41. The Gang Gets Quarantined (s9e7)
“Not too hard. Not too soft.”
It may not have the full-fledged terror of the Ponderosa-McPoyle wedding, but “Quarantine” is its own kind of beautiful horror story. As each member of the gang succumbs to sickness, we never even suspect that there’s more than the flu at play. It’s a great bit of misdirection with a wonderful reveal at the end — everyone is a raging alcoholic who can’t go a day without drinking. What do you do with that information? You keep an eye on it. And you put together a hell of a Boyz II Men number.
40. Dee Day (s14e3)
“That’s what his soul looks like.”
Despite her perennial role as the lowest of the low on a confusing, ever-shifting pecking order, Dee has been seeing more vindication as of late. And nowhere does that show more (and nowhere is it balanced better) than in “Dee Day.” Much of the episode’s heavy lifting is already out of the way, thanks to the stellar Season 9 episode “Mac Day.” One of the more straightforward, but simultaneously one of the best examples of the gang’s internal crackpot logic, we know that each member gets a designated day during which the other four are at their mercy. “Mac Day” was a chance for Mac to force his friends to participate in everything that had wormed its way through this confused, tortured psyche and come out on the other side as “badass.” Dee’s day is the product of a different kind of whipped soul, one hell-bent on wringing every ounce of revenge and vindication out of her would-be tormentors. It’s a fun concept on its own, and the amount of squirming it elicits is a joy to watch. Especially given that Dee’s own activities are so awful. This is not a pure soul finally getting her day in the sun. This is a miserable asshole finally shoving her friends out of the sun. There’s a real distinction, and it’s an important one. (One that leads to some unfortunate racial caricatures that sent some fans up in arms but should really, at the end of the day, probably be read as an assertion that Dee isn’t any more worthy of our pity than the rest to the gang). While this episode’s concept is one that was bound from the beginning to pay off well, what pushes it over the top is the exceptionally tight writing on the part of Megan Ganz, whose scripts in the past few seasons have been some of the series’ strongest. From pocket candy to secret plans to turned back clocks to frequent urination, the number of breadcrumbs scattered throughout this 20-minute episode is impressive, and it makes for an exceptional series of payoffs you don’t always expect from this show.
39. The Gang Hits the Slopes (s11e3)
“Where I come from, jamming your dick through a hole in the wall, that’s assault. That’s a felony. And it’s just plain wrong.”
An episode that basically exists outside the Always Sunny universe, “Slopes” is an unapologetic parody of the 1990 film Ski School and its weird sex comedy brethren. Not every Always Sunny parody hits home, but this one does, primarily because of its extreme self awareness. The basic tenets of Ski School have not, it turns out, aged well, and it’s satisfying to see its ridiculous nature thrust into the harsh light of the 21st century. Hats off to Dean Cameron, Kevin Farley, and Courtney Gains for embracing the saddest possible side of party boys in their fifties. It’s not the most subtle episode, but it might be a necessary one. It’s one of the show’s more blatant late-series assertions that it does have a moral center, even if its characters don’t.
38. The Gang Gets New Wheels (s13e5)
“Begone from me you soy boy beta cuck, the transaction is complete.”
If there’s one Classic™ Always Sunny episode in the thirteenth season, this is it, and it’s a wonderfully welcome return to form. Even though “New Wheels” stops short of telling us why Dennis came back from North Dakota, it reverses its own joke of withholding and gives us a peek anyway into what he might have looked like living a “normal” life. It’s wonderful but unsettling, and it’s a real comfort to return to the normalcy and safety of the Range Rover, where the consequences of having sex with a minor and kicking a child to death can all be washed away by the smooth sounds of Rick Astley. The whole script is nicely bound together and intertwining, though the real standout of the “what you ride is your identity” theme is Charlie and Mac’s storyline. Identifying with the Mongoose bikes they lost in when they were ten, they are the elephant still chained to the post it could easily rip out of the ground, and their culminating moment of growth (savagely beating a group of pre-teen bullies) is at the same time hilariously shocking and sadly sensical.
37. Mac Fights Gay Marriage (s6e1)
“Two dudes gettin’ married — that doesn’t seem very gay.”
This marks Carmen’s third appearance on Always Sunny, and a distinct moment of change in the show’s stance on gay and trans rights. Where once there was the occasional gay joke, this episode addresses full on homophobia, and it does it by channeling it entirely into Mac who, it starts to become clear, has some serious repression issues. Just like with any topic, the gang takes it to the extreme in several directions. While Mac fights marriage, Dee breaks one up, Frank and Charlie enter into one, and Dennis settles down with a high school girlfriend he barely knows. All the bases are covered, and all of them are destined to end very poorly. But at the center of it all is a very clear pro-marriage equality agenda that’s downright refreshing and ahead of its time.
36. The High School Reunion Part Two: The Gang’s Revenge (s7e13)
“I have to have my tools!”
If ever there were evidence that Dennis is a serial killer, it’s that secret compartment in the back of his car. It’s a real testament to the gang that this horrifying and honestly pretty shocking reveal isn’t a cause for concern, but an opportunity to get back at their high school bullies. It’s a strange new low for them, and it’s astoundingly dark, but the show runs with it in a way that’s hilarious and engaging. By this point in the series, the gang have gone far beyond the regular social misfits they seem to think they are, but in the end they have each other. Their unflagging confidence in their (stellar) Plan B dance routine is evidence enough of that.
35. Mac Is a Serial Killer (s3e10)
“Look, it’s not like I’m ashamed of you! I’m ashamed of myself.”
Dennis has so long been the show’s canonical serial killer that it’s easy to forget it was originally Mac who was under scrutiny. Ostensibly, this episode is a classic sitcom misunderstanding — Charlie and Mac’s confident talking past each other about two different topics is a trope as old as time itself. But the facts of the matter — the gang genuinely seem to think Mac is a murderer, and Frank is all too willing to break out the chainsaw to torture the truth out of him — lend the trope a grotesque weightiness Three’s Company could only have dreamed of. And beneath that is yet another layer of characterization for Mac, who’s so ashamed of dating a trans woman that he gets mistaken for a killer. It’s an early and excellent example of the show’s moralizing through satire, and it works very well. The end result is a surprisingly complex episode that still manages to be extremely funny.
34. The Gang Solves the Bathroom Problem (s13e6)
“I beg you to stop using the Constitution in the way that you’re using it.”
A satirically tone-deaf episode that takes place completely within the bar, “Bathroom Problem” has the gang in top-notch social commentary form. With no outside forces to speak of (save the ghost of Jimmy Buffett) our five heroes are free to plumb the depths of the gendered bathroom issue, following every whim to its bizarre extreme. In classic Always Sunny fashion, it’s a fine chance to let the absurdity of the gang’s takes highlight the absurdity of the real issue. But it’s also a lovely excuse to allow the whole gang to sit in the bar together and riff off each other, making it probably the funniest episode of the season. The conclusion — Dee voicing a compassionate and reasoned argument for tolerance and being utterly shut down by the men, is a sublime compromise between the show’s progressive and satirical tones. This is the first season to feature regular, uncensored f-bombs, (Hero or Hate Crime?” knocked down that wall) but they’re still used sparingly enough to pack an incredible punch when they do show up. And Mac’s insistence that Dee “Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up” is absolutely perfect.
33. The Gang Solves The Gas Crisis (s4e2)
“I cut the brakes! Wild card, bitches! Yeeeehawwwww!”
As far as Always Sunny elements that have pervaded our culture go, the Wild Card must be right up there at the top. Obviously the show didn’t coin the phrase, but as far as I know it did imbue it with a very particular style of liability. The kind of style that’ll, say, put on a Texan accent and cut your brakes. “Gas Crisis” has all the right elements: terrible ideas, convoluted but revered group dynamics, stupid misunderstandings, violence, and horrible things happening to strangers. It’s a pure classic.
32. Psycho Pete Returns (s10e3)
“Are you saying that you have a collection of skin luggage?”
With the entire gang gleefully piling onto a Talking Heads singalong (including Frank, who clearly doesn’t know the words), this episode might have the best cold open in the entire series. It also has one of the more blatant social commentaries. The gang happily shuffling poor Psycho Pete off to Los Angeles is one thing. But the very normal-looking couple who ditch their mentally ill charge in Philadelphia are another thing altogether. This is one of those rare times when the gang’s hyperbolic actions are shared by “normal” people, and it really hits home.
31. Frank’s Back in Business (s8e7)
“Dennis, are you gonna have sex with a tiny Asian boy?”
There’s so much going on in this episode that Frank and Charlie in American Psycho getups eating sushi off a naked woman is only the third most interesting thing. This is the dawn of Fight Milk, of course, which is what happens when two savvy businessmen with a passion for product get together. But the real gold is Dennis demonstrating the thrill of wearing another man’s skin. We get frequent glimpses into Dennis’ psychosis, but this is the most thorough. Because, for some reason, he’s decided to share in his bizarre fantasies with Dee and Mac. Maybe even murderers get lonely. Do I genuinely believe Dennis is a serial killer? I’m still not totally convinced, but this episode does a lot in the way of convincing, and I absolutely love it. The odds that Dennis is the one who stabbed Brian LeFevre in the alley? I’d put them at about 70%.
30. The Gang Buys a Boat (s6e3)
“Because of the implication.”
It’s a simple setup, but buying a boat is the perfect device for the gang to express their personalities in a new way. And no one’s is more memorable or horrifying than Dennis and his implication. It’s some of the earliest (and certainly the strongest yet) evidence that Dennis has a lot more going on than we, or even his closest friends, know. But that aside, it’s just a very solid examination of the group. This show works well with power dynamics, and the obvious imbalance between Dennis and Mac and the other three members of the gang is played very well. We knew this boat venture was never going to last — it’s satisfying to see its failure knock Mac and Dennis down a peg, even if the whole gang suffers for it. Because that’s the key to this show. Pretty much everyone loses all the time — it’s nice when the right people lose just a little bit more.
29. Charlie Catches a Leprechaun (s11e8)
“You may be a man. You may be a leprechaun. But only one thing’s for sure: You’re in the wrong basement.”
Well into a largely experimental eleventh season, “Leprechaun” is a beautiful return to basics. Dee thinks she can act. Charlie’s high on paint. Frank’s an asshole. Mac’s gay. Dennis is a psychopath. And Paddy’s is an Irish pub — how did it take so long for a St. Patrick’s Day episode, anyway? It’s an episode that embraces the bar’s heritage, both in nationality and personality. And it’s all wrapped up in a tight script that converges its disparate parts in the end in a unceremoniously harsh but slightly magical way that’s perfectly true to the show.
28. The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore (s7e2)
“I’m sorry Rum Ham!”
Rum Ham and Milk Steak are tied for this show’s greatest contributions to the culinary world, but Rum Ham’s journey is so much richer. For a show that’s willing to do almost anything, there have been surprisingly few montages over the years. And that’s a shame, because the one in this episode set to “Vacation” by The Go Go’s is cripplingly funny and remarkably feel-good. Dee and Dennis may be digging their own graves at gunpoint, but the rest of the gang are having the time of their lives. In Always Sunny terms, that’s as feel-good as it gets.
27. Who Pooped the Bed? (s4e7)
“Look at King Dennis on his bed made for kings with his toilet made out of gold!”
Artemis flits in and out of our lives as she pleases, gracing us with her holy presence whether we deserve it or not. She’s the hero we need, and she pushes what would already be a very solid episode into all-time classic territory. “Pooped” is a whodunit for the ages. Even the supporting moments, like Charlie and Frank’s wolf hair diet and Kaitlin Olson’s head denting a car, are outstanding. But the final breakdown of the crime on a dark and stormy night is sublime.
26. Being Frank (s11e6)
“Darkness falls and magic stirs, as we become the creatures of the night!”
This is an admittedly contentious episode among fans, and I can understand why. It’s unlike any other episode of Always Sunny — it’s not even full length. But it’s also probably its most experimental, and that experimentation is worthy of a lot of praise. Frank’s awfulness (he truly is awful) is unexpectedly balanced out by a sweet, childlike score and a brief glimpse into his happy cohabitation with Charlie, complete with a truly adorable taste of the infamous Nightcrawlers game. Eighteen minutes in the head of a racist, homophobic drug addict has never been so life-affirming. This episode is a risk, and I think it’s one worth taking.