Episode rankings are a funny thing. They’re written with an air of authority, but they’re mostly a surefire way to confirm that your experiences are your own and your priorities are nothing like anyone else’s.
That being said, this is the definitive ranking of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes, and no other ranking will do.
And now it’s new and improved, updated to include the ten new episodes of the 13th season.
Thirteen years is a long time — long enough for fans to develop very different ideas of what makes a good episode. It’s also long enough for the show itself to have evolved very different values and goals than it started with, and there might be no more different season than the 13th.
If you want to read 2,700 words on the show’s evolving values written by yours truly, then click here.
If you want to read 1,800 words on the new season’s most different five minutes, click here.
If you want to avoid reading as much as you can, you can skip ahead to the low numbers. Or the kind of low numbers. But then maybe come back and read the other entries, too, because I really poured my heart and soul into this list. And even the worst rated episodes are worthy of praise — I run out of anything bad to say at all by the third page. From there on out it’s just shades of good, better, and best.
If you’re really just here to see where the new episodes fall, the numbers are 141, 138, 130, 120, 78, 56, 38, 34, 18, and 2.
So poke around. Read as much or as little in whatever order you like. Just remember: This is still the definitive ranking, and no other opinion counts.
143. Frank’s Brother (s7e5)
“Those were the days…”
With 143 episodes, not every one can be a winner, even with Lance Reddick and the admittedly brilliant “Shadynasty” pronunciation joke. The truth is that the gang are the heart and soul of Always Sunny, and the occasional interjection just isn’t enough.
142. A Cricket’s Tale (s12e9)
“Unbelievable. Yes, I’m gonna take the lemons.”
The same logic stands for this episode. While David Hornsby’s Rickety Cricket is one of the show’s finest accomplishments, this (relatively) straightforward story of redemption with a (relatively) shocking ending and virtually no input from the gang just doesn’t cut it. As the penultimate episode before the bombshell of Dennis’ departure, it feels like filler.
141. The Gang Does a Clip Show (s13e7)
“My legs have always been long. It’s a burden being tall.”
The finest moment of the 13th season is, of course, the end of “Mac Finds His Pride.” But the second finest might very well be this episode’s motion-for-motion recreation of a scene from Seinfeld. Always Sunny has forever been compared to Seinfeld, and the acknowledgement of this comparison is great. Charlie’s uncanny Kramer impression is even greater. But the stroke of pure genius is the doubling up Dennis and Mac on Jerry, dressed identically and moving in unison, as a work-around of the fact that Seinfeld has one fewer cast member. It’s too bad this gem of a scene is buried in such a lackluster episode. While the show’s take on the classic clip show format is creative and interesting on paper, the interesting stuff starts too late, spins slightly out of control, and wraps up too quickly. A few more solid minutes of exploration might have worked wonders for this episode. Coming in under time and already padded with clips from past seasons, it’s much too ambitious for the amount of time it gives itself, and it suffers for it.
140. Charlie Wants an Abortion (s1e2)
“What’s not to get? Come to Philly for the Crack. It has a picture of the Liberty Bell on it… it’s funny and original.”
Ranking the earliest episodes of Always Sunny is tricky, because it was such a different show at the time. Dee is the voice of reason. Frank doesn’t exist. And Mac, Charlie and Dennis are just three self-serving jerks, rather than the absolute weirdos they eventually become. “Abortion” is still a fun episode, and one that drives home how unprincipled the (male) members of the gang are, but in retrospect it feels pretty mild. It’s a testament to the show that I’m making that pronouncement about the episode where Mac pretends to have murdered two abortion doctors to get laid.
139. The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell (s4e11)
This might lose me a lot of credit, but I don’t like the Liberty Bell episode. I think it’s a shark jump that in any other show would mark the beginning of the end. The fact that Always Sunny has produced 8 and counting amazing seasons since ought to be enough to make me change my mind, but I shan’t. I do like Mac’s wooden teeth, though.
138. Charlie’s Home Alone (s13e8)
“I don’t know why I’m screaming. This doesn’t hurt at all.”
Two-parters have never been this show’s strongest suit, and this one feels stretched especially thin to accommodate Glenn Howerton’s partial absence from the season. I love watching Charlie Day being dirty and gross, and that rat vomiting montage is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, as well as Day carries it, the script is unusually simplistic for Always Sunny, beginning as a straight Home Alone parody and more or less telegraphing every move. (When Charlie mentions twice that he has to “drink yellow,” is there any doubt in anyone’s mind where he’s going to end up?) It’s a fun enough episode, but it’s lacking in the complexity (and characters) that make the show great.
137. Dee Made a Smut Film (s11e4)
“I mean, we’re just air conditioners walkin’ around on this planet, screwin’ each other’s brains out!”
Look, I love Ongo Gablogian as much as the next guy. If I had my druthers, Danny DeVito would be contractually bound to wear that wig at least once per season. But on the whole, I think the episode falls short. It’s a conversation about the value of art that’s been had before and will be had again, and nothing new or surprising comes out of it. It’s a rare Always Sunny episode without any real bite or creativity, and I don’t love it. I’m sorry.
136. Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Disaster (s12e4)
“I just puked on my dick.”
The thing that rubs me wrong the most about this episode is twitter’s readiness to give the Reynolds family a second chance. The internet is a fickle place, it’s true, but only in one direction, and forgiveness has never come so easily as it does for Wolf Cola. That tiny complaint aside, the whole episode feels a little played out, a revival of old hits (Wolf Cola, Fight Milk) without the wry self deprecation of “Frank Falls Out the Window” or “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.” It feels like a late-series episode. Thank God season 12 has some of the best episodes, as well, to prove that the show isn’t actually slumping.
135. The Gang Finds a Dead Guy (s1e6)
“Let me tell you something with absolute honesty and concern for your well-being. Tom Brady would kick your ass.”
Another relatively straightforward plot from the early days that pales a little with time. Seeing Dennis lie with practiced ease to take advantage of a grieving woman is a mild day compared to what we’ve gotten used to. In the context of a brand new show, however, it’s pretty admirable, paired as it is with Nazis and the horror of aging. Always Sunny may not have started out as artistically bizarre, but it did have a strong beginning of broaching absolutely any subject.
134. The Gang Squashes Their Beefs (s9e10)
“We bought this biiiiitch.”
This is a rare instance of the show’s bulk getting away from it. The whole joke is, of course, that the gang have unresolved beef with everyone they know. Unfortunately it makes for a pretty unwieldy episode. It does shine in its moments of focus, however, such as Liam McPoyle’s eye insecurity and Frank and Hwang’s standoff to the sweet sounds of “Genius of Love.”
133. Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer (s12e5)
This is an experimental episode that, in my opinion, just doesn’t make it. A send-up of Making a Murderer and the rash of true crime documentaries of the time, the episode isn’t so much a parody as a straight remake with the gang inserted. It’s a brave swing, but I think it’s a miss.
132. Gun Fever (s1e5)
“How you like me now, log?”
Remember when Always Sunny had straightforward plots? Me neither, but the first season was about as close as it ever got. “Gun Fever” presents a normal mystery that the gang actually solve, and while they manage to screw it up, their reasoning and solution aren’t all that bad. It would be a fine episode in a normal show, but with the foresight of how insane things eventually become, it’s a little lackluster.
131. Mac and Dennis Buy a Timeshare (s9e4)
“Where do I put my feet?”
In almost every situation, Always Sunny has a straight man — someone who’s a little more grounded in reality. Who that is changes wildly, and part of the beauty of the show is that you never know who’s going to be the rational one. In “Timeshare” the straight man is Frank, but he’s stuck in a coil, for reasons that are fabulously never explained. And without the grounding force of a straight man, the rest of the gang is instantly duped into every scam that comes their way. It’s fun to see the blind leading the blind, but failure’s not as rewarding or as funny when it comes so easily. I do love that coil, though.