It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

TV Series Review

Years ago I heard an odd joke that's stayed with me.

Question: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Fish.

Occasionally when I retell that joke, I'll get an immediate laugh. Nine times out of 10, though, I get cocked heads, raised eyebrows and "Huh?" as a response.

I don't mind though. Because it's a joke that's actually more revealing than funny. So allow me to adapt it this way: How many surrealists watch FX's sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Swamp.

I can't recall anything I've seen on TV recently (or maybe ever) that's quite as surreal (read: horrifically insane) as this MA-rated cable series. On the surface, the show's setting feels stereotypically familiar—like a low-rent Cheers, maybe. Frank Reynolds owns and operates a grungy bar in South Philly. Orbiting around that narrative focal point are two of his grown children, Dennis and Dee, and two of their friends, Charlie and Mac.

But that's where the similarities with all things Ted Danson come to a screeching, tire-shredding halt … and the fish start to flop around in the incandescent swamp. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia actually ends up feeling like what you'd get if you dropped the Coen brothers, the cast of Jacka‑‑, the members of Monty Python and perhaps even the Three Stooges into some kind of bizarre comedy blender. Seinfeld was a "show about nothing." But Sunny makes Seinfeld look like War and Peace by comparison.

The characters are abrasively obnoxious imbeciles—or, if you like, obnoxiously abrasive imbeciles—who traipse obnoxiously and abrasively through one extraordinarily improbable situation after another. Though Wikipedia is hardly authoritative when it comes to culture, it'd be hard to find a better description of these characters than what I found there: "They are dishonest, egotistical, selfish, greedy, unethical, lazy, arrogant and antagonistic."

OK. Maybe Time magazine's Eric Dodds found a way when he wrote, "If there's one thing that is undeniably true of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia … it's that it is perhaps the most depraved show on television. Simply put, every single character is devoid of any redeeming qualities. In fact, Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Dee and Frank are individuals so horrible and debauched that they have eluded proper analysis for years. After eight seasons and 93 episodes, it has been well-established that these are, with little question, some of the worst people we have ever seen on a television screen."

It makes Sunny unusual in the U.S. Even in our most cynical comedies, Americans like to have characters we can root for. We like to have a moral or two to embrace. The Simpsons, despite all its satire, often ends episodes with feel-good moments or an "awww." The Office, based on Britain's unremorseful and meanspirited comedy, grew kinder and gentler when it made the trip across the pond. We like our snark, like breakfast cereal, sweetened.

So forget about swamps and such, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is nothing more than the cardboard box of TV sitcoms. It's not even in the same room as the food pyramid when it comes to creating a balanced entertainment breakfast. And that means it could actually do some serious harm if ingested.

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Plot Summary

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

ItsAlwaysSunnyinPhiladelphia: 9-4-2013
ItsAlwaysSunnyinPhiladelphia: 11-4-2010
ItsAlwaysSunnyinPhiladelphia: 10-14-2010



Readability Age Range





Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly; Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds; Rob McElhenney as Mac; Kaitlin Olson as Deandra 'Dee' Reynolds; Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds






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