Last season, FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — a reliably solid, though critically under-appreciated comedy — felt completely reenergized. The show’s format has stayed pretty much the same since its inception: the gang (“bird lady, troll man, the dirty one, the gay one” and Dennis) are all still there, still “working” at Paddy’s Pub, and occasionally escalating their humor and personality traits to totally absurd new heights (and new lows, like the infamous Season Four episode “Who Pooped the Bed?”).
But in its ninth season, the show seemed to really blossom into the kind of comedy it was always meant to be. Hit the jump to see how its tenth anniversary season measures up to last year’s gold-star effort.
When FX transferred It’s Always Sunny to its new sister channel FXX, the show became a marquee feature. Though it had been running for a long time, its ninth season contained several of the best episodes of the series thus far. In its premiere, “The Gang Broke Dee,” the show went to some of its darkest, funniest, and most horrifyingly ingenious points yet. A meta commentary on the show’s inability to garner awards — “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award” — was also a really sharp send-up of so-called prestige television, and the kind of satire the show rarely embraces so completely.
In later episodes that season, “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6″ toyed with blackface in one of its riskiest bits to date, while “Flowers for Charlie” (written by Game of Thrones‘ David Benioff and D. B. Weiss) was a hilarious inversion of Charlie as the hapless “wild card” of the series.
Gone, in other words, was much of the yelling over one another, the inconsistent quality of episodes, and a general lack of focus for the season. But then, in the finale, “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs,” a lot of those traits resurfaced, and it felt like old Sunny.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because as was mentioned in the opener, the show is always reliably insane in its comedy. But the paragraphs just spent detailing what made Season Nine such a standout are in contrast with how Season Ten feels: less like that refreshing spin on an old idea, and just like reliable old Sunny.
To start, Season Ten’s opener, “The Gang Beats Boggs,” feels more like a mid-season episode than a premiere, especially for a milestone season. In its follow-up, “The Gang Group Dates,” the episode revolves around Dennis falling apart over his narcism and paranoia over online date ratings, which conjures up shades of previous episodes exploring similar times when Dennis has been knocked “off his game,” before sliding into a meltdown. The play on rate/rape throughout the episode also never really goes anywhere, either, it’s just a background pun (and it could have gone somewhere, given how Dennis became — in Seasons 7 and 8 particularly — very much a serial killer type).
The ambitious “Charlie Work” episode thrives on long takes, and Charlie Day riffing with increasing speed throughout. It has a visual and verbal mania to it, yet never feels out of control. On the other hand, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, either. (It has its moments, particularly a joke that is set up through the episodes, but it feels mostly like bluster without a payday, especially since Charlie is playing completely against type).
Before this tenth season even finished filming, FX announced that Sunny would be back for at least two more seasons of ten episodes each. What Season Nine proved is that the show is not running out of steam or plot ideas at all, and that there is plenty of comedy to be mined. And while Season Ten shouldn’t be defined as a letdown, it does feel less than what the show is capable of. The promo material for Sunny‘s tenth season was magnificent in its concept and creativity. The Gang just needs to bring that back to their show.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returns January 14th at 10 p.m. ET on FXX