Few shows can continue to shock and entertain after seven seasons (Peep Show springs to mind), but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia seems to have managed it. The show centres around “The Gang”, a group of five emotionally stunted, narcissistic, borderline-alcoholics who ostensibly run the terrible Paddy’s Pub, but spend the majority of their time drinking and stumbling through life’s obstacles with an almost complete lack of self-awareness.
Season 8 of It’s Always Sunny is perhaps its most ambitious yet. The mission statement of this season is outlined in “The Gang Recycles The Trash” (originally slated to be the season’s premiere), which is devoted almost entirely to call-backs to episodes of seasons past. What could have easily devolved into lazy homages akin to a clip show is instead one of the most finely crafted episodes the show has ever produced.
A hilarious example is Dennis’ (Glenn Howerton) realisation that Charlie (Charlie Day) is determined to repeat a stunt from way back in Season 5 by cutting the van’s brakes, screaming “Wildcard, bitches!”, and jumping out the back in an ironic bid to prove that he’s original and unpredictable. Instead of attempting the futile task of talking him down, Dennis merely reconnects the brakes, allows him to leap from a moving vehicle, and happily continues on his way.
This motif reappears through the season as The Gang blithely re-enacts past plotlines without any recognition or suspicion. What might cripple other shows – a determined lack of growth from the central characters – is utilised to stunning effect. The show’s writers, stars Kelly, Howerton and Rob McElhenney, ask the question, “These people are co-dependent drunks who rarely venture outside of their own cosy, false realities. What on earth makes you think they would evolve?”
Of course, the season does feature some forward momentum. Charlie, who has long been the moral centre of the show, if not exactly the voice of sanity, takes a notably dark turn in several episodes, most of which were a logical consequence of the systematic abuse he’s received over the past seven years. Mac (McElhenney) took several strides towards confronting his confused sexuality, and Dennis continued his relentless advance towards a news headline that features the phrase “dozens of victims”.
Nor was the road entirely smooth. The season does have its fair share of less-than-stellar episodes: “The Gang Dines Out” was particularly guilty of rehashing jokes and plotlines (both from previous seasons and, more disturbingly, from any number of prime-time sitcoms), without adding any embellishments or clever observations, and “Frank’s Back In Business” merely lacked the comedic punch of other entries.
Overall though, Season 8 of It’s Always Sunny is something of a love letter to the show’s devoted fan base, and proves that it still has plenty of mileage left. The producers seem intent on seeing how dark and hilarious they can make proceedings, and its fantastic news for television and viewers that they’re going to get the opportunity.