Eight years ago, one of the first pieces I wrote for RogerEbert.com, as a freelancer, was an appreciation of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” comparing it to “Seinfeld” in both its structure and the way it captured the hilarity of misanthropic behavior. I don’t think I would have bet that I’d still be writing about the show in 2021, on the day of its record-setting 15th season premiere, making it the longest-running live-action sitcom in history. One of the fascinating things about the recent run of “Sunny” is how the show has adapted to changes in the discourse around what people find funny. The smartest thing about “Sunny” has been how much the show has directly addressed its past, finding a way to remain edgy while shifting its sense of humor with the discourse. It’s often as funny as ever, and the first six episodes of the 15th outing are built on the show’s stunning confidence, never desperately going for a cheap joke and often producing a laugh from its unpredictable sensibility. When the show tries to get “current,” it falters a bit although its willingness to embrace how these idiots would respond to the nonsense of 2020 is better than just ignoring it altogether. The show is best when it almost embraces the fact that the world may be leaving people like Mac, Charlie, Dee, Dennis, and Frank behind, turning their naïve bumbling into a commentary on progress. At least they’ll always have Paddy’s Pub.
The premiere of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” finds the writers behind the FXX hit in a surprisingly political mode, although it’s almost impressive how much they walk a line in that neither party seems likely to be particularly offended. Remember those horrible “What a Year That Was” specials that dotted the landscape at the end of 2020? The premiere is basically a spoof of those, finding the gang almost in “Forrest Gump” mode as they work their way into major events of the year. For example, Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) may have contributed to the delay in vote counting in Philadelphia; Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Charlie (Charlie Day) played a role in the fashion on the day of the capitol riots; and Frank (Danny DeVito), well, it’s got something to do with really bad hair dye. Again, an episode like this feels like it will date almost instantly—it even feels a little late to the party in December 2021—but it’s a kickoff that makes it clear that the show still takes place in the real world.
The second episode navigates the treacherous waters that the show has done a few times in recent years regarding how humor has changed since it premiered so long ago. The gang goes back to make another “Lethal Weapon” sequel but with the awareness that they crossed some lines in the past. However, it’s not just a “We Can’t Tell the Same Jokes” narrative like we hear from so many lesser comedians—it’s smarter than that. The season really gets going when a series of events sends the gang to Ireland for the first time as multiple episodes unfold across the Atlantic Ocean. The kickstart to these episodes—“The Gang Replaces Dee with a Monkey”—is one of the funniest in all 15 seasons.
And that’s really all that matters to fans of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: It’s still damn funny. Hundreds of comedy shows have come and gone in the 16 years that the show has been on the air. Think about how much the world has changed since 2005, and how impressive it is that the cast and writers here have constantly pivoted to reflect those changes without betraying their own identity. Honestly, I may have had no idea that I’d still be writing about this show eight years after getting my start at this site, but I kind of hope I’m still writing about it eight years from now too.
Six episodes screened for review. The 15th season premieres on FXX on December 1st with two episodes every Wednesday, available streaming on Hulu the next day.