The Daily Stream: It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Is The Best Show About The Worst People

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Follow five miscreants who run an Irish dive bar in Philadelphia and refer to themselves as "the gang" as they get into all kinds of trouble while trying to solve the world's problems. They are: Frank (Danny DeVito), a retired ruthless businessman who gave up his swanky life to hang out under bridges; Charlie (Charlie Day), Frank's roommate and possible son who drinks paint, huffs glue, and puts pigeons in his pockets; Dennis (Glenn Howerton), a severe narcissist and misogynist who might have killed his ex-wife; Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Dennis' twin sister with delusions of grandeur; and Mac (Rob McElhenney), a closeted gay man obsessed with Catholicism and working out. 

Over the series' 14 seasons, the gang have been through just about everything five friends can go through. They've seen weddings, funerals, births, deaths, several court cases, and they even narrowly escaped death together when a cruise ship they were aboard sank into the ocean. No matter what happens to them, though, the members of the gang stay the same. Normal people who come in contact with them are never the same, but the gang keeps on trucking. When the world around us feels increasingly unstable, knowing the gang will be as horrible as always is a kind of comfort.

Why It's Essential Viewing

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is the longest-running live-action comedy series in American television history. The series was created by McElhenney, Howerton, and Day, who pitched it to FX based on a pilot and a very low budget. In season 2 they added veteran comedian Danny DeVito as Dee and Dennis' (assumed) father, Frank. The series took off, with DeVito balancing the cast's chemistry and drawing in new viewers.

No topic is safe from the skewering of the gang, or the writers of the series. Over the years they've addressed issues surrounding race, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, gun ownership, and more, all while making such challenging topics entertaining. Likewise, the gang are terrible people, but they're written somewhat sympathetically. Their terrible actions and behaviors are condemned by society and the series itself, but over the years we've learned enough about the trauma that shaped them that we can at least understand why they're so terrible. They're still irredeemable, but they seem less monstrous. 

If the formula of following a bunch of terrible people in a sitcom seems familiar, that's because it is. "It's Always Sunny" is a riff on numerous other sitcoms, most notably "Seinfeld." They even did a great homage to the series in their episode riffing on clip shows, or episodes where a bunch of old clips are played to fill time. In that episode, they remember themselves as being the characters in the famous Seinfeld episode, "The Contest." 

But whereas the "Seinfeld" gang are fairly wealthy New Yorkers, the "Sunny" crew can barely pay their rent. Frank bankrolls some of their misadventures, but there's also plenty of times where the gang's down and out. It's another thing that makes them feel a little more relatable, and makes it easier to comment on your average American. 

A Series with Surprising Self-Awareness

One thing "It's Always Sunny" does frequently is push the boundaries of good taste. Sometimes it's in the name of getting a really shocking laugh, while other times they're trying to make a point about some societal issue. While many comedy writers refuse to engage with their earlier work, "Sunny" frequently pokes fun at itself and tries to make up for past mistakes by pointing them out. 

Early seasons of the show were pretty rough, with the gang using various slurs somewhat regularly. The series addressed this informally in the clip show episode, when they bleeped out the slurs but left in a fully unbleeped f-bomb. They addressed it directly in the episode "Hero or Hate Crime?", which might be one of the greatest episodes of television to ever air. In the episode, Frank uses a slur to warn Mac that a piano is about to fall on his head, and the gang must then determine if Frank is a hero for saving Mac's life, or a bigot for using a slur. 

"Hero or Hate Crime?" digs deep into what offends us and why, but never tries to give concrete answers or judgements. At the end of the episode, Mac ends up finally coming out of the closet. It's a huge moment for his character, and one that on a lesser series would have felt trite at best and pandering at worst. After Mac leaves the room, the gang make fun of him once more because, gay or straight, he's still Mac.

Another episode that messes around with meta-commentary is "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award." Despite being critically lauded and having a seriously devoted fanbase, "It's Always Sunny" doesn't really win awards. After all, it's a show with frequent jokes about bodily fluids, not exactly primetime awards material. In the episode, the gang check out a bar that just won the "best bar" award, and the bar has everything a shiny network sitcom has: a will-they-won't-they romance, a perky soundtrack, and even a bell that tells you when to drink to represent a laugh track. It seems like the series is only going to skewer the competition, but when we get to the gang trying to do the same routine, they fall apart.

A TV Show About How Entertainment Shapes Us

One of the most interesting things about "It's Always Sunny" is that in addition to being a commentary on itself and the media, it's a commentary on how our lives and identities are shaped by pop culture. The members of the gang see the world through a pop culture-tinted lens: each is extremely educated in movies, television, and music, even if they're otherwise completely illiterate (like Charlie). Their whole world can center around something like a new "Thundergun" movie being released with Dolph Lundgren, which feels a lot like the hype some folks get about their favorite franchises. When they try to explain things to one another, they use the shared language of movie references, to the point where Frank even starts getting his memories confused with the plot of "First Blood." 

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is a complex, nuanced sitcom that skewers every aspect of our society, including itself. And the best part? They still find time to make jokes about poop.