If you’re wondering how much longer It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia can keep its comedic high wire act going, the show’s 13th season seems to find creators Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton wondering the same thing. When we saw them last, Mac had come out of the closet, Charlie finally got together with the waitress, and Dennis left Philly and Paddy’s Pub to go and raise a family in North Dakota. Despite the tumult of the previous season, it’s very much business as usual here, as the Gang tackles escape rooms, clip shows, and bathroom signs in their own demented way.
McElhenney and Day both return for another 10 episodes of antics with co-stars Danny DeVito and Kaitlin Olson. However, there’s an effort to cover Howerton’s sporadic absences, with his soft exit at the end of the last season allowing him to pursue other projects at the same time as working on Always Sunny.
These absences are hilariously addressed in the first episode, where the spectre of Dennis looms large over the Gang’s scheming with a wily new friend, played by guest star Mindy Kaling. More than just missing him, he’s also physically represented in a way that’s just too funny and ludicrous to spoil in this review.
But throughout the rest of the season, covering for Howerton is largely a feat of double-banking episodes. This means there’s a greater number of episodes focusing on one character at a time than in previous seasons, mirroring previous Gang-lite episodes such as Season 10’s Charlie Work and Season 11’s Being Frank.
Never knowingly predictable, these episodes are an eclectic bunch, ranging from The Gang Beat Boggs – Ladies’ Reboot, a satirical swipe at 2016’s Ghostbusters and last year’s Ocean’s 8, to Mac Finds His Pride, a surprisingly moving finale that subverts Season 7’s How Mac Got Fat and reveals why McElhenney decided to get in ridiculously good shape for this season.
However, it would be easier to make the case that the ensemble gets on alright without Howerton were it not for the two-part celebration of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Superbowl win, which feels decidedly more middle-of-the-road. The first part, Charlie’s Home Alone, is a single-hander that plays to Day’s strengths, but the second part, The Gang Win The Big Game, is a rare stumble that doesn’t really live up to the landmark status of its subject.
Even if the season isn’t as strong as the mind-bogglingly excellent Season 12 on the whole, every latter season of Always Sunny holds at least one or two instant favourites. Season 13 is no exception, but it’s telling that they’re the ones that keep the ensemble whole, such as The Gang Solve The Bathroom Problem and Time’s Up For The Gang.
For us, at least, the instant classic of this run is The Gang Gets New Wheels, which features the whole ensemble, but lets them do their own thing. Starting with Dennis needing a new Range Rover, the Gang all hare off into their own misadventures, dovetailing beautifully (and appallingly) into a hilarious reset of the status quo. It’s textbook Sunny, but no one is better at making that than this lot.
But for that reason, there’s another episode that’s more memorable. White the season ends on a far more tender note than we could reasonably expect, that’s not before it’s loaded up on a less-creative-than-usual dose of putdowns and gross-out gags. Brilliantly acted by McElhenney and DeVito, the very end of Mac Finds His Pride is a beautifully executed and surprisingly sincere tribute to the unexpected response that Always Sunny’s most conflicted character has received from gay fans. However, the boundless potential it shows is somewhat limited by the format of the programme itself.
There’s no danger of Always Sunny ever reaching the “get off my lawn” stage of the most recent seasons of South Park, as long as the writers care this much. Happily, the only worry is that the show might go on so long these characters actually have to develop, which would have been anathema to the series earlier in its run.
That’s not a bad problem for a creator to have, but it’s a weird feeling to watch the breathtaking sequence that ends the season and feel as if Always Sunny might be in trouble if they keep this up. Consistency is key to the show’s continual evasion of sitcom decay and while it’s mostly as funny as it always has been, it feels as if any future seasons will be similarly mixed bags.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.