How can a show run for 12 seasons and still fly under the mainstream radar? It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia is one such show that has enjoyed huge critical kudos and lasting success, but ask the average man on the street if he's ever heard of it and you'll get nothing but a blank face. This. Ends. Now.
Always Sunny is required watching if you like your comedy with a bit of edge: think of it as a live-action South Park – a taboo-busting sitcom that doesn't discriminate in who it offends. The running gag is that the characters – smug Dennis, deluded Mac, disgusting Frank, pathetic Dee and rat-boy Charlie – are so awful, they deserve every awful thing that happens to them.
The following 20 episodes, the best of the best, should give you a broad overview of the show, but with 124 episodes on Netflix – and Season 12 newly this month – there is no excuse not to get stuck in.
The Gang Gets Racist (Season 1, Episode 1)
A mild introduction to the show's sense of humour: accidental racism, homophobia-phobia and our first look at the romance/stalking between Charlie and the woman he's obsessed with, known only as "The Waitress" (actually star Charlie Day's wife in real life). Always Sunny doesn't make racist jokes: it makes racists the joke. Cut to Charlie and Mac attempting to make black friends on a college campus to prove they're not racist. It is not a successful venture. Also in this episode: Charlie and Dee trick Dennis into having sex with a man to prove a point. Standard stuff all round.
Funniest line: Dee, to Dennis: “You're not gay, you're just really, really, vain.”
Charlie Gets Crippled (Season 2, Episode 1)
This is the first episode in which we meet Frank, played by Danny DeVito, the father of Dennis and Dee (and possibly Charlie too). Naturally, he makes one hell of an entrance, causing Dennis to hit Charlie with his car. Sympathy is not on the table, and rather than dote on their poor injured friend, the gang decide to cripple themselves in order to receive a similar amount of attention. Even when he's onto a good thing, Charlie manages to make a hash of it – instead of dressing like a disabled war hero to get chicks, he dresses like a 'Nam vet, complete with long moustache, fatigues and angry flashbacks.
Funniest line: Mac, to Frank: “When you say you're gonna give away your money to poor people, do you mean like Mexico poor, or can it be like me and Charlie poor?”
The Gang Dances Their Asses Off (Season 3, Episode 15)
Charlie's illiteracy leads him to put the gang's bar, Paddy's Pub, up as a prize in a dance competition, meaning Frank has to force everyone to enter the endurance competition to secure his business. There are many dance-offs in this episode, each as ridiculous as the last (Waitress: “I'm gonna go grind on a homeless guy!”), but the episode's most valuable player is "Rickety Cricket", the former priest turned “street rat” punchbag, who dances on bionic legs as paid for by the state of Philadelphia.
Funniest line: Dennis: “Cream always rises to the top and you're about to see the white hot cream of an eighth grade boy.”
Mac and Dennis: Manhunters (Season 4, Episode 1)
The madness intensifies significantly in the fourth season: the opener sees Mac and Dennis decide to hunt the most dangerous game, Man, albeit in the form of Rickety Cricket, while Charlie and Dee turn to cannibalism after Frank convinces them the steak they are was human meat (it is mere hours before they arrive at the morgue with a hot plate, and no time at all before they are caught seasoning a homeless person so they can know for sure). Dennis, for one, is caught up in all the excitement: “Feel my nips!”
Funniest line: Dennis, on what they do to Cricket when they catch him: “I suppose we do something teabag related.”
The Gang Cracks The Liberty Bell (Season 4, Episode 11)
The show's first stunt episode sees the gang tell the story of how Paddy's Pub is actually a historical Philly location and played a big part in the cracking of the state's iconic Liberty Bell. We flashback to 1776, and although the costumes are different, the dynamic is the same: everyone tries to have Sweet Dee burned as a witch, Mac and Dennis are turncoats and Charlie is... well, he's just Charlie: dirty and stupid. Even in colonial times, poor old Rickety Cricket – or his ancestors – can't escape a beating.
Funniest lines: Charlie, on Cricket: “Check his pulse.”
Dee: “He doesn't have a head, Charlie!”
The Nightman Cometh (Season 4, Episode 13)
Charlie is source of constant surprise, so it comes as quite a shock that the illiterate moron has written a musical called "The Nightman Cometh" (even if he did write the script in inscrutable scrawls instead of words). Andrew Lloyd-Webber can rest easy: Charlie's tone deaf musical contains lyrics that accidentally sound like an ode to child molestation, forcing Dee to create an additional musical number titled "Just To Be Clear", and the cast – featuring Mac in black eye-shadow as "The Nightman", and Dennis as "The Dayman" – are even more vain than the usual board-treaders. As it turns out, it was all an elaborate ruse to propose to the Waitress anyway. Nice try, Charlie.
Funniest line: Charlie: “I will smack your face off of your face! Do not add a song!”
Mac And Charlie Write A Movie (Season 5, Episode 11)
When Dee gets an acting job on the new M Night Shyamalan movie (actually a featured extra, actually a bloodied corpse, laying face down on the ground), Mac and Charlie grasp this opportunity to pitch the director their script. The film, about a cop who can smell crime before it happens, is titled "Crime Stinks: The Smell Of Penetration" and it contains as much explicit intercourse as its title suggests. Dee even manages to mess up her acting gig by pretending to be a zombie in her two seconds of screen time. It's not a zombie film.
Funniest line: Charlie: “WHAT IF HIS ENTIRE HEAD IS JUST ONE BIG NOSE!”
The Gang Buys A Boat (Season 6, Episode 3)
The gang club together their money from a successful rude towel venture to buy a boat called "The Drowning Sailor" and immediately disagree on their use of it. Dennis reveals to Mac he wants to use it to sleep with women at sea, who won't turn the offer down “because of the implication”. Dennis' glassy-eyed stare, and Mac's series of baffled responses, are a pitch perfect deconstruction of their relationship, telling us that, actually, yes, sometimes even the gang realise how awful they sound from time to time.
Funniest line: Mac, to Dennis: “You had me going there for the first part. The second half kind of threw me.”
Who Got Dee Pregnant? (Season 6, Episode 7)
Who's up for a flirtation with incest? Because that is most definitely on the table: Sweet Dee is pregnant, and one of the gang is responsible. Dennis is sure he wasn't involved... or was he? We enjoy several flashbacks to the gang's Halloween party, where it becomes clear that none of the narrators in this episode are reliable storytellers. Bonus detail: Charlie is dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, not because he is a musical genius and a stalker, but because he thought he was a “sexy vampire who eats theatre people”.
Funniest line: Charlie: “Do you have any idea what it's like to be this sexy?”
Chardee MacDennis: The Game Of Games (Season 7, Episode 7)
Just a flat-out ludicrous episode that's enjoyable for so many random reasons. The gang are bored as hell so break out an old board game of their own invention: Chardee MacDennis. The rules are unclear, but cheating is encouraged as long as you don't get caught, drinking is allowed except when it's not, berating your opponents is par for the course, and at one point, Frank is relegated to a dog kennel, where Dennis throws beer in his face. It beats the heck out of Monopoly.
Funniest line: Mac, on Dee: “Last time we played, Dee got "Emotional Battery". We berated her for, like, two straight hours!”
The ANTI-Social Network (Season 7, Episode 8)
The gang are brought kicking and screaming into the 20th century as they finally develop a web presence (but only to settle a beef). Their mission: get back at the bar owner in town who rudely shushed them. To track him down, Dennis and Charlie need his picture, but can't find it, so they fake a rape report at the police station to get a sketch. When this fails, they get a cartoonist to draw a caricature. Meanwhile, Dee finds him on Facebook in seconds. The highlight of the episode is Frank's attempt at creating a viral video.
Funniest line: Dennis: “I could be a man with a fist full of hammers and a trunk full of duct tape and zip ties!” (Spoiler: he is).
How Mac Got Fat (Season 7, Episode 10)
The funniest running gag of Season 7 is why Mac appears to have gained 50lbs for no real reason (actor and show creator Rob McElhenney packed on the pounds because he hated how sitcom stars always got better looking as their shows progress; also, because it would be funny). It's that dedication to a bit that makes this season finale so choice: Mac, the vainest character of all, blames his fatness on the gang, but it's McElhenney's comedic discipline, or lack thereof, that gets the biggest laughs pound for pound.
Funniest line: Mac: “Dennis always tells me "Never let someone's resistance stop you from getting what you want.”
The High School Reunion: Parts 1 and 2 (Season 7, Episodes 12 and 13)
Everything you love about Always Sunny in one handy two-part episode! Here we get to see the gang go back to their roots and face up to some hard truths at their high school reunion. We learn that Dennis was not quite the casanova he made out to be; we learn that Dee, poor bullied Dee, isn't adverse to joining the bullies when the occasion presents; we learn that Charlie is not above huffing bleach in a high school bathroom; but most of all, we learn that Mac's real name is "Ronald McDonald". That's a gag seven seasons in the making.
Funniest line: Charlie: “Do you see a spider I can eat?”
The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre (Season 8, Episode 3)
The zombie episode! Always Sunny does a horror pastiche for the first time and it's just as blissful as you'd expect. The gang descends on Maureen Ponderosa's wedding to Liam McPoyle, their extremely odd rival, and it isn't long before eyes are popping out and arms are being eaten, thanks to milk spiked with bath salts that sends the wedding party insane. As it turns out, Always Sunny wears gore very well, but naturally, the squalid status quo is returned by the episode's end.
Funniest line: Pappy McPoyle: “All the McPoyles sprung from my loins, fully formed! One of them babies tried to eat me - I ate him first!”
Reynolds Vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defence (Season 8, Episode 10)
The gang turn on each other in this courtroom episode, as Frank faces trial for rear-ending Dennis at a stop sign. We're not sure what's funnier: Mac's trial meter, which swings wildly depending on how sensational the "evidence" being heard is, or how proud Dennis is to have been eating cereal while driving, a point which ends up becoming crucial to proceedings. Somehow, Sweet Dee gets the rum end of the deal, despite not being involved in the accident in any meaningful way.
Funniest line: Mac's board: “SCIENCE IS A LIAR SOMETIMES”
The Gang Broke Dee (Season 9, Episode 1)
Dee is the show's perennial punchbag: a bird-like sponge who soaks up all of the gang's ill will. This episode takes Dee's torture to its psychological extremes. For a while, it seems like Dee has the gang's number, turning their constant berating into a stand-up comedy routine that starts to resonate with an audience. On the brink of breaking through, Dee books a gig on Conan O'Brien's show, only to find the whole thing was an elaborate ruse by the gang to bring Dee back down to Earth after she made an off-colour joke about suicide. Poor Deandra.
Funniest line: Frank, to a destroyed Dee: “Some things you just don't joke about.”
Flowers For Charlie (Season 9, Episode 8)
This parody of Flowers For Algernon sees Charlie suddenly realise his full intellectual potential after a science experiment. At least, that's what we're led to think. At the episode's close, we learn that the experiment didn't make Charlie smarter after all, just way more arrogant – it turns out he wasn't speaking Mandarin at all. Not even close. Charlie's "genius" invention was kind of a giveaway: a device that allows cats and spiders to talk to one another.
Funniest line: Charlie: “Stupid science, couldn't even make I more smarter!"
The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6 (Season 9, Episode 9)
This episode does what it says on the tin: the gang endeavour to make Lethal Weapon 6, having already made Lethal Weapon 5 in an earlier season. Mac is still blacked up to play Murtaugh (as is Dee as his wife) and keeps inexplicably switching roles with Dennis, and yes the movie features more volleyball matches and hardcore pornography than censors usually allow, but it is a success of sorts – except for in the literal sense, in that it fails to raise any capital whatsoever. There's always Lethal Weapon 7.
Funniest line: Dennis: “Make the movie straighter!”
The Gang Hits The Slopes (Season 11, Episode 3)
Sure, South Park already did a pretty on-the-money parody of 80s teen movie Ski School, but Always Sunny skewers all the same tropes and is just as funny – even if just for the sight, and sound, of Dennis breaking both his ankles at the same time. Dennis and Frank battle Charlie and Dee for domination of the mountain on their ski retreat, but Charlie is the wild card, having rarely ventured outside of Philadelphia in his entire life. Bonus fact: actor Dean Cameron, who plays bully Drisko, was actually the star of Ski School.
Funniest line: Dennis, to his new girl Tatiana: “Only when you are clean will you know my power.”
Mac & Dennis Move To The Suburbs (Season 11, Episode 5)
It's a less broad subject for parody, but Mac and Dennis brilliantly capture the suburban frustration of married couples in this neat pastiche, nailing the fact that, after 11 years enjoying/suffering from each other's company, they're just about ready to kill each other. It's the little things that drive them crazy outside the city's hustle and bustle: Mac's insistence on serving the one dish he knows how to cook ('Mac's Famous Mac and Cheese'); the noise from the pool pump and the chirping smoke alarm slowly driving Dennis crazy. Well, crazier. They get a dog. It does not end well for the dog.
Funniest line: Dennis, stripping nude, to his neighbour: “Yeah. It is super hot. It’s getting really hot around here. So hot, Wally, but you don’t really know what hot is, do you? Hot’s a storm. You ever been in a storm, Wally? I mean, a real storm. Not a thunderstorm, but a storm of fists raining down on your head.”
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia seasons 1-12 are available to watch on Netflix