The FX television series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is currently airing its 12th season, now broadcasting on the FX sister station FXX. 100-plus episodes in the show is still going strong, thanks in large part to the brain power shared by its show-runners/stars Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and creator Rob McElhenney. On a recent interview with Ben Blacker for the podcast The Writer’s Panel, Howerton and Day (who portray Dennis Reynolds and Charlie Kelly on the show, respectively) discussed the show’s origins, how long they see the show lasting, and the controversy that some of their episodes have caused.
Initially written and filmed for pure fun, the pilot of Sunny quickly expanded into a full season order at FX, a phenomenon that Howerton and Day described as an all-American success story. Shot for very literally no money, the initial pilot depicted Dennis–then known as Glenn after his actor–entering Charlie’s apartment with the intention of borrowing a cup of sugar, a simple enough premise that has been performed hundreds of times. Quickly though, the situation turns manic. Charlie explains to Dennis that he probably has cancer, yet Dennis is unmoved (he only wants to get home so he can add sugar to his “shitload of coffee”). Awkward, unflinching, and hilarious, this short skit captures the tone of Sunny remarkably well, a tone that has been consistent throughout the entire series, even as the cast and the production value has changed. Adding veteran actor Danny DeVito to the cast in season two allowed the show to receive more money from the network, improving the look and visibility of the show. There is little sign of the show slowing down, and Howerton and Day are on record saying they have no desire to stop their momentum.
Naturally, a show that started out as a skit about a friend being diagnosed with cancer has faced intense criticism on occasion. A recent critique of the show stemmed from the show’s season twelve premiere episode “The Gang Turns Black.” A musical episode that depicts the show’s core cast as black people to everyone but themselves (who still see themselves as white) was criticized as the wrong type of issue for the show to tackle. Still, the show has never shied away from “taboo topics.” This is perfectly represented in the season three episode “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarted Person,” my personal favorite episode of the series. In the episode, Dee (Kaitlin Olson) begins dating a local rapper–Lil Kev–who expresses some unique qualities that Dennis explains simply: “Oh yeah, that guy is totally retarted.” The “r-word” is used numerous times throughout the episode, always in an offensive way and never politically correct. If you watch any episodes of the show, it’s easy to realize that political correctness is never the goal of It’s Always Sunny. In the end, it is revealed that Lil Kev is not in fact mentally handicapped despite Dee and Dennis’ persistence that he is, so what’s the lesson? As Howerton and Day explain on The Writer’s Panel, lessons don’t matter for these characters. The gang is a despicable one, four people who care very little about anyone but themselves and consistently find new and creative ways to ruin their lives. Howerton, Day, McElhenney, Olson, DeVito, and the entire writer’s room are only interested in making television that they themselves would want to watch–hopefully this television also makes the audience laugh as much as it makes them laugh. So, a lesson to carry the entire series? Howerton doesn’t like to think about his show in that way, but he had an answer when pressed: “don’t be like these fucking people.”