The foreign-language black-and-white ads for the ninth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia speak of an “inevitable change,” but the tongue-in-cheek promos refer to a switch in the show’s broadcasting venue—from FX to the cable channel’s new sister network, FXX—rather than any alterations in the long-running program’s format or tone. Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito) are as magnetically dysfunctional as ever, and their neurotic efforts to scheme their way to happiness, fame, and fortune continue to coincide with skewed views on a variety of real-world issues that blend well with the show’s onslaught of crude, scattershot humor.
The season premiere, “The Gang Broke Dee,” features a carefully crafted build-up to a punchline that’s as emotionally painful for Dee as it is amusing for audiences. The years of unrelenting abuse inflicted on Dee by the rest of the maladjusted Paddy’s Pub gang have finally put her into a state of apparently irreparable despondency, rendering any further insults from her cohorts dead on arrival. This naturally presents a problem for her foul-mouthed victimizers, as their joy hinges on her responding to their torments with enragement. Initially, Dee is apathetic and morose, robed in baggy sweatpants and eating month-old cake pulled from a garbage can, but her misery becomes fuel for a crowd-pleasing stand-up act. Her brief taste of stardom results in heinously egomaniacal behavior, making her eventual comeuppance all the more effective in its twisted hilarity. The abrupt end to her 15 minutes of fame hammers home It’s Always Sunny’s enduring message concerning America’s obsession with celebrity. More importantly, it puts her back where she started, which is exactly where the rest of the gang wants her.
“Inevitable change” may be a recurring theme of the season, but it’s the characters’ avoidance of genuine self-improvement that continues to be the main source of the show’s biggest guffaws. In “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” the group does some reconnaissance in a popular bar in order to get ideas on how to revamp their own. Even after reluctantly admitting how their dingy establishment pales in comparison to the rival alehouse, they ultimately choose not to make any distinct changes to Paddy’s Pub, and rampant lampoonery ensues. They eventually come to the conclusion that their establishment will likely never amount to more than what it currently is: a hole in the wall where uncultured individuals can be true to themselves even when changing who they are might be beneficial, a sentiment that doesn’t just reflect the current zeitgeist, but is emblematic of both It’s Always Sunny’s continued strengths and weaknesses.