85. The Gang Gets a New Member (s6e8)
“Tell people we pushed yooouuu!”
There’s a reason the gang is so tightly knit — the few times an old member turns up, it becomes clear just how hard it is to hang out with them. It’d be a far cry to call Jason Sudeikis’ Schmitty a “normal” person, but that’s the point. Though it does help, being an asshole isn’t nearly enough to roll with the gang. There are bizarre rules and intricacies that even we don’t know about after all these years. It’s a lovely reminder of how complacent we’ve grown with the gang’s weirdness, and how fortunate they are to have found each other.
84. McPoyle Vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century (s11e7)
“Are those fake hands?”
Charlie’s decade-long obsession with Bird Law finally comes in handy, and it’s glorious. There’s a lot going on in this episode. Some may say too much. A huge cast of characters are back, even Guillermo del Toro himself. But the plot follows an arc that I will never not get behind — despite (or because of) his bizarro take on the world, Charlie is the smartest man in the room. Or at least he is until the final act, when a fatal reveal tips his brilliance over into insanity. It’s the same arc as in “The Nightman Cometh,” and I absolutely love it.
83. The Gang Saves the Day (s9e6)
This is the show’s 100th episode, and as such it’s a special showcase for the gang. It’s not the first time we’re shown how the gang see themselves, but it’s the first time we see them at their absolute ideal. And it’s lovely. (It’s worth noting that everyone else’s ideal involves Dee being killed). Nothing too unexpected happens — by this point we know more or less where everyone stands — but it’s a celebration of who they are as people, and it’s great. The obvious standout is Charlie’s fantasy, a more or less verbatim retelling of the first ten minutes of Up that really expresses his childlike understanding of the world and, at the end of it all, his simple desire for love. Frank devouring hot dogs while his friends are slaughtered is a close second.
82. Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties (s7e3)
“There is no quicker way for people to think that you are diddling kids than by writing a song about it!”
And there’s no quicker way to my heart than by having the gang do a song or a dance routine. Combine the two, and I’m yours forever. This episode is surprisingly endearing in its own way, because it shows what the gang can accomplish when they put their minds to doing something well. Is their pageant good? No it is not. Dee sings about moms being a pain in her “VUHH-gina,” Frank channels his inner Penguin, and Mac, Dennis, and Charlie make a small boy do a sexy rave routine. But gosh if their opening number isn’t right in line with the bizarre, uncanny, G-rated, rented hotel ballroom nonsense I would expect out of a children’s beauty competition. It’s utterly strange, but unlike so many things they do, it’s almost appropriate, and while self-serving, their earnestness is lovely.
81. It’s a Very Sunny Christmas (s6e13)
“Did you fuck my mom, Santa Claus?”
Any show that’s been around this long ought to have a Christmas episode, and if you have a Christmas episode, you’re probably going to do a Christmas Carol spoof. It’s a given of the English commonwealth. As Christmas Carol spoofs go, this is better than most. (And as far as I know the only one to boast a naked Danny DeVito being birthed by a couch). The Year Without a Santa Claus song and dance is wonderfully silly and violent, too. But far and away the best part is the one that’s not, as far as I can tell, a spoof of anything: Charlie and Mac’s Christmas memories. Both are so simple but original — happy traditions still seen through the unquestioning eyes of a child, brought into the harsh light of adult understanding. The whole episode is fun, but those traditions are what make it great.
80. Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom (s2e4)
“I had sex with your dad! That’s right! I had sex with your father, because just like you, I like my sex old and ugly!”
What would happen if The Graduate centered around a bunch of vindictive weirdos? That’s more or less the plot here as Mac’s infatuation with Dennis’ mom spurs a rash of parent seduction and heartbreak. But rather than a series of cheap jokes, it becomes a complex web with a genuinely sad climax as Charlie learns that the Waitress has had sex with Frank to get back at Dennis for breaking her heart. It’s a shocking ending in which no one wins, an abrupt cut to black as the Waitress is mid-yell and Charlie is mid-tear, and it’s downright disquieting.
79. The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention (s5e4)
“You said it. You said… Nightcrawlers, and now I feel like I can’t move past it. I gotta know what that is.”
My local liquor store is pushing wine in a can now, which is just another piece of evidence that the gang are ahead of the curve. While it’s hard to remember when Dee was the voice of reason, it’s even harder to remember when Frank was the responsible adult. By season 5 he’s plenty debauched already, but his decision to “get weird with it” is a glorious celebration of the depths to which the show is willing to go. And by introducing a real person to help with his intervention, the show takes the firm stance that everyone is getting weird with it, and it’s best to just drink the canned wine and enjoy the ride.
78. The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot (s13e3)
“You know when women do it, it just feels sad.”
Always Sunny is at its most self-aware in season 13, and the season is at its most self-aware in “Ladies Reboot.” Ostensibly a way to get around Dennis’ absence, the episode is an excellent commentary on the female reboot genre, lampooning and celebrating and criticizing it from every angle. While it might have a few too many knowing looks to the audience and a few too many lines spoken with total awareness of the episode’s construction, it’s a wonderfully frank look at media’s (varyingly successful) attempts at feminism, and a great chance for Kaitlin Olson to shine.
77. Thunder Gun Express (s7e11)
“We’ll come back for you!”
The formula for “Thunder Gun” is clear within the first few minutes — the gang start out together and get left behind one by one in a furious race against the clock. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Especially lovely is Frank’s regaling a boatload of Asian tourists with summaries of past episodes. I will never understand the universal excitement for seeing Thundergun “hang dong,” but I’ll never not be weirdly charmed by it.
76. Mac and Dennis Break Up (s5e9)
“Oh! Botch toe! I botched that one! Oh, that’s a botch job.”
As sitcom plots go, best friends as a married couple is nothing new. But there’s something to be said for using the trope when it becomes more evident with every year that one of the friends genuinely is in love with the other. Because of this, “Break Up” feels less like a cheap one-off gay joke and more like a genuine attempt at character development. Was it completely intended way back in season 5? Considering one of Dennis’ sticking points is Mac’s obsession with dudes’ physiques, I wouldn’t bet against it. While the center of the episode is Dennis and Mac’s codependency, it’s also a delightful look at Frank and Charlie’s relationship, which is a real thing of beauty.
75. Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender (s3e11)
“Don’t be afraid to stick your ass out. That’s not embarrassing. It’s a good thing!”
In 13 years the show has double cast the gang only once, (unless you count Froggy) and it’s pretty uncanny and bizarre. But in a good way. And it’s refreshing to see Dee torment an unwitting Dennis for once. The really enjoyable part of this episode is the supposed B story, however, in which Frank and Charlie break up and Mac tries to bond with his dad. Their dinner party (featuring “turkey sangria” and some shapeless mush — I’ll never get tired of Charlie’s culinary skills) is the centerpiece. Watching Charlie masterfully manipulate everyone in the room and Mac grow increasingly panicked as his dreams of a happy family are crushed is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
74. The Storm of the Century (s7e6)
“How did you not know. That the reason I invited you back to my bar. Was to bang you.”
Dennis Reynolds has met his match. And there’s something almost endearing about it. Face to face with Jackie Denardo and her huge… television presence, Dennis becomes a stuttering idiot who looks like he’s wearing his dad’s suit. As he says himself, it’s not for the right reasons, but seeing him stumble his way through a conversation with a completely uninterested woman is pretty refreshing. It’s quite the juxtaposition with his attempt to get two very young girls to sign his binding bunker agreement, a conversation that goes so bizarrely dark that Charlie Day had to turn his back to the camera to keep from laughing and ruining it. Character breaks in Always Sunny are pretty common (and always wonderful), but this one is one of the most hilariously blatant.
73. Hundred Dollar Baby (s2e5)
“I will eat your babies, bitch!”
In the first season of Always Sunny, Sweet Dee is the voice of reason, the pretty and benign girl. Kaitlin Olson complained about this very vocally, thank God, and she has since become just as vile and funny as the men on the show. “Hundred Dollar Baby” is one of her first opportunities to really shine, as she and Charlie go head to head in steroid-fueled insanity. It’s a great episode, and one of the earliest examples not just of how good Dee eventually gets, but of how bizarre the show eventually becomes.
72. The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods (s6e11)
“Hahahaha. Serial killer. I like that. I like that. It’s a little bit of an exaggeration. But I see your point. And I like it. I take it as a compliment.”
The gang split up with almost every episode, but it’s rare that their experiences are so completely different. After a rocky but furiously funny start with Tom Sizemore the trucker, Charlie and Dennis experience a night of something close to pure happiness. Meanwhile Mac, Frank, and Dee eat some grass, bury a crow, and sleep in the car. There are no morals in the Always Sunny universe, and there is no justice. Peter Nickeleater gets eaten, Dennis has a catch with Chase Utley, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Nature is a cruel, cruel mistress.
71. Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth (s6e9)
“All blackface is racist, Mac, and that is the point I’m trying to make.”
Is it possible to do a socially responsible commentary on blackface while having one of your characters in blackface? If anyone manages to do it, I think it’s Always Sunny. The rest of the gang are firmly against it (apart from Frank, who’s off on his own planet), and in the end Charlie and Dee lose their jobs over it, a rare instance of real world consequence. It’s helped by the fact that Lethal Weapon 5 is extremely funny, a perfect labor of love by people who have no idea what they’re doing. If there’s a right vehicle for this very touchy conversation about race, this is it.