109. Mac’s Mom Burns Her House Down (s6e6)
“Groban likes his girls to pop.”
A lovely episode about intergenerational misunderstanding. In a strange attempt to parent Dee, Frank ruins her life more than usual. And in an effort to get their moms off their hands, Mac and Charlie actually find them a good living situation and spark one of the show’s longest lasting and least likely friendships. I’m still holding out for Poppins to come back one day.
108. Sweet Dee Gets Audited (s7e4)
“Your license plate says $CAMMIN.”
A mock funeral for a dead baby, with an enormous crucifix leering in the back and a wailing mother trying desperately to avoid getting audited. As the gang point out themselves, this is about the darkest thing they’ve ever done. And it only gets darker when Mac and Charlie tip over little Barnabas’ casket and a bloody, soupy mess falls out. It’s a real sign of the pervading tone when you find yourself relieved you’re just looking at a rotting dog corpse. The episode ends on a high note (sort of) as the gang vote unanimously to abandon reason and democracy and go back to yelling over each other. It’s what they do best, and it’s a nice return to form.
107. Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life (s4e9)
“She was much much older than me but her breasts… were awesome.”
This is a strange one, by early Always Sunny standards. By season 4 things are starting to go off the rails (and I mean that in the best possible way) but a stigmata’d Dennis being mentally abused by Sinbad and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas is a cut above. The episode’s real standout for me is the deeper look into Frank and Charlie’s living situation, a well of humor the bottom of which has yet to be found.
106. The Great Recession (s5e3)
“We’re crab people now!”
A classic example of a topical issue taken to several extremes, “Recession” is the gang’s take on economics in 2009. It’s a solid enough episode, and about as thinly veiled an allegory for bank bailouts you could ever hope for. It’s an episode firmly pinned to the late oughts, and one that really lets the gang’s ineptitude shine. I love the fact that Charlie is the only one who knows how to weather a recession. He’s crab people now, and he’ll be just fine.
105. Flowers for Charlie (s9e8)
“You must excuse me. I’ve grown quhaite whearayy.”
This is the episode written by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, but you’d never guess it. It’s a fun, classic send-up of Flowers for Algernon, a trope every self-respecting show ought to try on. The reveal that Charlie isn’t actually smarter may not be a huge revelation, but it does manage to be satisfying when his ineptitude comes back in full force in the end. Does it make much sense that Dee, Dennis, and Mac become noticeably dumber over the course of the episode? Who cares? It’s wonderful to watch.
104. Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass (s2e9)
“Rock flag and eagle!”
The gang have always been proud Americans, whatever it is they think that means. A classic example of an issue being taken in several directions, “America” teaches the gang a thing or two about the dangers of unfettered freedom. Not many shows will end an episode with a deadly round of Russian Roulette, especially this early in their run, and it’s a fittingly shocking climax.
103. Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare (s2e3)
“I’m good. Go get us some slaves.”
In retrospect, responsible Frank is downright eerie, and I don’t care for him. The Frank I know and love would never discourage errant drug use and petty theft. He does make a nice reference for the rest of the gang’s misdeeds though, and Dennis and Dee’s crack addiction is a wonderfully awful tidbit for the show to conveniently bring up for years to come.
102. Mac’s Banging the Waitress (s4e4)
“Whelp. Mac’s gay.”
A lot of the initial hints of Mac’s homosexuality stem from classic sitcom misunderstandings. (See “Mac is a Serial Killer”). But at the root of this episode’s misunderstanding in the fact that Mac really does want to have sex with the Waitress while she’s dressed as Dennis. He insists on it, in fact. It’s a very early and honestly pretty astute observation for Dennis and Charlie to make: Mac is in love with them (or at the very least, with Dennis) and he makes his Project Badass videos to show off. It’s mostly played for laughs, of course, and can be written off as sitcom silliness, but as an early foundation for serious long term character development, it’s done remarkably well.
101. Charlie Has Cancer (s1e4)
“I’ve been sittin’ in here, boo-hooin’ a little bit.”
This episode earns a special mention as the crucible of the entire show, the start of everything. Charlie and Dennis’ opening conversation, in which Charlie reveals that he has cancer and Dennis just wants to leave, was Rob McElhenney’s very first idea that spawned Always Sunny‘s creation. It was filmed for the unaired pilot, as was Mac’s relationship with Carmen, and it deserves serious bonus points for that. Carmen’s character may come off as dated now, but even in 2005 she’s remarkably sympathetic. And just as McElhenney intended, the episode manages to capture the despicable spirit of the characters: one who will abandon his friend who just found out he has cancer, and one who lies about having cancer just to get a girl to notice him.
100. The Gang Texts (s14e5)
“Sorry I’m late. I had to get a bag of bananas so I could taunt the gorilla.”
Is there anything more relevant than an episode about the nuances of group texting in 2019? Sure, maybe the episodes about abortion and climate change can take precedent. But there is something extra funny and backward about the fact that the gang is just now struggling with texting, a thing they’ve more or less artificially avoided over the years. Even with all its phone artifice, “Texts” is a nice return to basic dynamics (which is fitting, as it’s written by Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney). Mac wants Dennis’s approval. Dennis wants to satisfy his weird bloodlust. Frank is off on his own planet. Charlie just wants to have a good time. And Dee is the perennial punching bag. It’s not a perfect episode, but it does have the feel of a classic, one that could have fit in well enough several seasons ago. And it’s nice to see that the show can still handle this kind of meat and potatoes script, even now.
99. Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire (s3e8)
“What’s the time? Diaper time!”
Dancing Guy’s public access show isn’t Always Sunny’s first instance of pure weirdness, but there is something special about it. The gang’s unanimous enjoyment of it is a simple but hilarious sign that their world is just a little bit off. While the cat-chopping plan is great, it’s the subtler touches like this that give the early show its edge.
98. The Gang Spies Like U.S. (s10e5)
“What kind of creampies are you talking about?”
A spiritual sequel to the North Korean episode, “Spies” is a lovely mix of thinly veiled political commentary and classic sitcom miscommunication. And of course because it’s Always Sunny, that miscommunication leads to talks of feeding semen to children. The misunderstanding is a tad too forced for my taste, but it’s worth it for the build to the final realization, in which the actors can clearly barely keep it together. And Kaitlin Olson’s fish factory physical humor is top notch.
97. The Gang Sells Out (s3e7)
“I could go for some wood.”
There’s something wonderful about the gang trying to be wooed, then trying to woo, then trying to threaten, one immediately after the other, and all completely unsuccessfully. And there’s something horrible about seeing them apply their business practices to a real, working restaurant. The Waitress has always had a rough time, but nothing makes me feel for her quite like the gang descending on her job and utterly ruining it.
96. The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6 (s9e9)
“If you make this shot, you will have redeemed yourself with the item that you failed with in the beginning.”
Is it disconcerting to see Mac in full blackface again? Not as disconcerting as it is to see Dee in it, too. If you can move past that, however, “Lethal Weapon 6” is a glorious celebration of how not to make a movie, and it’s great to see the gang attempt to explain it to a series of real, utterly perplexed people. Mac and Dennis’ midway character switch (again) is truly inspired.
95. The Gang Exploits a Miracle (s2e7)
“I’m in love with a man. A man called God. Does that make me gay? Am I gay for God? You betcha.”
A producer and frequent writer, David Hornsby is an integral part of the show. He also plays one of its finest creations: Rickety Cricket. Cricket’s descent has become such a running gag that it’s absolutely wild to see his first appearance… and more than a little heartbreaking. Dee has done some awful things, but serving as the catalyst for Cricket’s downfall is almost unforgivable. It’s a good thing for her that Cricket’s so damn funny.
94. Charlie and Dee Find Love (s8e4)
“When you’re in my room, you’re always being filmed.”
Sometimes even Always Sunny can surprise me with how dark it’s willing to get, and this episode manages to do it. When Charlie and Dee fall for a pair of filthy rich siblings who seem to love them for who they are, you know everything can’t be as it seems. But that Charlie has used and utterly destroyed a charming, beautiful woman and humiliated her in front of everyone she knows is… well… a lot. And I mean that in the best way possible. While the gang may be truly awful, Charlie inhabits a childlike purity that’s easy to root for. It’s horrifying but honestly refreshing to see the calculating bastard that lurks inside.