It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia – a critical analysis

its always sunny logo
its always sunny logo

When ‘It’s always sunny in Philadelphia’ completes it contracted season twelve it will become the second longest running sitcom in US television history. The brain child of main actors and producers, Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton. ‘Its always sunny in Philadelphia’s pilot was shot on a $85 budget.

On the most basic level, the show is about a group of friends who run Paddy’s pub in Philadelphia. But it’s much more than that – “The gang” takes on social and political issues in their own deprived way, often to awkwardly disastrous results. Their warped antics and narcissistic points of view get them in trouble with rival bars, family members, other Philadelphians, gangs, drug lords, and the authorities.

The gang is composed of the egotistical Mac who never misses an opportunity to stop an injustice; the illiterate Charlie whose undying obsession with a local waitress never steers him right; the eternally vain Dennis who never misses an opportunity to bang; his sister Dee whose pursuit for fame and acceptance has yet to succeed, and their father Frank (played by Danny Devito) who, after getting divorced, decides to throw caution to the wind and live without inhibitions.

Its always sunny in Philadelphia has been running for eleven years with little direction of where the lives of the four main characters are headed.

Dee the female character in the show is the butt of a lot of the gang’s jokes and in one episode they actually address the fact that they emotional abuse her into a deep depression. Dee is a struggling actress who is the sister of Dennis. Dennis, Mac and Charlie own Paddy’s pub and Dee serves behind the bar. Dee is used as the dysfunctional voice of reason to ‘the gangs’ schemes and antics, but usually finds herself as one of the ringleaders of the episodes plan making her an important character in the show. During season four Dee (using her real pregnancy) becomes a surrogate to the transvestite that Mac has had an on off relationship with in previous episodes.

This female role allows females watching the programme to relate to her. Dee is single and during the eleven seasons has had a string of failed relationships including a man that left the priesthood for her, who she then rejected. Dennis and Dee grew up in a wealthy home and during the course of the sitcom realise that their family life wasn’t what it seemed. Dee is a failed comedian also and although she is funny in the sitcom there is a deliberate scripting to make Dee ‘not funny enough to be a comedian’. Throughout the series’ Dee along with her brother Dennis develop and struggle with their addiction to crack cocaine, which they developed while trying to claim benefits. Although her character is as dysfunctional as the rest of the cast audiences can relate to Dee, as a women in her early thirties who is just barely making her way through life. Dee’s character is an exaggerated form of what it is like to be like most adult women who feel like they still have not quite got their lives’ in order.

The programme also deals with issues such as Dennis possibly being a sociopath, Mac failing to acknowledge that he is gay and the fact that Charlie is illiterate but writes an entire musical. There are also reoccurring characters in the twelve seasons including a priest that ‘the gang’ grew up with who, since reconnecting with ‘the gang’ in season two episode seven has become a homeless drug addict who’s life becomes increasingly worse with every encounter. This is the same for Charlie’s obsession ‘the waitress’ a recovering alcoholic who finds herself slipping back into alcoholism every time she is forced to be with Dee.

Introduction of Danny DeVito and popularity increase

The first season did not do that well in terms of viewer ratings, but FX decided to give the sitcom a second season on the condition that they would write a ‘big name’ actor into the show. After some negotiation they approched Danny DeVito (a fan of the sitcom) to play the role of Dennis and Dee’s father, who actually turns out not to be their biological Father in (season 2, episode 10). When the season aired in 2006 the ratings jumped compared to season one and this allowed the sitcom to stay on the air for one more season. The viewership steadied until season four (which is usually when sitcoms see their viewer ratings drop) but ‘It’s always sunny in Philadelphia’ viewership really gather momentum when they began shooting in HD and by season four were hitting 1.5 to 2 million viewers a week. Season four’s final episode (Cometh the night man) saw a musical written by ‘Charlie’ and preformed by ‘the gang’, this was the first time that a something from the show went viral, the song “Nightman” received over two million views in the early days of internet video sharing. The popularity of this particular episode prompted the cast to tour the country preforming the musical ‘Cometh the night man’ before season five of the sitcom aired in September 2009.

Although the sitcom seems to have no direction, the writers of the show have said that always try to write about issues effecting society. Writer, actor and executive producer of the show Charlie Day said “It looks at what is terrible for us as a society and terrible things keep popping up and we make terrible episodes about it. In our first season we did an episode about the problem with gun violence, and I guess its still a problem so we made another episode in 2010.

2009 brought episodes about the world recession and millionaire Frank played by Danny DeVito losing all of his money. Episodes one in series five sees ‘the gang’ exploit the mortgage crisis.

The world recession had full grip of the American economy and had affected millions of people, the writers at ‘its always sunny in Philadelphia’ saw this as an opportunity to increase viewership by writing comedic episodes about it.

its always sunny in Philadelphia (
its always sunny in Philadelphia (

Since the second series ‘Its always sunny in Philadelphia’ audiences have increased, although it show did fight off many difficult years of a small audience following. The show did all it could to increase viewers including allowing the sitcom to be broadcast for free in the early days of Hulu, a internet video streaming service. In 2013 FX moved their comedy programmes to a new station FXX with ‘its always sunny in Philadelphia’ headlining the station at this time the show kicked off its ninth season, anchored the block at 10 p.m. The comedy averaged 757,000 viewers in its first airing on the new network. It also averaged 648,000 adults 18-49 and 575,000 adults 18-34, retention of 80 and 85 percent, respectively, from last season’s opener. Although this was down from last the eight series of 1-million-strong premiere, its losses were small considering the move and it actually grew 8% in men 18-34 to 396,000. FXX currently airs in 72 million homes, 26 million fewer homes than FX, which accounts for much of the initial audience dip. It’s also a credit to Sunny that this is the first time it has had to go head-to-head with A&E juggernaut and cable’s current demo all-star Duck Dynasty.

Its Always Sunny has just completed its 11th season and hopefully will be available on Netflix later this year. The first eleven are now on Netflix and are well worth a watch.

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