As the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” forged its own unique path to success. It follows the general outline of the typical comedy, but its cast of crude and despicable characters go above and beyond what other shows in the genre are brave enough to tackle. By making its protagonists irredeemable, it opens the door to introducing darkly funny ideas that are hard to justify in other scenarios. This creative decision was made early in the show’s run, at a time when its creators did not have much to lose.
During the first few seasons, there is a sense that the show realizes that in order to get even funnier, it needs to accentuate just how dumb its protagonists are. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” not only accomplishes that, but has since worked overtime to create the most obscene (and hilarious) situations imaginable for its crew. In an interview with Vice, actor and co-showrunner Glenn Howerton reveals insight into the creative braintrust’s headspace when crafting the ins and outs of the series, admitting that are few limits to what they are willing to have their characters do in their most heinous moments.
According to Howerton, who runs ” It’s Always Sunny” with Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, they were intent on pushing the boundaries of the gang, even if it meant the show was canned a few seasons in:
“We decided from quite early on that we weren’t going be bound by the normal laws of television. By the time we got to season 3, I remember having a specific conversation with the guys where we were like—we didn’t have a lot riding on it; none of us had mortgages or kids at the time—our attitude was like, ‘Any minute the show’s gonna get cancelled, so f*** it, let’s see how far we can go with these characters—let’s see how far we can push them.'”
It’s also important to them that the desires of its idiotic characters are rooted in reality, despite their often-ridiculous plans to fulfill them. Howerton continued, saying that “if the character did something crazy then you as an audience member—even though you would never do this—you have to understand that the character would do it.” For example, I may cringe at the way Charlie attempts to win the Waitress’ heart in the fan-favorite “The Nightman Cometh” episode, but I fully buy into the fact he would orchestrate the embarrassing stage play to make his dreams a reality.
Almost two decades later, I think it’s safe to say that the fearless strategy pays off in spades. By sticking to that philosophy, it allows the writers the creative freedom to pursue unconventional avenues in comedy.
A part of what makes watching the consistently dumb antics of the gang worthwhile is the show’s commitment to never evolve them (at least, not significantly). Sure, their specific problems may change as they grow older, but they don’t learn from their mistakes in ways that prevent the gang from making them again. Speaking to E! News, series star Kaitlin Olson commented on how “Sweet” Dee and the rest of the crew never “learn their lesson and grow and be better people.” She elaborated, using her own character as an example:
“It’s kind of one of the things that’s funniest to me about my character in particular, because why would this person continue to try and impress these guys and be friends with them and want their approval after all this time? She’s just trying to prove herself to them and has been for 15 years. That’s completely ridiculous.”
It’s nothing short of a miracle that, as a fan, I never get tired of seeing the never-changing group commit error after error. Although most sitcoms don’t provide drastic changes for their characters, they also don’t feature the groundbreaking humor that permeates “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The fact Dee is always trying to one-up her misogynistic group of co-workers to no avail would probably not work outside of “Always Sunny,” but that is a part of what makes this show so special and daring.
As long as they keep that strong foundation intact, I expect that Dee and the entire gang will continue to find fun new ways to sabotage themselves.