennis, and Frank are making eggs, dick towels, thongs, and best of all guns that shoot booze right into your mouth. In the end The Lawyer screws them all with clauses in their contract. Mac eats the contract, but it doesn’t work though.
Best Scene: So many good moments and all the characters personalities are in full swing but nothing beats Charlie in his legal sparring with The Lawyer. I love when Charlie plays lawyer in the series. How can you argue with “Mind you the heretofore document had dry ink on it for at least many fork nights?”
Mac and Dennis Break Up (Season 5, Episode 9)
My own personal favorite episode of It’s Always Sunny delves into the co-dependent nature of two of its leads. Mac and Dennis decide they’ve been spending far too much time together and attempt to go their separate ways with disastrous results. Mac is forced to live amongst the filth of Charlie and Frank and Dennis come dangerously close to eating an apple skin. Dee also struggles to get a cat out of her wall.
Best Scene: This is a hard one to pick. But we’ll have to “settle” on Charlie and Frank electing to start pumping more cats into Dee’s walls to get the one cat already in it out.
The D.E.N.N.I.S. System (Season 5, Episode 10)
A classic episode and fan favorite amongst many circles, Dennis’ twisted hyper sexuality is one of the most consistent elements of the series and this entry explains that there’s a very real science behind this system. This episode really digs into the bizarre relationship shared between these degenerates as there’s a hierarchy of fucking in play here where Dennis’ runoffs go to Mac, and then onto Frank, with everyone more than understanding.
Best Scene: Naturally the scene where Dennis breaks down his system in the first place deserves a special place in Always Sunny history, but what I love so much here is how Dennis truly believes that he is the most attractive person on the planet. There are moments in this episode where Dennis is trying to pull off sexual schemes and you actually see him moving his hands to himself, like a conductor would an orchestra. His delusion has hit new levels.
The Gang Buys A Boat (Season 6, Episode 3)
While this might seem like a rather disastrous premise, the episode takes the idea to plenty of unexpected places, and unsurprisingly the bulk of this episode sees them landlocked with the promise and planning of what you can do with a boat being a lot shinier than actually using that boat. Most of this episode is watching everyone’s ids run wild as they get excited for a conclusion that you just know is going to get sunk.
Best Scene: One of my favorite developments through Always Sunny has been the gradual realization that Dennis is probably a serial killer. It’s entries like this that started the theory, with Dennis’ explanation of why he wants a boat and the implication that it stands for being some classic Dark Dennis and one of the most satisfying wells to draw from in the series.
Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth (Season 6, Episode 9)
Always Sunny sometimes would experiment with serialized storytelling, and in its sixth season that took Dee and Charlie to a high school (as a substitute teacher and janitor—nicknamed “The Professor”–respectively). The episode goes to some interesting territory as these characters try to seek independence and rise above their meager surroundings, with Dave Foley doing a flawless job as the beleaguered principal. Throw in some Jugalos and how can you go wrong?
Best Scene: While Dee and Charlie’s migration to school is certainly the episode’s focus, this episode might be remembered more so for it introducing Lethal Weapon 5 into the series. A concept that would get elaborated on much further in the series, this perfect example of poorly done amateur filmmaking (the fact that Mac and Dennis switch roles mid-film is just glorious) is just a delight that you wish would never end.
Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats (Season 6, Episode 10)
Being a bar-back has its drawbacks. Like killing piles and piles of filthy rats in the creepy Paddy’s basement. Charlie’s been underappreciated for all he does for Paddy’s, including giving it that nice, smoky garbage smell they all love. In appreciation of all that Charlie does, the Gang throws him a surprise Charlie Day, complete with denim chicken, a worm hat, and a brand-new rat-smashing bat. The episode has become a fan favorite for being yet another look into the usual life of Charlie Kelly, a life that almost no one envies.
Best Scene: The opening of the gifts!
The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods (Season 6, Episode 11)
The outside world can’t handle the Gang, hence why they’ve only left Philly twice in the last decade – both trips across the border to the Garden State. Like “The Gang Hits The Road,” their plans hit a snag when Mac swerves to avoid a squirrel and they’re left stranded on a New Jersey back road. With Dennis and Charlie marching onwards towards Atlantic City with the word “no” stripped from their vocabulary, Mac, Dee and Frank left to fend for themselves. The episode highlights the best of the self-centeredness and recurring themes—Dennis’ continued rapiness, Mac’s suppressed gay feelings, no one caring about Dee’s pregnancy—that keep us coming back to Always Sunny.
Best Scene: Dennis and Charlie evading the lust of a lonely trucker played by Tom Sizemore. That no one was split open like a coconut is the real win here.
The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore (Season 7, Episode 2)
The first episode where the entire Gang ventures outside of Philadelphia together is brilliant if for no other reason than to show that just maybe they aren’t the most fucked up collection of people on the planet. And what better place to show that than the Jersey shore? Skewering the magic of sitcom vaction episodes, the shore is a place where homeless people bang under the boardwalk, the lotion taste like tequila, and Charlie has a real shot with the waitress. Best of all: it’s hell on earth for Dee and Dennis.
Best Scene: There are so many great interactions in this episode, but Frank watching his rum ham float away says more than any other line of dialogue could. “I’m sorry, rum ham!”
Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties (Season 7, Episode 3)
Frank gets left with a Toddlers & Tiaras type beauty pageant after he makes an investment with a strange man in a “titty bar,” who gets booked for hitting on one of the contestants. Which, yes, was a child. Frank needs to make this pageant look legitimate or he could go down too. Obviously the gang gets involved after deciding that the right to put tan toddlers in tiny bikinis for child pageantry is truly American. Guys, it’s patriotism!
Best Scene: Okay so can’t go without mentioning Frank getting his makeup done by a mortician or Dee singing a duet with a contestant about how terrible mothers are. But the most cringe-worthy, but also hilarious, moment is Frank trying to get the guys to write a song about not “diddling” children. It ends in lots of panting which only adds to inappropriateness of the whole thing.
Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games (Season 7, Episode 7)
An impressive episode and absolute love letter to these broken characters sees the Gang stuck inside on a rainy day. They begin playing Chardee MacDennis, a board game they created, which has a tendency to bring out the best and worst in them all. What follows is a lightning round of this show’s trademark insanity as you’re taken through several categories of chaos as the increasingly agitated Gang drinks (drinking’s a big part of the game, naturally). “Chardee MacDennis” is a great look at how the show sometimes needs nothing more than its characters to get by.
Best Scene: The ultimate payoff at the end here where the pristine game pieces of Dennis and Dee are put through the wringer holds a good deal of catharsis behind it, but every moment of someone trying to flip over the nailed down board game might take the cake. The fact that such a precaution has been worked into the game shows how well they all know each other.
The ANTI-Social Network ( Season 7, Episode 8)
This is some pretty classic gang behavior. Dee takes the guys to a hip gin bar with no sign. The gang gets rowdy as usual, arguing about Zuckerberg and the Internet and how terrible gin is when a fellow bar patron shushes them. Dennis and Charlie then become obsessed with finding the culprit instead of trying to build Paddy’s web presence. The search sends Dee and Mac on a wild goose chase through internet catfishes while Charlie and Dennis decide to search on foot to shush in his face.
Best Scene: The closing of this episode is so great when the shushing culprit walks into a newly sign-less Paddy’s and Dennis maniacally turns to Charlie and says “Lock the door.” Gets me every time. The best scene, though, is definitely Charlie and Dennis in the police department making an assault claim in order to get a drawing of the shusher to paste around the neighborhood.
The High School Reunion Part 2: The Gang’s Revenge (Season 7, Episode 13)
The ultimate reality check for the Gang is a pretty humbling, depressing experience, as one might imagine. Everyone goes through some scathing disappointment with Dennis taking it the hardest (although Dee is in a rather awful back brace through the whole thing, too). We get to see the Gang continually faced with the images of other people doing something with their lives, and they begin to spiral downward while trying to grab anyone with them. The “Gang vs. …” is always a fun concept, and this is one of the better executions of it.
Best Scene: Yes, there’s a big, elaborate dance number in this episode that’s the perfect way of ending off a very satisfying season, but the true crowning achievement here is Dennis’ foray to his trunk after being humiliated and breaking down. The Gang confronts him as he’s pulling out zip ties, twine, and an assortment of icky accessories that he stumbles to explain his way through (“I like to bind and be bound!”). It’s these sorts of moments that would eventually happen at least once a season due to their acclaim.
The Gang Recycles Their Trash (Season 8, Episode 2)
The later seasons of Always Sunny have without a doubt seen the series adopt a more self-aware, meta embracing mentality to itself. This episode is a huge tribute to all of the long-time fans, as many failed, previous episode plot lines are considered (one of which, thankfully, is Dee’s terrible viral characters) and turned to as the gang feels like they’re running out of steam. It’s the sort of story that you’d expect out of South Park or Community, but they pull it off without getting too full of themselves. It’s also just a lot of fun to see how much these characters have changed since the early years.
Best Scene: All of the nostalgia stroking is a lot of fun here, and the astute observations about the group’s poisonous dynamic get a lot of mileage. It also continues to explore Charlie’s self-diagnosed title of being the group’s “wild card” and all of the madness that comes along with such a title.
The Gang Gets Analyzed (Season 8, Episode 5)
After a nice dinner, somebody has to do the dishes and the only way to decide is for the gang to meet with Dee’s therapist. Each member gets a one-on-one with the shrink, following Dennis’ suggestion. This episode truly goes deep inside the sole of the gang and really amps up each of their individual issues.
Best Scene: Okay this is hard. Each individual session with the therapist was so entertaining and so It’s Always Sunny. Dennis trying to control the ordeal and Charlie dropping a dead pigeon on the table are two hilarious highlights but I think I have to choose Mac’s session as the best. It starts with karate and ends with an “intimate” moment with a carefully placed pen. It’s manic, ridiculous, over-the-top, a little sad, and wonderful.
Charlie Rules the World (Season 8, Episode 8)
In a crew full of losers and idiots, Charlie is the biggest loser and idiot-est idiot. That’s the natural order of the Paddy’ Pub world. But “Charlie Rules the World” upsets this order in hilarious fashion as Charlie proves adept at an online fantasy game and wreaks havoc upon the world. This sets Dennis into a predictable and predictably sexual downward spiral.
Best Scene: Dennis’ final monologue. “I deleted all of your characters from the game. I erased all of your people. It was easy. You guys all have the same password: ‘Paddy’s Pub.’ Because the god damn game was irritating to me. I thought it was really stupid. And it really is just sort of that simple. I ended the game. That’s the end. Doesn’t have to be a whole big thing every single time. You know, that’s life. That’s just sort of how shit goes. Sometimes things just sort of end.” CUT TO: A sea turtle floating in outer-space during the end credits.
The Gang Dines Out (Season 8, Episode 9)
Three seasons after having briefly “broken up,” Mac and Dennis decide to treat themselves to a fancy dinner to celebrate their friendship. Meanwhile, Frank and Charlie have decided to do the same thing at the very same restaurant and Dee is dining alone at said restaurant thanks to a popular Groupon. The Gang spends dinner passive aggressively deciding who should “pay homage” to who before ultimately deciding that it’s everyone else in the restaurant that should pay homage to them.
Best Scene: Is there any contest? It’s the back to back screen shots that inspired hundreds of bros’ joint Facebook profile pictures.
Reynolds vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defense (Season 8, Episode 10)
Always Sunny is often at its best when it has stories that have dueling nonsense going on through them. Here we see ridiculousness dressed up as logic as the gang creates a mock trial pitting Dennis against Frank in a ridiculous cereal-based situation. All of the satisfying courtroom tropes are explored, as well as each member skewing the trial idea in their own idiotic way. It’s also always just great to see Dennis lose his shit.
Best Scene: Each character’s centerpiece of an “exhibit” at the trial is a masterstroke of character work, but Mac’s is particularly inspired as it turns into a big takedown on evolution and gets wonderfully off-topic while leaving everyone, particularly Dennis, frustrated.
The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award (Season 9, Episode 3)
In another great example of self-awareness, the gang laments how Paddy’s has never won an award (a fate that has also fallen upon the critically acclaimed Always Sunny) and stresses over trying to gain more mass appeal and become more likeable. It’s a tightrope walk of an idea, and something that feels more in tune for Arrested Development, but it’s a great look at how the show can mix it up and “sell out” while still retaining their voice. Seeing how the gang thinks they’re appealing to a mass audience, as opposed to what they actually want is also a very fun dynamic to watch play out.
Best Scene: Watching the gang play softball with the public that they hate so much is an awful lot of fun, but what might be more satisfying is Charlie’s twisted song that tells everyone to go fuck themselves (in the most Charlie way possible too, involving stanzas about spiders).
The Gang Gets Quarantined (Season 9, Episode 7)
It’s a testament to the creativity of It’s Always Sunny that it took the show so long to get around to a “quarantine/bottle episode.” This one, while not necessarily breaking the mold on the genre is remarkably funny, featuring a flu epidemic that drives Frank into madness and leads to a stunning revelation for the rest of the crew.
Best Scene: The Gang has just discovered, through absurd means, that they’re all alcoholics and suffering withdrawal. Charlie asks what they should do with that information. Dennis responds with “What do you do with any information? You just stuff it deep down inside and keep an eye on it.”
The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6 (Season 9, Episode 9)
While indulging can sometimes be a bad idea, and an experiment like this easily could have been too much of a good thing, this episode picks up where “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth” left off so to speak, giving you nearly an entire episode that’s a more overblown Lethal Weapon setup. The gamble is absolutely worth it and you can just see how much fun everyone’s having putting this thing together. Everything from the first entry is topped (including the blackface, and full-on penetration), and you’re just left bewildered. It’s incredible that this was even allowed to get made.
Best Scene: Everyone’s putting out their A-game here, but there’s something a little extra special coming from DeVito. His portrayal of Frank’s portrayal of the villainous dead Native American chief is a sight to behold. You forget what you’re watching for a minute. It’s so nice to see DeVito just diving into this material and truly making the most out of it. His elaborate sex scene, for instance, deserves mention.
Charlie Work (Season 10, Episode 4)
When any series has been on for ten years, you find yourself trying to challenge yourselves and push your boundaries, not only as storytellers, but as filmmakers, too. This episode is a dazzling embrace of how much work Charlie actually does for the Gang, as the arrival of the health inspector looms on the bar. This in itself would be an interesting idea, but the episode explores the manic panic going on within Charlie as he tries to pull this all together (which also coincides with a steak scheme that involves dressing up Paddy’s as a slaughterhouse) by following him the entire time, essentially remaining an unbroken cut through the whole episode (and hot off the heels of Birdman, no less). The whole thing comes together so well, and seeing such a different side of Paddy’s, you can’t wait for the next time they attempt something like this again.
Best Scene: Uh, the entire thing? The beauty of this thing is that it’s impressively essentially one long, continuous shot. So why not let the whole thing stand for itself? Although, the culmination of everything at that the end, as we truly see how much work Charlie does for Paddy’s is surely the payoff of the whole outing. Besides, who doesn’t love seeing Dee fall off a stool? The stupid bitch.
The Gang Misses the Boat (Season 10, Episode 6)
Dee is dressed like a man, Dennis is putting on mascara, Charlie is eating worms, and the gang is off to a party on a boat. Dennis is set on not missing the boat and when he sees it pull away from the dock, he drives his amphibious land vehicle straight into the water. The gang has realized they’ve gotten too damn weird and forgotten the people they once were. They decide to go off on their own and try to become the people they want to be. Dennis wants to be a cool guy again and sell his half-sunken Range Rover, Mac is going back to clubbing and finding chicks, Dee and Charlie connect all over each other, and Frank finds a new gang.
Best Scene: Charlie and Dee’s slam poetry is amazing but doesn’t compare to Dennis’ big moment. Dennis thinks he find the perfect fit athletic cool guy to buy his vehicle but then learns that the guy plans to gift it to his daughter. Dennis goes off on him and shoots into an angered monologue that has got to be the best thing I have ever heard. This is not only the best scene in the episode but probably one of the best scenes in the entire series. “I AM UNTETHERED AND MY RAGE KNOWS NO BOUNDS!”
Chardee MacDennis 2 (Season 11, Episode 1)
Any long-running series has so many classic guest characters and iconic episodes runs the risk of tarnishing those good moments with callbacks in later seasons. Always Sunny consistently handles these situations with care, and nowhere is it more apparent than “Chardee MacDennis 2.” The follow up to a classic episode adds a new wrinkle to the depraved board game by inviting a Mattel executive to witness the madness. And the unsuspecting exec is totally game for it… at first.
Best Scene: The accent round. Wine IVs. Hands on Dee. Shame! Shame! Shame!
The Gang Hits The Slopes (Season 11, Episode 3)
Always Sunny nails sports episodes and here is no different in an ‘80s/’90s homage to movies like Ski School. Dennis and Frank are the ideal sports film bad guys, Dee and Mac befriend a washed up former ski champ (and sex offender) named “Drisko,” and Charlie struggles to grasp the surrealness of the ski trip. It goes to show you that when the Gang finally does branch out of Philly, there’s a fish-out-of-water element that is an easy recipe for success.
Best Scene: Charlie learns the rules of the mountain in an explicit sex scene with an eastern European hooker set to “Jessie’s Girl.”
Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs (Season 11, Episode 5)
When the Gang attempts to leave the comfort zone of Philadelphia, it usually ends in disaster, losing a rum ham on the Jersey Shore or nearly burning to death in the back of a smokey U-Haul. “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs” see the titular roommates initially embrace an idyllic suburban eastern Pennsylvania suburb before tearing each other apart. The calm of the ‘burbs, the road-rage inducing commute, and the blandness of Mac’s Famous Mac and Cheese send Dennis and Mac into one of the series’ best spirals… and that’s saying something.
Best Scene: Sleep-deprived Dennis is at his most psychotic after learning the truth about Mac’s Famous Mac and Cheese.
Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy (Season 12, Episode 3)
Though it doesn’t always feel like it because of its laugh track aversion and truly abhorrent characters, It’s Always Sunny really is a traditional, good-old fashioned sitcom. We’ve even argued before that the show is essentially Seinfeld with the “Asshole Meter” cranked to 11. That’s why it’s always fun when the show goes full-borne into satirizing its own ancient medium. “Old Lady House” begins with Charlie’s concern that Mac’s mother is holding his mother hostage at their shared home. The gang sets up some cameras (one might even say “multi-cameras”) to investigate. Naturally before long, Charlie, Mac, and Dennis are acting as sitcom producers while Dee desperately tries (and fails) to become a Kramer-esque breakout character on the “show.”
Best Scene: There’s a lot to love in this episode. Mac and Charlie’s mom both turn in series-best work. Still, it’s hard not to award any moment in which Dee shits her pants as a highlight.
Hero or Hate Crime (Season 12, Episode 6)
Oftentimes the best episodes of It’s Always Sunny are the ones where all the characters get together in a room and are given the opportunity to argue over one another. “Hero or Hate Crime” seems to be created with this exact dynamic in mind. The cold open sets up a ridiculous, almost divinely-inspired circumstance in which a $2 scratch ticket, dog poop, and falling piano nearly end Mac’s life….and then Frank saves it by yelling a gay slur. Instead of being shocked at what has passed, the Gang decides to “hire” a mediator to determine who has the rights to the scratch off ticket. “Hero or Hate Crime” is pure It’s Always Sunny verbal comedy madness and even culminates in Mac finally, unexpectedly accepting his sexuality.
Best Scene: I mean…it’s the Ass Blaster 4000, right?
Editor’s note: This article originally ran on Jan. 6th 2016. It’s been updated to include season 12.