How I Met Your Mother is in season seven and is dying a painful death. The Office is in season eight and is essentially AfterMASH at this point. Sitcoms simply aren’t designed to last more than four or five years. Even historic greats like Cheers and Seinfeld struggled mightily in later seasons. It’s no surprise that Arrested Development is my favorite sitcom of all time — it never had a chance to decline.
So how the fuck is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia chugging right along, and possibly putting together its finest season, in this its seventh year?
Always Sunny has yet to experience a real decline, or a slump that lasted longer than a handful of episodes. But make no mistake: the show is re-invigorated this season. There’s a new energy as the series has churned out keeper after keeper, with nary a clunker yet as season seven passes its halfway point. Why? What’s different this year?
1) Going For Broke
It seems strange to think that the writers and creators of Always Sunny have ever been reserved in any capacity, but this season finds the gang truly holding nothing back. Several episodes have featured one character saying to another, “this is really dark.” And indeed, some of it has been, including a fake baby death complete with the corpse of a rotting dog in the fake baby’s casket. Each character has become more insane and untethered in their own way; there can now be no doubt that these five people are utter sociopaths. And frankly, sociopaths are funny. People who care nothing about others’ feelings are funny. Assholes are funny. This is a show that knows its audience, and knows how fat it can push boundaries and what it can get away with. Sunny’s ratings are such that it could have settled into a comfort zone, repeating the same shit over and over again like most sitcoms with this many scripts under their belts. Instead, they’ve decided to keep pushing.
2) Fat Mac
Oh, Fat Mac. You make everything better.
Rob McElhenney gaining 50 pounds for this season is a gimmick, pure and simple. But it might be the most effective gimmick in the history of television. Moreover, he and the show have handled the conceit of Fat Mac perfectly. There has yet to be an episode focused on his weight. There have been a few jokes, a few snarky asides from other characters, a few too-tight T-shirts and a few scenes of Fat Mac eating copiously. But mostly, they’ve been content just to let Mac be fat and to let us laugh at that. Suck it, Mike and Molly.
I used to think that Always Sunny had a much lower degree of difficulty than shows like How I Met Your Mother, that ostensibly need to pay attention to issues like character development, narrative, and continuity. But there’s also something to be said for the difficulty of walking a tightrope without a net. And regardless of the hardship involved with creating either show, Always Sunny is the one I’d rather watch any day of the week.