the moment

‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ is the longest-running US sitcom . What’s its secret to being so good?

The cult comedy about five dysfunctional narcissists starring Danny DeVito is the longest-running live-action TV comedy in American history. What’s even more impressive – it’s still got its mojo, writes Louis Chilton, despite breaking all the sitcom rules...

Tuesday 19 September 2023 12:55
<p>The troll man: Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds in ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia'</p>

The troll man: Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds in ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia'

Has any series still held it together after 18 years on the air? The Simpsons – the yellow-cheeked poster boy for televisual longevity, now 34 seasons deep into its run – started dipping after just eight, and nosediving soon after. Frasier ran for 11 seasons but began losing its mojo after six or seven. Modern Family; The Big Bang Theory; the list goes on. On Friday, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returned to Netflix UK for its 16th season. The cult TV show is now, season for season, the longest-running live-action American sitcom ever, having surpassed The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 2021. Even more remarkable is this: after nearly two decades, it’s still genuinely, reliably good.

Always Sunny follows five dysfunctional narcissists – twins Dennis and Dee (Glen Howerton and Kaitlin Olson), their non-biological father Frank (Danny DeVito), Charlie (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) – as they run a dive bar in south Philadelphia. Like many great sitcoms (Parks and Recreation; Seinfeld; The Office US), it took a ropey first year for the series to find its footing. DeVito joined at the start of season two, and the group’s repartee immediately clicked into place; his Frank, a grotesque wheeler-dealer, is a perennial highlight. Sunny’s premise has always been a loose one: often, episodes will see “the gang” throw themselves into an ill-fated scheme in some effort to get rich, enact some kind of revenge, or merely amuse themselves. Examples: Dennis and Dee start smoking crack cocaine in order to claim welfare benefits; Mac and Charlie stage their own deaths; Charlie stages a musical to try and impress the waitress he’s been stalking. The series has always been a satire at heart, with the venal quintet embodying the ugliest sides of the American psyche – bigotry, hubris, avarice and ignorance.

The first episode of the new season, “The Gang Inflates”, is one of the best the series has produced in years. It sees the gang embroiled in a jumble of harebrained schemes circling loosely around the idea of inflation. By this point, Sunny has developed a confident comic shorthand; it takes just seconds from the episode beginning for things to start unravelling. Frank attempts to explain inflation to Mac and Dennis, here playing the part of gullible rubes, and swindles them out of money in the process. Dee, meanwhile, is being evicted from her house thanks to inflated rent prices and has superglued herself to the wall in protest. She keeps phoning the rest of the gang; they keep hanging up after seconds and returning to their spurious economics lesson. Stupidity; greed; misogyny: it’s all there on show, and the episode is barely a minute in.

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