Set Visit Report: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

I’m about to blow your mind. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not filmed in Philadelphia. I know, I felt lied to as well. But that didn’t stop me from tracking down the set to visit with our favorite cast of inappropriate misfits. Ok, so that isn’t entirely true. First off, Sunny does film partly in Philadelphia, though most of the interiors, such as those inside Paddy’s Pub and the apartments, are filmed on soundstages in Los Angeles. There are some exteriors that are shot in Philadelphia though. Also, in full disclosure, I didn’t track down the set, but rather was very politely invited to visit, an opportunity I immediately pounced upon like Sweet Dee on a crack rock (see Season 2, episode 3).

Moving on, it was an unironically sunny day in Los Angeles when I showed up to visit the set on a very special day indeed. The episode I was there to witness is unlike any other in the Sunny arsenal, one in which The Gang Goes Flashback. In The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, our lovable misfits must convince the Philadelphia Historical Society to add Paddy’s Pub to the walking tour of the city to drum up business. To achieve this goal, they weave an intricate story about how The Gang and Paddy’s were heavily involved with the American movement towards Independence in 1776. In a way. Technically, Mac and Dennis (or more accurately, their ancestors) believe America needs a Declaration of Dependence. They believe, I found out, that people have very alienable rights and that all men are not created equal. They also long to show the Queen their support via their manly endowments in front of the King. In the midst of all these declarations, poor Sweet Slave Dee finds herself torn between slaying her brother and master (Dennis) in an attempt at freedom or just sticking it out with the lesser of two evils. A “broomstick witch,” accused as such by Dennis, and then rescued by Dennis, who then enslaves her as repayment, Dee opts to remain in her servant position rather than risking Mac’s chain-of-ownership and demands of copious amounts of bottom sex.

For this special episode, Paddy’s pub has been transformed and decorated to appear as it might have in 1776. Muskets adorn the wall, flagons hang behind the bar, candles drip wax on ancient tables, and the floor is coated in a hefty amount of saw dust. Besides the muskets, various historical documents hang from the rafters, including this portrait of George Washington. No, not that handsome devil with the beard, the white haired guy on the wall. Wondering about this picture? Well that’s something you’ll find in Hollywood very quickly – making movies and TV is a timely process. Sitting around waiting for set ups and multiple takes and rehearsals to finish, you find yourself with a lot of time to try to take pictures of yourself.

Even with all the downtime I experienced, the crew moved fast and efficiently. Charlie Day wasn’t in any of the scenes being filmed today, but he was on set watching from Video Village – a collection of monitors where the director and other important people sit. As a group of us gathered behind these TVs to watch the scene unfold, Charlie saw us and warned the director that there was “Lots of blogging going on back there. Don’t throw a fit.” The Director of Photography, seated nearby, described the episode being filmed as a “a tale of hatred and hair.” Sounds good to me! Back to the scene at hand. We were watching about the 18th take of an anal sex joke when I became most impressed with Rob McElhenney, who had memorized his lines long before rehearsal and nailed his delivery every time. He and Glenn Howerton played off each other well in their colonial garb, ad libbing and flowing through each take. Don’t worry, faithful friends, even in 1776, Mac refuses to be bound by sleeves on his shirt.

Like my soul brother Mac, I would not be bound by one set, either. In a different area of the same stage were the apartments of the Gang! We got to hang in the living room and explore the bedrooms and yes, I took a picture of the bathroom. Because that’s awesome.

Hey check it out, it’s Charlie’s room! Let’s take a look at it from the other angle. What the fuck!? God damn movie magic! This isn’t even close to being a real bedroom it is missing a wall! Take a look at that questioning look on my face as I come to grips with the reality of this surreality.

On my way outside to witness a special effects test, we also saw the Liberty Bell that the gang would soon be cracking. Ring true, brave bell, ring true. Outside, we gathered alongside Rob McElhenney to watch a head explode. Yeah, that’s right. I won’t ruin any surprises for you, but expect someone to catch a musketball right in the face with awesome results. I stood far back to avoid the ample amounts of blood and rubber brain that splattered across the parking lot. I then promptly stomped through all that corn syrup blood to take some awesome pictures.

After talking about destroying brains, I’d like to stress how very nice everyone was on set. Rob McElhenney hung out, answered questions, and just chilled with us randomly between takes when he wasn’t smuggling his Blackberry out of his colonial pants. Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who plays “The Waitress” and is Charlie Day’s real life wife, also came over to hang out with us and just talk. What a sweetheart. Shame Charlie Kelly will never, ever score with The Waitress.

No set visit would be complete without a sit down with the cast to have a chat. Or, at the very least, I told them I wasn’t leaving until I was served lunch and allowed to sit next to Sweet Dee. I settled for craft service and snagging a seat next to Charlie. It seems to me that the view most people have of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of constantly pushing boundaries. We can all readily admit that Sunny goes where other shows don’t, but according to Charlie, Rob, and Glenn (who also write many of the episodes), it has never been about purposefully pushing anything. They’re just out to make the funniest show they can and to do it in a different and unique way. Luckily, they revealed, FX is supportive of this and basically lets them take the show where it needs to go. I quickly came around to their view of the show in realizing that it wasn’t that they’re pushing boundaries, but rather it’s shocking because the show is unique. They’re making the jokes we’re all thinking about and we’re surprised that they make them simply because no other show is willing to go there. It’s not that they’re coming from a horrible and shocking place. We’ve all told off color jokes and poked fun at things maybe we shouldn’t have, but we do. They’re doing the same. No other show has the balls to just say “Here is what we all know is funny, whether or not it is necessarily correct in a political sense.” Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson) said that they weren’t being mean just to be mean (that would be mean and unfunny), but rather they were exploring this completely fictional characters and just taking them to the funniest places they could. Things that can shock you can be hilarious, especially when no other show is even coming close.

Speaking of funny places, where is the show heading? Is there an end date? Will they ever run out of ideas? The cast seems to resent the idea that they’re going to run out of ideas to lampoon. Sure, they’ve already nailed North Korea, drug addiction, pedophilia, sweat shops, incest, MILFs, gay rights, eating disorders, abortion, gun control, and statutory rape, but that doesn’t mean they’re anywhere close to running out ideas. Howerton talked about how small situations, such as the dynamic of the trio’s friendship can fill an entire episode and any event can be taken to the comedic limit. Charlie spoke up too, drawing attention to the fact that the world constantly comes up with taboo things. Season four will see the oil crisis get hit, water boarding and torture (sorry Sweet Dee), cannibalism, and the most heinous of all – bed pooping. There is also an episode turning rape and pedophilia on their heads and a planned 5th season show about the mortgage crisis. Clearly there is a lot to look forward to this year, including the show the fans haven’t demanded, but should have – The Nightman Cometh: The Musical. Fans really responded to “The Nightman” song, though I was more of a “Dayman” fan myself, and the cast responds by rocking out a whole episode about it, aiming to pound that joke so far into the ground it takes an archaeological dig team to resurface it. I’m sorry to inform them, though, that Nightman will never get old and will always be funny.

People are rarely what you expect and I’ll be honest – these guys take their comedy very seriously, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me. Watching the show, you might expect them to be something like their characters or to be a bunch of people out there just pushing buttons, but really, they’re comedic artists who carefully craft each script to get the most amount of laughs and make the shows they really want to make. This approach pays off with a rabid fan base that has made Sunny one of the most downloaded shows ever on the ol’ internet (Sunny is the #2 most downloaded show on Hulu of all time). The reason behind this success? The buck stops with them, as Charlie Day says. At the end of the…Day… they’re the writers, the actors, the creators. They strive to make the show, they make the decisions, they help craft it every step of the way and there is no one to blame but themselves. On that same coin, there’s no one who deserves praise more than the big three. The 5,000 fans who showed up at Comic Con to cheer them on and watch the show on the big screen was an affirmation of their hard work and dedication, an affirmation that really meant something to them and, in a way, validated their approach to the show.

Visiting the set was a great experience and I was happy to meet the cast and find out they’re truly fantastic people who are nice, funny, and serious about their craft. When Paddy’s Pub reopens on September 18th, be sure to tune in to FX for the start of the fourth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to watch perhaps the most exciting, unique, and ground breaking comedy of the last several years. There is a ton to look forward to, a ton to look back on and if you still need convincing – expect guest starring roles from Sinbad and his rehab bitch, Rob Thomas. No joke.

What’s your favorite episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia thus far? Favorite character?

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